Vintage R&T Road Test: 1973 Chevrolet Vega GT – Improved, Up To A Point

This review makes interesting reading, as it’s something of a counterpoint to our retrospective CC’s and such that we’ve used to trash the poor, cute little baby Chevy. Although certain obvious shortcomings of the Vega (noisy engine, poor assembly quality, inconsistent performance and fuel economy, poor shifter, among others) had been noted since 1971, and many of them were improved in the 1973 version, it hadn’t yet quite developed the really bad rep it eventually did.

Presumably that’s simply because the oldest ones one the road weren’t yet quite two years old. My memory tells me it was in 1973 – 1974 that the frequency of serious engine issues started becoming more widely known, despite the lack of social media and such. R&T’s survey of Vega owners turned up a number of issues, including several serious engine failures and lots of sloppy workmanship, but it was not yet enough to rise to the level of a serious stinker.

Meanwhile, Chevy had been at work on the Vega, and the ’73 version had some notable objective improvements.

The Chevy engineers put their attention on the 2300 engine to improve performance a bit, despite tighter emission controls. Combined with a new Muncie 4-speed with different ratios from the previous Opel box and a higher (lower numerical) rear axle ratio, the net results were a reduction in the 0-60 from 14.2 to 13.5 seconds, a quieter engine at freeway speeds, and improved fuel economy, now a full 26 mpg. Tada! This makes the 73 the most desireable, unless you like the “shovelnose” front end that started in 1974.

The gearshift was batter, but still not really good. Noise measurements showed that the Vega was now quieter at idle and full throttle, and actually quieter than a Datsun 610 or Toyota mark II at 70 mph. That 2.92:1 rear axle ratio was a contributing factor.

But the Vega engine;s inherent thrashiness was of course still al-too obvious. Piston slap when cold added to that.

As always, handling (and good looks) were the Vega’s best qualities. Radial tires improved several aspects further. The Vega was faster on the skidpad than any other sedan or coupe save the Jag XJ6. But on rougher pavement, the rear axle still skips and hops, the suspension bushings are too soft, and the shocks are cheap junk.

True to its original aspiration, the Vega was deemed the best highway car in its class. Just make sure it doesn’t overheat.