Remember the Vega? Of course you do, especially if you owned one. If you have owned one, let me pause for a moment so you can finish cursing. Done? Okay.
When the Vega came out in 1971, there were four models. Three were expected: two door sedan, a hatchback and a wagon. But the fourth was a little different.
The panel version seemed an odd choice for the Seventies. Panel trucks had been around for years, but starting in the mid-1950s demand began to go down. Not coincidentally, pickups were getting much more comfortable and car-like at that time. One by one, panel vans and sedan deliverys started disappearing. It became even more pronounced once the two door station wagons they were based on were discontinued.
By the early Sixties, the Falcon was about the only car-based delivery vehicle left, and it quickly left the scene. Then, in 1971, GM decided to offer a panel version of its attractive Kammback station wagon. The Vega story has been told many times (full story here), but it really was a shame that such a sharp looking car could have so many problems.
Vega sales were initially quite brisk, as many folks were attracted to its good looks and thrift on fuel. But before long, all sorts of issues caught up with those initially happy owners. The biggest deal was the advanced-for-its time silicon cylinder coating, meant to eliminate more expensive cylinder liners. Unfortunately the technology had not yet been perfected and it spelled trouble for Vega owners. But back to the sedan delivery, or Panel Express, as Chevrolet called it…
I can see why Chevrolet decided to offer the car, though its sales potential was rather questionable. All they had to do was take a wagon, blank out the rear quarter windows, remove the back seat, and voila! a new model. As you might expect, sales did not exactly take off. While 42,800 Kammbacks were produced in ’71, only 8,700 Panel Expresses were made.
1972 Vega sales were even better. While 1971 saw production of 274,699, 1972 saw sales go up by over 100,000, to 394,592. The same could not be said for the Panel Express, as sales dropped to 4,114. As the Vega’s troubles became more common knowledge, sales went down accordingly, but in 1972 things still looked good – at least for the other three Vega models.
My Uncle Dave was 13 in 1971, and he loved the Vega. It looked so much like a mini-Camaro to him, at least until the Federal bumpers were added in ’74. He especially wanted a Panel Express, as he played in a band and it would have been a cool ride to haul his drum set to practice.
That never happened, however, as his first car wound up being a plain-Jane ’71 Mustang fastback that was equipped like a Maverick. However, when he met my Aunt Lori at the University of Iowa in the late Seventies, she was driving a ’75 or ’76 Vega Estate, so in a way, he did eventually get a Kammback. Fortunately by that time GM had worked the bugs out of the Vega, and that Estate was a reliable car for them.
As for the Panel Express, sales kept trending downward. While a total of 395,792 Vegas were built for ’73, no model breakouts are available, but it’s safe to say somewhere between 3-5,000 came off the line. 1974 saw 4,289 Panels, a slight improvement to 1972’s total, but after a mere 1,525 ’75s, the Panel was finally done. The other Vegas would continue through 1977.
I was reminded of all this after seeing this very clean ’74 or ’75 Panel Express on the Cohort, captured by frequent Cohort contributor, ggh06. These were never common, so locating a Panel Express these days is quite a feat. Actually, any clean, running Vega is quite a find today!
It’s not too hard to imagine why GM did this. For minimal cost, they had a niche vehicle that would easily recoup its costs. I believe GM recently did the same thing with the HHR.
’74 Vega: Painful to remember this no-power 4, buggy aluminum engine, badly constructed wagon. It was our first new car. It seems like this was Chevy’s response to the fuel shortage scare. Who knew that it would encourage you to walk?
Had my engine sleeved, added Accel parts, had front and rear swaybars with Konis, Hurst shifter, added instrumentation — woo hoo!! I roared past a lot of walkers.
I had one. A 74 green Vega Wagon. We called it The Pickle. It was ugly, it smelled horrid, and provided me as a sixteen year old a great year of driving.
My wife bought a new Vega in 75. Three years later she was offered 500 on a trade for a new car. She told the salesman he may as well cut her throat. Funny. We drove that car for 5 more years and got 500 trade in on a new Datsun. Just kept adding oil. Don’t even bother pulling out the dip stick. Beautiful car, Deloran should have been proud. It was just the mechanics. Sounded like a diesel engine when we took it to trade. Still looked good though.
Until looking at the last photo, I had never noticed how much the Volare wagon looked like the Vega Kammback from the rear. As for the Panel Express, I had forgotten that these ever existed. It is amazing that one of these has survived in this condition. First, it is a Vega. Second, most little trucklets like this would eventually be worked to death. Maybe the fact that these were so horrifically fragile worked in its favor.
When the Vega came out (I was about 12) I figured that the Pinto would never have a chance. The Vega was just so much better looking. The evil empire had done it again. But as it turns out, the Vega was the first of the many cracks that would start to show in the GM fortress. I had never seen a car rust that badly, not even a 69 Ford.
The resemblance is interesting, as I think the inspiration for Chrysler building the Volare/Aspen as a wagon was looking at the sales figures for subcompact wagons (where the wagon body style made a lot of sense in terms of maximimizing cargo space in vehicle with small exterior dimensions) and saying, “we don’t have a subcompact, but maybe the same thing would work one size class up, too”. Another selling point for building a wagon that size was that there would be no direct competition from GM and Ford. Also, in the wake of the 1973-74 energy crisis, some customers who might have previously bought a wagon the size of a Chrysler B-body were undoutedly looking to move down a notch in size. Things had changed since U.S. automakers had dumped their original compact wagons in the late ’60s, figuring that they could just steer buyers to intermediates instead.
To be fair, Chrysler wasn’t the first one to think of this. Note that I said there would be no direct competition from GM and Ford. AMC had already introduced a Hornet wagon early in that model’s run.
Living in Massachusetts and having been four years old when the Vega Panel Express went out of production, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen one in person. A question for our Canadian correspondents — was there ever a Pontiac Astre Panel north of the border? IINM, the Astre was introduced a couple of years earlier in Canada than in the U.S., and was essentially a clone of the Vega up to the point when the U.S. Astre version was introduced.
The always-helpful site Old Car Brochures has 1973 and ’74 Astre brochures, and both show Panel Express versions:
Yes there was, in Canada the Pontiac Astre (same line up with a sedan delivery too,) came out same year as the Vega, where we didn’t get it down here until like 1975. Its a total badge job with a little divider in the grille.
Some Véga was produce here in Québec at the Boisbriand GM plant . The running french gag for those gm product was simply to call them dégat ( damage ) and désastre ( disaster ) .
GM’s fortress began cracking quite a bit long before the Vega hit the scene. John DeLorean describes this debacle in detail in his book “On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors.” Paul’s previous Vega-Logues do describe in detail a dung-ball designed by GM’s Central Committee and forced upon DeLorean and Chevrolet division . . . . “polishing a turd.”
It might be the pain killers they have me on talking but I’d rock one of those all day! Room for the dogs, gas mileage and an attractive package to boot.
I’d have to do some sort of a split bumper like the 70 Z28 with an early model though. With the bumper in place on the pre 75s it looks like it’s wearing Orthodontic Headgear. (This is from the guy that took the front “bumper” off his 73 Midget so it looked more like a mini Cobra, don’t take it too seriously.)
I;ve always been a Vega fan. I’ve fantasized about a Kammback with a blown 3.8 from an Ultra or Bonnie mated to a built 200r4 in one often.
We owned four “gen 1” Vegas (flat face grill) – two Kammbacks (’72 and ’73), a ’71 notchback (my first car) and a ’72 hatchback bought for parts.
After replacing the “one gallon of oil every two weeks” original engine with a sleeved, GT-cammed and tuned headered 2300, coupled with the optional four-speed Saginaw manual, it was actually fairly (read that “fairly”) reliable, and had gobs of torque for what it was (would easily chirp the tires shifting to second).
I eventually did something along the lines of what you describe with my notch, only it was a normally aspirated Buick 3.8 (despite the turbo logo on the fenders) coupled to a THM350. I had substantially lightened the car, so it was a pretty decent setup – still handled well, but would really scoot.
The car had about 220,000 miles on it when I offered it in trade towards a new Suzuki Samurai. I had effectively rebuilt every major (and most minor) system in the car by that time. Other than around the front and rear glass lower trim (which was a water trap area), rust was never really a problem on this Georgia car.
It’s still one of my favorites of all time…
“Fortunately by that time [1975 or 1976] GM had worked the bugs out of the Vega…”
You know, it’s too bad that GM used its customers for beta testers in the first few years of Vega production. If the first Vega had been the 1975 car…well, like someone said, if your aunt had different equipment she’d be your uncle.
They worked most of the bugs out before the second model year, 1972.
Very rare cars here Vegas were not sold new in NZ but we did have the stripped van versions of Vivas and of course the Holden Falcon Valiant panel vans could be obtained though they are high roofed. Id buy one of these though in hindsight not.
Nice. I’ve never seen the panel express version. Didn’t know they actually referred to it as a truck. First car: 75 Vega GT Estate wagon. Only five years old, but it had already been repainted: red over the original yellow. Worst case of sun-faded red paint ever seen. But what do you expect for $750? Bought oil by the case load. I believe it had a “low coolant” light as well as the oil light. The two flashed on and off like disco lights. We had a few laughs over that. It had that really nice fat GT steering wheel, but the wheel was off centre so the spokes were up and down instead of left and right. I bought the car in the winter. Had snow tires on the back. In spring, moved the wide GT fronts to the rear and bought some regular Vega rims and tires from the junkyard for the front for that big ‘n’ little cool look. Even put the Monza turbine-style wheel covers on the front. Bought the older style emblem for the back hatch because the Chevrolet script was cooler. Back to the winter. No block heater. The garage installed an in-line coolant heater. Never seen one before or since. They removed a section of rad hose and installed the in-line heater in between the new shorter sections. Circulated the coolant as well as heating it. Kind of weird. Worked though. Always liked the look of the Vega, especially the earlier ones. Great memories! Thanks for the writeup.
@84gts…those inline coolant heaters were great! I had one in a ’69 Fairlaine I once owned. Instant heat when starting up in the AM. I don’t know why they didn’t catch on up here in Canuckistan.
Toward the end of my 1974 Vegas life I didn’t pull the oil dipstick either. When the oil pressure light flickered going around a corner I just poured in 2 quarts and was good for 500 more miles. These things had a cable actuator on the clutch instead of a hydraulic one. Of course it snapped one night when I was coming home from work. Luckily I was still moving when it broke, so I drove it home by cutting through parking lots, and timing the stop lights just right. Stayed in 2nd mostly until I got on the freeway and speed matched shifting until I got home. I only had to run one light. This was a 3 am so it wasn’t that hard. If I had other traffic I couldn’t have done it.
I didn’t realize they were still making the Vega van in the slant-front years. Those later-year Vegas are very strange beasts, with their very un-Vega-like tendancy to not rust, especially up here in the Pacific Northwest where we say “hold the salt.” I got an Orange ’76 Hatchback with the aluminum engine and a 3-speed automatic in December of ’91, and I drove it for several trouble-free years. I used to call it the Vegamatic, and I guess the name made sense, because it really, really worked… It had almost 150,000 miles on it when I sold it, and it still burned very little oil– maybe a quart between oil changes- talk about un-Vega-like! I loved that car, and it saw me through some lean years– might still have it if it wasn’t for the sheer dullness factor of the automatic transmission and the tired, panting squirrel under the hood.
That’s because by ’76, GM put sleeves in the Vega’s aluminum block, offered a 40K warranty for the engine, but by then (in typical pre-bankruptcy GM fashion) was way too little way too late. Astre stuck around through the ’77 model year; by then, it was using the OHV Pontiac Iron Duke four.
Wow, that’s a nice find there, even if through the cohort.
I think I may have seen a panel in my way back past but have been aware of their existence for decades.
My parents had a chocolate brown metallic kammback ’76 Vega wagon in the late 70’s. They bought it used in 1978, either while they still had for a short time a Volvo 142 2 door or just after they got rid of the Volvo.
They’d taken over the payments on it from my middle sister who could not handle them and the Vega was ultimately the replacement after they gave her the ’72 Gold Duster that my Mom drove from ’76-78.
That Vega had the 3spd auto and AC no less and other than the carb going bad in I think ’79, it ran great and was reliable until it was replaced by the FWD X body Buick Skylark they bought new in ’83.
I have fond memories of that car and would have loved to have gotten the GT wagon instead, remove the rear windows, add bubble windows instead (ala Ford Pinto) and graft on the ’76 Monza front end and its V8 and get true turbo styled mags to go along with and perhaps keep it that metallic brown or some other fun color and drive that instead. Although I did like the front clip of the ’76 probably the best as the front turn signals were behind the louvered grill which went from headlight bucket to headlight bucket for a clean look.
To this day, that basic body design holds up well believe it or not, just sad that the mechanicals were utter garbage up until the end when they finally got decent.
It’s just what GM always does, first they release crap, then they fix it and then they kill it for something ‘better’. I don’t know why they do that. Dare I say that the last year of the Vega was more reliable than the Citation?
A high school friend’s parents had a gold one, they were an all Chevy family with a Vega for the Mom, a ‘Vette for Dad and a Camaro for the son. She was still driving it in ’85 when I lost touch.
Think I saw one or two on dealer lots when the Vega was news. And maybe once or twice on the road for delivery services.
Where I grew up, the tinwork thrived; and the Vega had a notably short lifespan. I haven’t seen a Vega Panel in thirty years, for sure.
I did kinda like them, though. In the early eighties, I had a Pinto wagon; the last couple of years the Pinto had a Cruisin’ Van option that basically did the same thing. The rear windows were blanked out, only the Pinto used a fiberglass panel instead of a metal panel filler. And more, not less bling.
I would have liked to have one…a low-buck drive-in sinmobile. I was still young enough in the early 1980s to think that way.
Funny thing is that in Europe you can still get stuff like this, like an Opel Corsa with the rear windows blanked out and no rear seat.
I think you could have gotten a Vega Panel with out a passenger seat too, one of these with no radio, air or passenger seat and a 3 speed manual has to be in the running for most miserable s***box in history.
Sorry, not cursing. My ’73 GT was a ball to drive and ran just fine. Even after three seasons of SCCA B-sedan autocross. Yeah, it was starting to use oil at the time I traded it in – on a ’76 Monza GT. Also a very fond memory. My father had a ’77 hatchback with automatic. Also a very good car, although he traded it off for something Chevrolet and bigger a couple of years later.
The record got blown with my ’79 Monza wagon. That one put me off Chevrolet for about twenty years.
I had a Vega, and I don’t need to curse. It was one of the best cars I’ve ever had.
It was a green ’71 2dr sedan. Ran like a top. Never a problem. No, I’m not being sarcastic. I changed my first timing belt on that car. It got hit twice. The second time did it in. Nobody got hurt, but the car was done for.
To my eyes the wagon variants were always the best looking of the Vega/Pinto series, at least up to the era of Armco bumpers. Had a ’72 Pinto wagon which was actually one of my favorite cars, despite the weakness of the 2.3 motor and overall crappy build quality. That’s one I’d love to catch in the wild, but I haven’t seen a Pinto of any kind on the road in many a moon.
My experience with Vegas consists of having driven the ’73 fastback that my Dad bought arond 1980, for $200, as a go-to-work beater. As one might imagine, it consumed boatloads of oil, but otherwise ran and handled OK and was mostly rust-free, a true rarity for an older car in western PA. My main knock on it was that it was yellow: not just yellow, but an especially bilious pale yellow that GM seemed fond of at the time. It lasted at least a couple of years before succumbing to some sort of terminal mechanical fault.
One of the reasons the Vega Panel Express is so rare today may be the legendary hotrodder’s SBC engine swap. While the ready-made kits would get the V8 into any Vega, the Panel Express was the preferred version because of the lack of a rear seat, as well as, ironically, ‘increased’ rear-biased vehicle weight which would help traction somewhat (something that was really needed when a high-horsepower engine was stuffed into a small, lightweight car).
I have no doubt that more than a few Panel Expresses gave their little lives in pursuit of a low quarter mile time.
This was my experience with a 74 panel wagon somewhere in the middle 80’s. Put about 50,000 miles on it running an insurance debit and paper route and 2 quarts of oil a week. One day got tired of the oil and dropped a junkyard 327 in front of a turbo 400 tranny. Had to put Corvair wagon rear coil srings and Doug Thorley headers up front. Man would that thing haul butt. I’d give anything if I still had it.
I am amazed anyone has anything good to say about the early Vegas. A close friend in college received a new 1971 from her parents for her birthday. Loaded, including automatic and A/C. We took the pretty little dark green car on a road trip when it was brand new. By the time we returned on Sunday night, after a few hundred miles of driving, the windshield wipers had stopped working (one actually disassembled and blew off during a driving rain), a door panel came loose, the radio was fading in an out, a quart of oil had to be added, and the engine was missing and sputtering. Over the course of a few months things became so bad that the car went back to the dealer, never to be seen again.
I had driven several Vegas in the early 70s including the panel express. My one memory of it was it was very noisy, ringing and echoing like a can. I had a favorable impression of it till I drove it. I had also driven the GT which was quieter and more fun. All of them I was familiar with suffered from a premature demise.
I have to laugh, every time I see some car like this I think: Hmmm, my drum kit should fit just fine in there. I actually do cram my kit (and associated electronics) into my Sunfire for every gig, but man, my back sure doesn’t like it. It’s not the drums, it’s the stage monitor & etc. Decent speakers are heavy!
WRT to crappy Vegas: Growing up in the shadow of Lordstown, it was the official unofficial car of the Mahoning Valley. I knew a huge number of people who had them back in the day. They ran the whole gamut from total junk, to ones that ran 100K miles with few, if any issues. My favorite one is the one a friend of mine and his brothers converted into a drag car. They had a left over 350 (IIRC) from one of their dirt track cars, and had a toasted Vega given in trade for work on another vehicle.
One drunken evening at the shop, et voila! V8 Vega. Please note: We did NOT construct the car while intoxicated, we just brainstormed at how “easy” it would be to construct. Compared to a dirt track car, it was hard, but compared to some other street driven car builds I’ve been involved with, it was relatively easy. All the Chevy/GM stuff generally bolts together pretty easily. You can see why it’s so popular to do, even mental midgets like ourselves were able to string the pieces together.
When the HHR Panel was released, I immediately thought of this Vega Panel. Nothing was cooler than to see the HHR Panel SS that showed up at Berger Chevy in Grand Rapids, Michigan a couple of years back. Had I the cash to do it, I would have. I still think about blowing a wad of $$’s on an HHR SS anyway, that would be just that amount weirder, which suits me just fine.
Plus, my drum kit would fit, easily.
To my mind, GM rarely did ‘pretty’ cars, a la ’56 Ford Fairlane, Mark 1 Scirocco, some of the ‘Forward Look’ Chryslers, etc. Sometimes handsome, but not pretty. (Is there something Freudian going on here?).
The Vega is unmistakably ‘pretty’ however. What a tragedy that it went so wrong.
The panel wagon was popular site in Hot Rod magaziner with drag racers, and I think most ended up there. They were really a ‘body’ to sell to racers for Vega’s image.
D*mn that’s a nice find!
A 1971 Vega was my second car. Worst car I have ever owned. It was fun to drive but with 24,000 miles, it burned a quart of oil every 150 miles. I finally ruined the engine and had it rebuilt with sleeved pistons. It was much better, but it didn’t last me through college.
I wish there was some way I could’ve kept my black ’72 Kammback and stuck another engine in it…but there was already structural rust issues and the car was only four years old.
If I didn’t already have two projects…I’d be looking out west for one to re-do…and a wrecked Solstice/Sky to donate its Ecotec drive train.
Great memories — I had a ’73 Kammback GT that I bought new. I drove it for a couple of years and probably sold it at about the right time when I received orders to Germany in spring of 1975. The factory color was “Chamois” while my dad called the color an unprintable name referring to the contents of the diaper of a mild-fed baby. The GT package had an upgraded interior with a full instrument panel instead of lights (including tach), four-on-the-floor with a nice little console, a smaller four-spoke steering wheel, and a little bit better suspension. Fun car to drive and I regretted having to sell it when I went overseas — until I started reading about the Vegas dropping like flies as engines quit.
Hi, I on A 74 Panel express. And even thow the engine is shot I steel like it.
It is A fun car to drive and it is steel in grate shape.
I may sale it some day,but like some of you had sade I may regaet letting it go.
I just bought a 1974 vega with 63,000 kms, it was a southern car brough tup to nova scotia 20 years ago and sat in a barn. i picked it up for $1500 no motor or tranny, perfect V-8 swap.
Don’t ever put a V8 in that Vega! Put an I6, V6, or modern I4 in that Vega!
I was gunna put a cobalt ss supercharged motor in it, but i have everything for a v8 swap
Put the Cobalt SS motor in it, the car will weigh less and will have nice handling qualities, also, putting the Cobalt SS motor would be more original than an SBC. One on-site article about hot-rodding with modern I4’s can be found here:
When I was a kid I went to a Chevy dealer who had a Vega Panel that had been completely carpeted inside right up the walls and over the panels. What color? Why, gold shag, of course! I remember hanging out in the back of that thing thinking it was one of the coolest vehicles I had ever been inside of.
Well, ’till the salesperson kicked me out.
After eight years of exposure to daily morning moisture, rain and northeast winters on Long Island, my 1971 Vega Panel Ezpress has no rust.
I had decided after paying storage the first year, it would have to be parked outside (covered) – a huge savings that has amounted to $14k (200. per mo) over a seven-year period.
The Vega had been warehouse stored in Alabama nearly thirty years through 2002 by the previous owner. I don’t possess that luxury, only a 1-car garage. Now granted, I did not expose it to salt and mud, and it is undercoated, but I’ve come to the conclusion if these cars are not exposed to the worst conditions, they will not rust any faster than any other car.
My theory explains why only thousands of sets of fenders were replaced by Chevrolet (under warranty) instead of a million, or more. (Vega 1971-1977 production totaled nearly 2 million)
…and this early 1971 model built within the first 6 months of Vega production has no fender liners (added ’74-up models) and no galvanized fenders and rocker panels (added on ’76-’77 models), but no rust anywhere on the original sheet metal and chassis of this forty year-old Vega!
go to http://www.motоrtорia.com/vеgаvаirbоb to see my other two Vegas.
Will you ever sell your vaunted and famed Millionth Edition ’73 Vega?
nope, sorry for the delay in answering.
In San Diego, the US Post Office had a fleet of Vega panels, I had briefly entertained buying a retired one and putting an aluminum Buick 215 c.i. engine in it.
I bought a new Chevy Vega panel delivery in 1971 and drove the living hell out of it and had zero problems. I paid $1775.00 out the door and sold it with 30,000 miles on the odometer. Guess I was lucky. I loved that car.
So am I. My 71 panel is 50 years old and I drove it daily 2013-2015 with no issues. I paid 4500. 18 years ago.(2003)
Hmmmmm, lets see. Drop a blown Chevy big block in the engine compartment, throw on some drag tires, raise the rear, blank in the side windows, paint it glossy black and maybe you`ll have something. Then again, maybe not.
I bought a used 1974 Vega Estate wagon in 1977 for $1550 including two snow tires, which I never had to use. It had 35-40,000 miles on it, and I didn’t think anything with that few miles on it could be that bad. It rusted in several places where the paint simply wore off. The fuel pump went out on it, necessitating removal of the gas tank. It also burned lots of oil, and the choke linkage sometimes disconnected at the carb. and I had to reconnect it before it would start. I drove it for two years and sold it to a Chevy dealer mechanic who said he knew exactly what to do to fix the oil burning (new valve seals). I got $1150 for it as it was a nice clean one. It only depreciated $400 in two years. That made it one of the best used car buys I ever made, though I cannot say it was exactly trouble free motoring.
Discovered this article not long ago. That is my Elkhart green 74 Panel wagon in the photo. The photo was during a day trip to Seguin TX for an airshow. It still has the 140 cu in 4 cyl with 3 speed manual transmission. This car is still used for commuting every day in Houston and gets close to 30 MPG doing it. Engine was last rebuilt in 1992 with 10:1 pistons and mildly ported head so it is a little quicker than most. It has a 4 core radiator to cope with AC and Texas heat. Inside of engine has not been touched since, in about 140,000 miles and is still going strong. The “secret” with any Vega is to put in an adequate radiator so it NEVER overheats and keep the oil in good shape. If these two things are neglected then yes they are very fragile. Valve seals and guides will eventually wear and this is usually reason for oil consumption rather than any problem with the block assuming the radiator and oil have been taken care of. In 600,000+ miles between my 3 Vega’s I have found them to be wonderfully reliable, economical, good handling, simple cars plus I think they are great looking. Even at 40+ years old I still think the Vega compares well in its core purpose to most of its modern counterparts and does not look like a generic jelly bean like most of them.
This was a fun thread to read through, for sure.
I had a ’73 GT coupe that I bought in my senior year of high school (1979) for $1200. It had very low miles (-40,000), factory A/C, 4-speed, and since it was in SoCal, not a bit of rust. Unfortunately, the car was totaled about a month after I bought it when I got rear-ended.
A crappy Mustang followed, then when that was disposed of after graduation, I found another “creampuff” ’73 GT, again with factory air and a 4-speed manual. A few more miles (about 70K IIRC), and a much better color, silver instead of the previous car’s school bus yellow. It had been sitting at a gas station with a sign on it, and I was able to negotiate the sellers (a couple who had bought it for their son new, but he had moved away to a job after college) down to $900 from their asking price of $975.
It actually served me well for a couple of years, even taking me to college and in my job that involved a lot of driving. I eventually replaced the engine with a sleeved block (those were readily available in the early ’80s, as lots of Vegas were still prowling the roads), tweaked the engine a bit with a header, Offy manifold and Holley 4-bbl, plus some kind of slightly hotter cam from IECO. A set of BFG Radial TAs and some firmer shocks actually made it a decent handler, too.
Never really had an issue with it, other than a starter going out – the only time the car really “failed” on me. The original engine did consumer oil, about a quart every other tank of gas, which was why I replaced the engine.
Some years after I’d sold it, I was offered a chance to buy it on a lien sale (not sure how that worked, but the DMV at the time would find prior owners to see if they were interested). It was at a repair shop, with a V8 conversion performed by the subsequent owner. I actually ventured over to the shop just to see it, but the current owner had come in and settled up with the place and got his car back.
No, I wouldn’t want it today, but it was a fine car for the time, at least in my case. And yes, I think a lot of us bought them because they did kind of look like a “baby Camaro.”
My first car (at age 16) was a 1974 Chevy Vega Kammback. It was white and had a luggage rack on top. This was in 1975, and I bought it used for $2,100 from a local dealer. I later discovered it had belonged to our next-door neighbor, a lovely couple I’d known all my life and had grown up playing in the empty field that separated our house from theirs. Oh, how I wished I could have bought it directly from them instead of paying what seemed like it must have been an exorbitant dealer markup at that time! It was in great shape, but I liked to joke that it used more oil than it did gasoline. That little thing got me through college though, commuting over some ferocious WV mountains and never leaving me stranded once! I paid it off in one year, working part-time at our local Heck’s department store. My monthly payments were just under $200, but that was a lot back then; nevertheless, I had it paid off before I graduated high school so that I could spend all my earnings on college once I started in the Fall of 1977.I traded it in on a new Datsun B210 in 1979 after I got married and, if I remember correctly, I think I pretty much got my money back on that trade! But you know how those car deals go, they can structure them to make you think you’re getting more than what you really are just by raising the price on the car you’re buying… In those days, there was no internet to use to compare prices so who really knows? Regardless, that Vega is a fond memory for me!