The Vega 3-door hatchback coupe, the smallest in Chevrolet's line to date, was an immediate success when introduced as a 1971 model. In its initial year, Chevrolet sold 168,308 units with increasing year-to-year sales thereafter. Powered by an inline 4-cylinder engine with 110 horsepower in highest form, the Vega was Chevrolet's answer to growing sales of imports and to Ford's Pinto. One of those Vegas became this car with conversion for drag racing during 1975-1976.
By then, Bill Jenkins' 'Grumpy's Toy X' Pro Stock Vega had shown the way to big time wins. Whether 'copied' or 'inspired', much of the configuration in Jenkins' Vega found its way into this car, built by Tom Monaco, Jr. of C.F. Race Cars in Manchester, Connecticut. The light weight and 97-inch wheelbase, Chevrolet's shortest up to that time, proved to be an ideal match for the RPO-Z28 5-liter V8 that was capable of consistent 9-second blasts down the quarter-mile. Depending on weight configuration, this car raced many years in eight Gas class or Pro Stock class in the hands of Al Gary, and it was a favorite at Englishtown, New Jersey and other area drag strips.
In the late 1970's, this car was retired from racing and stored in the Gary garage from 1978 until sold in 2003 to the current owners. This Vegas was only refurbished to as-raced configuration and it is again making noise in Nostalgia Pro Stock racing events.
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