The First Chevy Vega

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You have to give General Motors credit. Few cars are badmouthed as much as the Chevrolet Vega, Chevy’s attempt to compete with the influx of imported compact cars, and not coincidentally the Ford Pinto. Still, while the Vega is a no-brainer when it comes to Worst Cars of All Time lists, GM is not ashamed of the Vega and they have one on display at the GM Heritage Center. On paper the Vega should have been a success. It had attractive styling, reminiscent of the great looking second generation Camaro, a modern overhead cam engine with a novel, linerless aluminum block, a variety of body styles and competitive prices. The Vega sold pretty well at first, with 400,000 sold in the first calender year, but as reliability issues reared their heads, consumers eventually turned away from the little Chevy. The aluminum block was made with a special alloy that was supposed to exposed hardened cylinder wall when properly machined. That way cylinder liners weren’t needed, supposedly. In reality, the Vega engine burned oil and the use of a cast iron head on an aluminum block may have been a reason why there were so many head gasket failures. Then there was rust. It’s said, probably apocryphally, that Vegas started to rust before they left the Lordstown, Ohio factory. Whether that’s true or not, seeing Vegas with perforation rust so soon after the car was introduced didn’t endear the car with consumers. Another example of a good idea, poorly executed. This blue 1971 Vega was the very first off of the Lordstown line, with a VIN that ends in 001, and First Built etched into the windshield. It doesn’t have as low mileage as the Chevette sitting next to it at the GM Heritage Center, it’s been driven a bit over 2,100 miles, so Chevy may have used it as a press car, or maybe that reflected testing, but it’s got to be one of the best early Vegas in existence.

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