Chevrolet and Pontiac divisions worked separately on small cars in the early and mid-1960s. Ed Cole, GM's executive vice-president of operating staff, working on his own small-car project wîth corporate engineering and design staffs, presented the program to GM's president in 1967. GM chose Cole's version over proposals from Chevrolet and Pontiac, and gave the car to Chevrolet to sell. Corporate management made the decisions to enter the small car market and to develop the car itself. In 1968, GM chairman James Roche announced GM would produce the new car in the Ú.S. in two years. Ed Cole was chief engineer and Bill Mitchell, vice-president of design staff, was chief stylist. Cole wanted a world-beater in showrooms in 24 months. A GM design team was set up, headed by James G. Musser, Jr. who had helped develop the Chevy II, the Camaro, the Chevrolet small-block V8 engines, and the Turbo-Hydramatic transmission. (posted on conceptcarz.com)
Musser said, 'This was the first vehicle where one person was in charge,' and his team 'did the entire vehicle.' As GM president, Cole oversaw the car's genesis and met the projected schedule. For 1974, the major exterior changes were a revised front end and 5 mph rear bumper, increasing the overall length 6 inches (150 mm), and a slanted front header panel wîth recessed headlamp bezels. Louvered steel replaced the egg-crate plastic grille. Front and rear aluminum bumpers wîth inner steel spring replaced the chrome items, wîth license plate mountings relocated. A revised rear panel on Notchback and Hatchback models had larger single-unit taillights, wîth ventilation grills eliminated front truck and hatch lids. A 16 ÚS gallons (61 liter; 13 Imperial gallon) fuel tank replaced the 11 ÚS gallon (42 liter; 9.2 imperial gallon) tank. Side striping replaced the hood/deck stripes for the GT sport stripes option. The custom interior's wood-trimmed molded door panels were replaced by vinyl door panels matching the seat trim. January saw plastic front fender liners added after thousands of fenders were replaced under warranty on 1971-1974 models. In February the 'Spirit of America' limited-edition hatchback was introduced, wîth white exterior, white vinyl roof, blue and red striping on body sides, hood and rear-end panel, emblems on front fenders and rear panel, white 'GT' wheels, A70-13 raised white-letter tires, white custom vinyl interior and red accent color carpeting. 7,500 Vegas were built through May. Sales peaked at 460,374 for the 1974 model year.Source - AACA
The Chevrolet Vega was produced from 1971 through 1977 and offered in a variety of configurations including a coupe, hatchback and station wagon. These were not the names that were used, officially, they were Notchback, Hatchback, and Kammback. During the Vega's development, the codename it was given was the 'XP-887'
The subcompact market had become very important to American Automakers, partly because of the influence that the Volkswagen Beetle had secured and the rising competition from other imports such as Toyota and Datsun. During the 1960's Ford introduced their Falcon and Chevrolet their Corvair but neither were able to grasp the popularity that had been established by other imports. With oil embargo's and customers demanding more fuel efficient vehicles, this market was evolving and becoming more important to master.
The Chevrolet Vega was another attempt at wining over the hearts of the American public and to crack the tough subcompact market. The standard engine with a single-barrel carburetor produced about 70 horsepower while the addition of a second carburetor increased horsepower to 85. The 2.3 Liter engine quickly gained a reputation for being unreliable. Due to a poor cooling channel design the engine had a tendency to burn through oil rather quickly as a result of the poorly designed valve stem seals. This did little to inspire confidence in the vehicle. Problems seemed to follow the vehicle throughout its lifespan with reports of overheating, carburetor fires, premature body rust, ruptured fuel tanks, and other issues. It was given the reputation as 'the car that began rusting on the showroom floors'.
Even with its problems, the Chevrolet Vega was a popular vehicle with over two million examples produced during its lifetime. Chevrolet combated the vehicles issues during every year of its production and continued to improve the vehicle. In 1976 they backed their produced with a '5-year, 60,000-mile' warranty which was far superior to the warranties of the time.
The Vega has been included on Forbes Magazine's 'worst car list of all time.' Rising competition and build quality issues were the reason for the demise of the Vega. As the Vega was being fazed out Chevrolet introduced the Chevette and Monza which provided even more competition for the subcompact car. By the time production had ceased, 2,154,434 examples had been produced.
By Daniel Vaughan | Nov 2006