1971 Chevrolet Vega

1971 Chevrolet Vega

There appears to be some code amongst US car manufacturers, or it may be a law of US automotive competition, which requires each manufacturer to produce a range of models in direct competition with other manufacturers’ model range. Hence when Ford Motor Company released the Pinto, General Motors shortly after brought out its Vega line. It’s fascinating to recall however, that not only did these two cars share similar features but by some automotive coincidence they also shared the same poor quality control and suffered many engineering design problems.

Designed as an all-new sub-compact car, the Vega, like the Ford Pinto, was built by a company that had never built a sub-compact before. The Pontiac Astre was Vega’s sister product and it shared many of Vega’s woes. The Vega was offered in both sedan and station wagon models on a 2.4-metre wheelbase for the period 1971 to 1975. The car had a rather insipid four-cylinder engine made of an aluminium alloy, but its design had not been fully worked out. The power plant quite often developed warped cylinder heads, sundry leakage problems, oil burning – from extreme expansion and contraction of cylinder walls – and main-bearing failure.

The Vega was equipped with a mushbox automatic transmission, or a trauma-producing mess that passed for a standard transmission. Neither transmission had the grace to refrain from outright breakdown. Body rust was a particularly bad problem and Vegas could be seen rusting with daunting rapidity. Just a few months after first purchase, the car acquired a patina of bubbles which soon burst reddish-brown through the finish.

Throttle linkages also tended to kink, producing full power at the most inopportune times and many Vegas had steering and brake problems. Drive train problems were rife and rear axles became a major problem area. In 1975 Chevrolet offered a limited-edition Vega called the Cosworth Vega, featuring a dual-overhead cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder Cosworth. It didn’t serve to redeem the contemporaneous standard Vegas, but it surely surprised the unsuspecting. Also in 1975 General Motors began to take steps to rectify many of the reported faults in this little car, finally dropping the line in 1977.

Quality problems were not solely confined to cars of US or European origin. In many of the Japanese Hondas, Datsuns and Toyotas of the time mechanical quality was marginal, quality control was doubtful and passenger comfort was often non-applicable. The main appeal of these cars was their fuel economy and low purchase price.

About Ewan Kennedy

Ewan Kennedy, a long-time car enthusiast, was Technical Research Librarian with the NRMA from 1970 until 1985. He worked part-time as a freelance motoring journalist from 1977 until 1985, when he took a full-time position as Technical Editor with Modern Motor magazine. Late in 1987 he left to set up a full-time business as a freelance motoring journalist. Ewan is an associate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers - International. An economy driving expert, he set the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a standard road vehicle on a single fuel fill. He lists his hobbies as stage acting, travelling, boating and reading.
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