The early 1970s: sky-rocketing gasoline prices; highway speed limits dropped to 55; new car sales way down; high performance was dead. Selling small cars became a priority, and drag racing rules rapidly changed to favor them. Bill 'Grumpy' Jenkins had become a major force in Pro Stock drag racing by then, having established a tremendous record of wins with big inch engines in mid-size cars. He shifted to the short wheelbase, lightweight Vega powered by small inch engines.
This 'Grumpy's Toy X', is that car, restored to period correct specifications and livery. At its introduction, Bill was the all-time Pro Stock win leader with ten championships, and this Vega continued that legacy. During 1972, he stunned the ChryCo 'Hemi Haulers' by shutting them out, adding 11 more Pro Stock wins and earning $250,000 for his efforts while setting NHRA Pro Stock ET and speed records; 9.42 seconds at 146.81 mph that left nothing for the 'Hemi Haulers' in national championship competition.
Jenkins was voted to the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcaster Association All-American team and received at least 16 Car Craft magazine All-Star Team awards along with Pro Stock Driver of the Year. During 1972, Bill earned drag racing's first 'Grand Slam' by winning each of NHRA's national events. He was the first driver to win all eight National events on NHRA's calendar. He went on to four more quarter-million dollar seasons. With 330 cubic-inch Joe Tryson built 'small block' engines, this Vega ruled Pro Stock drag racing.
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