By on February 15, 2012

After seeing today’s Junkyard Find ’75 Vega, the members of the Vega Jihad are doubtless pounding out 10,000-word screeds about The Greatest Car Ever Made (never underestimate the suspension of disbelief required to be a member of the Vega Jihad), and I’m sure that the Cosworth Vega will be mentioned numerous times during said screeds. That’s why it’s fortunate that I have a bonus Junkyard Find today, a genuine, one-of-3,508-made junked Cosworth Vega, which TTAC reader and historically accurate 80s minitruck road racer Jesse Cortez found and photographed at a Northern California wrecking yard.
This Cosworth Vega’s engine was spun a little too enthusiastically, which sent a rod through the side of the block.
However, it comes with a couple of spare blocks and heads. Maybe they’re good!
With its Cosworth-designed cylinder head and fuel injection, the 2,400-pound Cosworth Vega had 110 horsepower under the hood. Compare that to the 75 horses of the base Vega.
I haven’t seen a Cosworth Vega in person since the mid-1980s; most got used up and discarded.

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67 Comments on “Junkyard Find, Part II: 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega...”


  • avatar

    A Cosworth Vega is something a bit special but that particular one is in pretty awful shape. When the engine lets go and the engine is the best part of the car then off the the scrapyard I guess. Much like the later Taurus SHO from the late 80s.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      The Cosworth engine valuable mostly because of its pioneering use of 4 valves per cylinder, was hardly a paragon of reliability, even compared to its contemporaries.

      The Yamaha V-6 in the SHO was, in fact, quite reliable, as well as being fun to drive and sounding wicked.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Gordon

        “The Cosworth engine valuable mostly because of its pioneering use of 4 valves per cylinder, ”

        Beaten to the post by the Triumph Dolomite Sprint by three years.

    • 0 avatar
      PaulVincent

      I had four SHO Taurus, and not one had an engine problem. The last one I had I sold at 160,000+ miles, and it used no appreciable oil, and I regularly drove them to redline. The engine was first rate.

    • 0 avatar
      tkewley

      IIRC, the CosVeg had the same unsleeved aluminum block as the base car, and suffered exactly the same wear and oil burning issues. Also, it was not available with air conditioning. So yes, it was “special”…but not perhaps in the way you meant.

    • 0 avatar
      acuraandy

      @Dave7:

      Ah, the SHO. A dear friend of mine back in high school (god rest his soul) had one, which was later traded to another friend of mine (who is still around) for some other shiitebox.

      It was an ’89. Maroon inside and out, of course. The shifter linkage was held together via zip-tie, and the exhaust was a concoction of turbo mufflers, fence post and Thursh glass packs.

      But that Yamaha motor, at this time had around 250k on it, ran like a champ. No leaks, no misfires, the whole gambit.

      Not sure what happened to that car, but if it hasn’t been made into Chinese beer cans yet, that’s an 80’s Ford i’d buy in a New York minute…

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Most of today’s econocars could dust the Cosworth Vega.

    That car’s pretty beat, but even babying it wouldn’t have extended its life much.

  • avatar
    PaulVincent

    I knew a guy who had one of the first in our area. He was quite the gear head and when it started (almost immediately) to use oil, it was clear that he felt suckered. That car was up on a lift on almost a daily basis.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Behold the awesome wonderfulness of 1970s vehicular manufacturing output from the masterminds within GMC.

    Quake with admiration.

    If it’s Mattel it’s swell applies to the Vega and every derivative of its majestic majesty.

    Carry on.

  • avatar
    itanibro

    If that junkyard were in New York State, this Vega would be 85% rust.

  • avatar
    daviel

    This is an excellent GM-small car reminder. They’re making small cars again at GM. Looking at this vega all I could think of is how the aveo and the sonic, et al, are going to look years hence.

  • avatar
    skor

    California is good to cars. The Northeast winters would have cause that thing to return to its base elements over 20 years ago.

  • avatar
    Morea

    In the photograph with the two sets of headers and the two cam shafts, what are the tubes that come from the header mounts and connect to what appear to be diaphragm assemblies? Some kind of temperature control for idle or enrichment?

    Also, who oversaw the manufacture of these engines: Cosworth or GM? Is it a Cosworth design manufactured by GM?

    • 0 avatar
      relton

      Regular Vegas used an air injection pump that was powered by the exhaust inpulses. The four tubes went to a cannister with 4 separate check valves. The exhaust pulses caused the check valves to cycle and inject bursts of clean air into the exaust. Very clever, seemed to work pretty well.

      Bob

      • 0 avatar
        Morea

        Thanks!

      • 0 avatar
        55_wrench

        @ Relton,
        the same principle was followed with the 2.8V6 which the General put in all the X-cars. The reed valves broke off after awhile and exhaust gas blew backwards thru the tubes making an awful sound. They were a dealer item at $330 each in 1987. And you needed 2 of them. One more reason GM lost market share. They totally deserved to.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    Removing that Fram oil filter would probably reveal the actual cause of the ventilated block. I’ve had 2 friends pull their disintegrating filters off, one with a similar looking block.

    • 0 avatar
      Firestorm 500

      Orange Can Of Death. Look where the hole in the block is. Right beside it.

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        Years ago Consumer Reports did a test of the most common brands of oil filters on the market, the Fram came out on top.

      • 0 avatar
        acuraandy

        @skor:

        B.S. I’ll take OEM filter or WIX over Fram any day. If the only option is a Fram, I won’t even bother to change the oil.

      • 0 avatar
        ciddyguy

        I’ve used Fram for years, not in recent oil changes though and I’ve never had an issue with a blown block, nor leakage either and I’ve changed my oil most of my years of driving and that’s been since 1982.

      • 0 avatar
        acuraandy

        @ciddy:

        Personally it’s more a matter of preference. I worked at a Valvoline Instant Oil Change back in high school, and almost every Fram I took off of a car was leaking before removal.

        This may have been operator error (if whoever changed it last didn’t know what they were doing).

        Currently I run ONLY OEM filters. For my Honda (well, since I work for a dealer), it’s OEM. For my Ecotec, OEM. My dad’s Hyundai, OEM.

        The cost isn’t much more, no issues or leaks. Just sayin…

  • avatar
    seanx37

    A small block does fit under a Vega hood. I know this, as I did it once.

    • 0 avatar
      tkewley

      Chevy did it too. It was called the Monza. Infamously, the engine had to be partially removed from the car to change the spark plugs.

      • 0 avatar
        indi500fan

        A bit of exaggeration at least as my memory serves from doing it.
        Pull one bolt attaching the two halves of the motor mount and have a helper use a 6 ft 2×4 to lever the engine up and to the side.

        Yeah it was a great joke in the media, but not all that difficult. Plus these were the first year for HEI and unleaded fuel, so a plug change was probably a once in the life of the car event.

      • 0 avatar
        fincar1

        I had a V8 4-speed Monza 2+2 fastback. Great car that ruined me for contemporary 4-speed Mercedes, Volvo and such. Certainly although it was based on a Vega it didn’t seem to have much in common with it.

        The engine mount had to be loosened and the engine raised a bit to getat the one spark plug. This happened four times in 100,000 miles. BFD.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        Actually you could get to the plugs by removing the wheel and using a long extension w/swivel.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    I still remember the tag line on the print ad for this car:

    “One Vega for the price of two”.

    Seriously.

  • avatar
    dvdlgh

    A buddy of mine got a Vega wagon when they first came out. When I rode in it I remember thinking that I had never heard so many rattles and squeaking noises.

  • avatar
    relton

    This car doesn’t have exactly the same block as a Vega. Vega had an open deck block, with no material between the top of the bores and the sides of the block. I suspect that the stronger block is the reason the displacement was reduced from 2.3 to 2.0 liters.

    Bob

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      You’re deceived by the head gasket lying on top.
      Look at the extra block in the photo collection.
      Same block as the base Vega.
      Displacement reduction was shorter stroke for more revs.

  • avatar
    Lokki

    Big Corporations, like aircraft carriers take a long time to turn around and even longer to sink, but they can be sunken. The Cosworth Vega was the first real declaration (to me anyhow) that GM was dying and that it was just a matter of time.

    When the Vega first appeared on the scene, it seemed great. Handsome car, good handling, and – finally!- a world class aluminum engine like the ones that Alfa had made since the 50’s but modernized!

    Rumors about the Cosworth Vega started early (I don’t remember the year) but Vegas still had some cache at the time and Cosworth was a magic name …. we were excited. Sure the Z28 was going away and soon gone, but a smaller version of the same game was coming. Early reports were of BIG horsepower: Too cool!. 170 HP in a car that would fit in the trunk of Dad’s Oldsmobile? Excellent!

    But day by day, the magic started to fail. First backfires and rough running… next excessive oil use, then stories of those damn aluminum blocks… then the overheating… and after a couple of years – when everybody knew somebody who owned one…. RUST!. Not rust, or Rust or even RUST but RUST! Given the times, when Consumer Reports was publishing reports on how to read VINs so you could avoid buying a car made on a Monday, we will simply say that quality was not so good…. even compared to other quality disasters on the market at the time.

    In the meantime the Cosworth engine kept getting delayed…. while the projected horsepower figures kept falling.

    By the time it appeared, Vega’s were no longer handsome cars but with the 5 mph front bumpers looked more like teen girls in braces. Oh, and the Cosworth with 110 HP? Hell, that was what the original -blows oil, backfires, and dies -original- Vega came with. 5 years of Cosworth engineering for THIS?

    Please.

    There’s a reason that this thing and most of it’s 3799 friends went to the junkyard. There’s also a reason that GM is dead.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      The Vega was the first vehicle engineered by “corporate” GM out of the Tech Center.

      Not sure why that path was taken. But as it neared production and the many flaws were revealed, they “threw it over the wall” to Chevrolet. This was back when the GM divisions all had their own engineering staffs.

      The Vega was definitely the red-haired stepchild at Chevy. Nobody wanted much to do with it, and were generally p*ssed that mgmt had let the “research” guys at the Tech Center have the thing initially.

  • avatar
    Syke

    My first car was a ’73 Vega GT, silver with the black stripe (weren’t they all?). I still have VERY fond memories of the car. Ran three seasons of SCCA B Sedan autocross, actually podiumed once only to have the sponsoring region change the date of the point autocross to the following weekend (in the middle of the day!) because the crowd from Pittsburgh didn’t make it up. They were running BMW’s, and everybody else ran for third. The podium that day was Vega, Pinto, (my) Vega. The organizers hated it, thus the ‘practice autocross’ decision, and cheap little trophy, and we were told to come back next week where we could finish in our expected places – off the podium.

    Have never had anything to do with the SCCA since, and still hold a grudge.

    The car? Three years of very good, very fun, service. Yes, it was using oil by the time I traded it in, and if I’d have kept it for a fourth year my attitude would probably have been different. But I have very fond memories of that car.

    Replaced it with a 4 cylinder/5 speed Monza GT. Another good car. Replaced that with a V-6/5 speed Monza Kammback. Absolute POS, and it was twenty years before I bought another Chevy.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    If you can find a copy of “Peterson’s Complete Book of Vega”, grab it. Published in 1975, it is page after page of humorous (now) writing extolling the virtues of Chevy’s new 100,000 mile car.

  • avatar
    IronEagle

    Musclecar City in Punta Gorda, FL has a mint original orange/yellow striped Cosworth Vega. It is a good looking machine especially for its time. I pointed out to my lady that this was probably the worst built GM car ever IIRC due to quality and breakdowns. I believe I read an article about the plant these were built. Something about the plant having GM’s worst labor relations and many walkouts by the workers?

  • avatar
    skor

    BTW, Vegas were transported from the factory on “Vert-a-Pack” rail cars.

    See here:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevy_Vega#Vertical_rail_transport

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Not a member of the Vega jihad, but I had a ’71 (this was in ’78) and it was one of the best cars I’ve ever owned. Extremely reliable. I think my Vega was the only one like that.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    On the oil consumption, people may be forgetting leaks. Days of yore indeed.

    As a kid, I had one of these as a regular customer at my grandpa’s Mobil station in NY. Driver let me pour a quart of oil in now and then, watching me closely. We agreed Mobil 1 made no sense.

    This was back when you were asked if you wanted your oil to be checked when you bought gas. You needed it. I got frequent $0.25 tips.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    I thought it was kinda neat the way these pieces of crap were transported. Special rail cars were built just for vegas. the sides of the boxcars would open down from the top and form ramps, the cars were driven onto them and strapped into place and shipped nose down. The batteries had the vents and caps on the backside because of this, and the oil pan had special baffles. The cars had hoops welded underneath for attaching the chains.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    leave it to GM to come up with a linerless aluminum cylinder. It’s like they built the car to be an oil burner on purpose, it even had a kill switch integral with the oil pressure switch to cut the spark if the oil pressure dropped too low.
    The bore actually used a special honing process with silicone impregnated into the hatch pattern, but it quickly wore off.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      IIRC both Porsche and BMW have also made linerless aluminum blocks.

      Are they ….. for that too?

      • 0 avatar
        Lokki

        Can’t speak for Porsche and all aluminum blocks but as for BMW, yes, their first all-aluminum blocks were total POS…. The infamous Nikasil disaster:

        http://www.usautoparts.net/bmw/engines/nikasil.htm

        Edit:
        Looks like some of the Porsche aluminum engines weren’t so hot either although for different reasons:

        http://www.lnengineering.com/boxster.html

        That answer your question?

        Note that my 71 Alfa has an all-aluminum engine and that wasn’t new idea in 1971. The difference? Steel sleeves instead of coated aluminum

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      I don’t think GM came up with this idea. As far as I know, it was Briggs & Stratton that was first. In the early 50’s it was obvious that small power equipment engines needed to be made lighter…they had been manufactured out of cast iron up until that time. Aluminum was the obvious choice, but lining the jugs with steel would have been very costly, so they came up with a process of treating the aluminum so a steel liner was not needed. Works pretty good on a Lawn-Boy. On a car? Not so much.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Dunno, how do they hold up on those cars? if they work well then they are doing it differently than GM did with the vega. I remember in the late 70’s a company called IECO sold vega blocks with sleeves. They would ship it to owners for an exchange with their existing block. The vega actually wasn’t GM’s first linerless aluminum engine, the 69 ZL1 427 camaro block was also linerless.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Ciddyguy, the old orange can of death thing is an internet urban legend. I’ve used fram filters on and off for 33 years and never had a problem with one, and I’ve never known of anyone to have a problem with them.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      That’s exactly what it is….internet mechanics who “know a guy whose sister-in-law’s second cousin’s uncle had a $100K Shelby Mustang GT500 engine destroyed by a Fram filter.” You’d think that if even a small percentage of these stories were true, the owners of Fram would have been sued into oblivion by now.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        Skor, you are absolutely correct. If a fraction of the people suffered engine failures from fram filters as internet car guys claim then Fram would have went under long ago. When I go to major events like bogger shows and to the drag races I see alot of high dollar stuff with a fram filter. You think those guys would be so stupid as to use a junk filter?
        @Acurandy, many times major automakers have their oil filters made by the aftermarket companies. I know that at times ford, toyota and chrysler have had their filters made by fram. So people that bought their “factory” filters were really buying a fram painted a different color with either “mopar,” “motorcraft” or the “honda” H on it. Automakers have also had filters made for them by purolator and others.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        Bigger shows*

      • 0 avatar
        acuraandy

        @HemiWedge:)

        I knew that. Currently, filters for Honda are produced by Honeywell (originally a MINNESOTA company, don’t even get me started as to why they moved their corporate HQ from MN to NJ) in Canada.

        Can’t speak to the others you mentioned, but that is correct. Might have been ‘way back’ in the 1980’s, but yes, correct.

        The last Ecotec filter I got from the local Chev dealer was made in Slovenia. American?!, I don’t think so…

        Hyundai filters are made in SOUTH Korea, not sure by whom. Kim Jong Un perhaps? lol

    • 0 avatar
      Hobie-wan

      Add me to the pile of people who have never had a problem with Fram filters. Neither have my parents.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I remember reading at one point that the Cosworth Vega was, still a slow machine even with 110HP and I think I read also that it wasn’t all that much faster than the regular carbed Vegas of the time.

    My Mom had a standard, 1976 Vega wagon, complete with 3spd automatic and AC no less and while it was slow and not overly thrifty on gas for its size, it WAS reasonably reliable, outside of the carburetor needing to be rebuilt once, it held up until she sold it in the 1980’s for a new X body 1983 Buick Skylark. She’d bought it second hand in 1978 in very nice shape.

    It wasn’t exactly fast either but it did well in the snow and was imminently practical for what it was.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    As a teenager in the 70’s and working on the farm, we all kinda wondered about that new small car called the Vega. After all, it was a Chevy and Chevy was great right? So this had to be a good car – we thought. Two guys (brothers actually) that live down the road from me bought Vega’s, one bought a 1976 white, with the Spirit of America package. Looked nice, but he seemed to always be fiddling with it and as time went on…….he just quit washing, caring or doing anything above adding oil. Now, for a teenage boy to quit taking care of a brand new car that he worked on a farm to buy, that says alot! The other guy – sold it and bought a Torino (egad – a Ford!)

  • avatar
    manbridge

    Obviously not all Nikasil treatments are comparable apples to apples. BMW’s process seemed to be the only one affected by sulphur in gasoline.

    Doesn’t seem to be a problem in the millions of chainsaws, motorcycles, snowmobiles, jetskis, and various other applications.

    And Porsche? The nikasil cylinders are held in higher regard than later alusil ones. Often they are still in spec after 100-150K miles.

    The Vega engine should have been nixed after the first one failed the engine stand durability test.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    One thing that I’ve wondered is if more care was put into the bodies of the Cosworth than in the garden variety Vegas. Many friends owned standard Vegas in the seventies and even though I was living in comparatively dry Austin, Texas at the time every last one had major rust issues particularly at the A-pillar . The Cosworth bodies I saw seemed relatively rust free. May have been better owner care due to the absurdly high price- $5916, in 1975, one major reason they flopped in the marketplace. Consider that for $800, $900 more you could buy a new Corvette convertible! Probably not the best year for a ‘Vette, but still…

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    @Andy, most manufacturers stopped making their own filters years ago because it’s cheaper to buy them from the aftermarket. AC DELCO filters are now made by champion labs, who also makes filters for purolator, STP and bosch. They also now make motorcraft filters for ford. Pick your favorite name and color.
    Allied Signal owns honeywell, and also bought fram way back in 67 but I’m not sure whether or not they still own them, but I thnk they do.

  • avatar
    John

    Re: oil filters – a long time ago a guy cut apart a whole bunch of different brands of filters with a metal lathe, and rated them on an internet site. Now; if you go to youtube, you can find a lot of people who’ve done this and posted videos. They show Fram filters are absolute crap inside. Some of the better aftermarket ones are Amsoil, Wix, Mobil 1, and Purolator Plus One. Most of the OEM filters are pretty good too.

    For some reason, it looks like all Fram filters have a .22 size hole right through the paper filtering media at one spot. No idea why.
    Best quote I’ve heard: “A Mobil One filter is a formula 1 filter for the street”.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Vega-victim of the tyranny of the bean counter. Back in the 70’s I knew a bunch of people who bought these, mainly used. Same issues on all cooling problems head gaskets, bodies that rotted because they were never dipped or used galvanized steel.

    It was a shame GM did not just use its small car technology from overseas Opel, Vauxhall and Holden which was far better.


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