The Truth About Cars » chevrolet vega http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 01 Oct 2014 14:10:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » chevrolet vega http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com My Role In The Extinction Of The American Muscle Car http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/my-role-in-the-extinction-of-the-american-muscle-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/my-role-in-the-extinction-of-the-american-muscle-car/#comments Wed, 20 Feb 2013 12:02:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=477966     A few weeks a go I had the opportunity to watch part of the Barrett Jackson auction. I found myself captivated by the colorful commentary that went along with each sale. Every car had a story and the commentators spent a great deal of time telling us about them. They also discussed the […]

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1969 Chevelle SS

 

A few weeks a go I had the opportunity to watch part of the Barrett Jackson auction. I found myself captivated by the colorful commentary that went along with each sale. Every car had a story and the commentators spent a great deal of time telling us about them. They also discussed the cars’ performance, available options and recited the original production numbers, contrasted by telling us exactly how many of those cars survive today. It turns out that many of the cars I regularly used to see back in the 1970s are extremely rare today. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, however, after all, I had a hand in making them go away.

By the time the 1980s got into full swing, around 1983, people were good and tired of the 1970s. The ‘70s had been pretty rough on the average American. We had our pride hurt when Saigon fell, we lost faith in our political institutions thanks to Watergate and we were embarrassed when our embassy was stormed by a bunch of kids in Iran. To make matters worse, we had gone way overboard on cheesy variety shows, bell bottoms and the cocaine and now we had one hell of a hangover. It was, we collectively decided, better if we just put the past behind us.

In 1983 I was a junior in high school and, with the economy still in a shambles, jobs in small-town America for kids my age were few and far between. Fortunately, my mom and dad weren’t stingy and I had enough money in my pocket to play Defender at the 7-11 and to put gas in my 6 cylinder Nova, but I aspired to bigger things. I wanted to build a fast car. It was my search for a job and my attempt to access to cheap parts that led me to form a friendship with the local hot-rodder.

Already married with three kids, Tim Harris was only about a decade older than me. He was the kind of guy who lived and breathed cars; the kind of guy who forever smelled of old crankcase oil and Dexron II. As a neighbor, he drove down your property values. His yard was filled with half stripped cars, disembodied engine and racks of body parts. Naturally, I thought he was the coolest guy around.

Easy Prey

The owner of several Chevrolet Vegas in his younger years, Tim had begun collecting parts to keep his own cars running but soon found that people were willing to pay a handsome premium for the parts they needed to keep their own cars going as well. Before long, Tim had an established business, buying up and parting out Chevrolets all over the county and, luckily for me, his business had grown to the point that he needed someone to help him. Since I was willing to work for a pittance, and bought most of my parts from him anyway, I got the job.

Tim had me do all sorts of work around the his house. I hauled wood, dug ditches, ran barbed wire and helped dismantle the cars he brought home. He worked me hard, but sometimes I got to ride along as Tim went to pick up one junker or another and, as we drove, he taught me the tricks of his trade. Like most money making ventures, the underlying idea was simple, the execution was not.

The process began in the driver’s seat and we drove about ceaselessly scouring the area for possible purchases. A potential buy was always a car that was sitting. Signs of a sitting car included a layer of dirt, pine needles or leaves on top and a patch of longish grass or other debris underneath. Flat tires were almost always good for us while an open hood or ongoing body work were usually not. With the economy in a protracted slump and high gas prices at the pump, that part was easy.

It took real skill, however, to know what you were actually looking at. I have, it turns out, a photographic memory and I soon developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the cars of the 60s and 70s. I knew their shapes, options, trim levels, possible power trains, even more esoteric things like whether or not they might be hiding disc brakes under their hubcaps. I could look at a car from the seat of the van and instantly report what it was. Tim would do the other important part, the mental math that told him just how much profit our find might actually bring. If a car was worth it, we knocked on the door of the house.

This system worked surprisingly well. Tim was a cash buyer and a great many people were swayed by the sight of his money. Together we purchased some of the great cars of the era.

One that should have been allowed to escape.

At one house, Tim scored a 1968 Chevy II with a 250 HP 327, a Muncie 4 speed and a positraction rear end for $300. It had been sitting for a while, but together Tim and I compression started the engine by rolling it down a small hill. The old car fired up and ran strong. I laid a great deal of rubber at every stop on the way home. Naturally, I was in love and wanted to save the baby blue car, but Tim would have none if it. In less than a month every part of value was sold and Tim and I hauled the stripped carcass to the recyclers in order to make room for the next victim.

So it went with dozens of cars and Novas, Camaros, Chevelles, Impalas and dozens upon dozens of late 60s Chevy trucks were sacrificed one piece at a time to the great god of commerce. Like a 19th century whaling operation, we stalked our prey, made the kill and then hauled the beast ashore where we stripped away every usable bit one piece at a time before taking the final remains to a place where they were rendered down into smelter fodder. There was one exception.

One that did get away.

The 1965 Impala SS 396 was truly a thing of beauty. Canary yellow with a black vinyl top, we found her on four flat tires and with a surprising amount of moss on the cement slab beneath her. I could see the cold calculation in Tim’s eyes as we walked around the dignified old girl, big block engine, SS wheel covers, disc brakes, all the trim pieces in good condition, flawless interior. This car was ripe for the picking. Tim ended up paying just $500 to an elderly lady who confessed she just wanted to be rid of it.

Once the title was in hand, we spent a few minutes getting the car prepped for the trip home. I pumped up the tires with a small compressor, checked the oil and water, and then we started the old big block using jumper cables. It ran rough at first but soon settled down and when we were ready, Tim let me go ahead while he followed in the van.

The old car was nice inside and the big engine ran well. The transmission shifted smoothly, and not for the first time I noticed what a really fine car it was. It did seem to wander around a bit out on the road and it had a fair amount of play in its steering, but old Impalas, especially big block cars, had a tendency to wear out suspension bushings. It was a minor problem, and I made the trip home without incident.

After parking the car, I got out and gave it a good serious look. I was still there when Tim pulled up a minute later. “This is a nice car.” I said.

“Yeah,” answered Tim, “A really nice car.”

“You think maybe someone would just buy the whole thing?” I asked.

“I could get more from parts than I could the whole thing.” Tim replied.

“It wouldn’t be right though.” I said.

‘I know.” Said Tim, “I know.”

The next week Tim put an ad in the paper and an elderly gentleman made the trip out to where we lived in the country to buy the car. Tim got $900 for it and seemed happy enough as the old car rolled down the driveway and away into the afternoon. But as it faded into the distance, he turned on me, “I could have made more money if I hadn’t listened to you.” he said accusingly.

“Somebody has to be your conscience.” I answered.

His expression lightened and he smiled. “I know.” said Tim heading for his van. “Come on, let’s go find something else we can make money on.” I paused a moment, then laughed and went with him, always ready to drive home another piece of history.

Teddy Roosevelt refusing to kill a captive bear.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Junkyard Find, Part II: 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/junkyard-find-part-ii-1975-chevrolet-cosworth-vega/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/junkyard-find-part-ii-1975-chevrolet-cosworth-vega/#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2012 18:00:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=430926 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. […]

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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.

26 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 01 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 02 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 03 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 04 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 05 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 06 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 07 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 08 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 09 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 10 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 11 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 12 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 13 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 14 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 15 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 16 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 17 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 18 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 19 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 20 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 21 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 22 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 23 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 24 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez 25 - 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega - Pictures courtesy of Jesse Cortez Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Junkyard Find: 1975 Chevrolet Vega http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/junkyard-find-1975-chevrolet-vega/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/junkyard-find-1975-chevrolet-vega/#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2012 17:00:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=430907 The first-gen Hyundai Excel is extremely rare junkyard find, with most Excels having been crushed before they hit ten years old. The story of the Chevy Vega is similar, though most Vegas survived a bit longer than Excels did. I hadn’t seen a Vega in a junkyard for at least a decade (not counting Pontiac-badged […]

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The first-gen Hyundai Excel is extremely rare junkyard find, with most Excels having been crushed before they hit ten years old. The story of the Chevy Vega is similar, though most Vegas survived a bit longer than Excels did. I hadn’t seen a Vega in a junkyard for at least a decade (not counting Pontiac-badged Vega wagons) when I found this reasonably solid example at a California self-service yard a couple weeks back.
The Vega had the potential to be a good car, capable of fending off the onrushing Japanese invasion, but GM staggered through a series of bureaucratic and engineering blunders and what ended up in Chevrolet showrooms was quite disappointing.

500 pounds heavier than the original design, plagued by corrosion problems, and with a troublesome iron-head/aluminum-block engine, the Vega was also a good-looking car that got decent fuel economy. It sold in large numbers… and turned countless GM loyalists into Toyota buyers during the course of the 1970s.

Like the Corvair before it and the Fiero after it, the Vega was a great idea executed poorly. Perhaps The General would have been better off going all-out with an Americanized Opel Kadett for its Chevy subcompact.

13 - 1975 Chevrolet Vega Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'The Crusher' Greden 01 - 1975 Chevrolet Vega Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'The Crusher' Greden 02 - 1975 Chevrolet Vega Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'The Crusher' Greden 03 - 1975 Chevrolet Vega Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'The Crusher' Greden 04 - 1975 Chevrolet Vega Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'The Crusher' Greden 05 - 1975 Chevrolet Vega Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'The Crusher' Greden 06 - 1975 Chevrolet Vega Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'The Crusher' Greden 07 - 1975 Chevrolet Vega Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'The Crusher' Greden 08 - 1975 Chevrolet Vega Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'The Crusher' Greden 09 - 1975 Chevrolet Vega Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'The Crusher' Greden 10 - 1975 Chevrolet Vega Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'The Crusher' Greden 11 - 1975 Chevrolet Vega Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'The Crusher' Greden 12 - 1975 Chevrolet Vega Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'The Crusher' Greden Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Junkyard Find: 1979 Pontiac Sunbird Safari Station Wagon http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/junkyard-find-1979-pontiac-sunbird-safari-station-wagon/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/junkyard-find-1979-pontiac-sunbird-safari-station-wagon/#comments Mon, 16 Jan 2012 14:00:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=426461 Until I spotted this 1979 Chevy Monza wagon in The Crusher’s waiting room last year, I had forgotten that GM slapped Monza and Sunbird badges on the (Monza ancestor) Chevy Vega wagon at the tail end of the 1970s. Then, last week, I discovered this Sunbird Safari at another Denver self-service yard. Such history to […]

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Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011Until I spotted this 1979 Chevy Monza wagon in The Crusher’s waiting room last year, I had forgotten that GM slapped Monza and Sunbird badges on the (Monza ancestor) Chevy Vega wagon at the tail end of the 1970s. Then, last week, I discovered this Sunbird Safari at another Denver self-service yard. Such history to be uncovered in the junkyards of Denver!
Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011To make the branding even more confusing, GM stuck the snout of the discontinued crypto-Canadian Astre on the 1978-79 Sunbird wagons.
Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011Things were looking pretty grim for The General in 1979; you know you’re in trouble when your Pinto fighter’s strongest punch is the fake woodgrain decals on the lighter and radio knobs.
Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011However, this car did have one good thing going for it: an even-fire Buick V6 under the hood. 105 horsepower wasn’t much, but the Sunbird wagon only weighed about 2,600 pounds.
Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011Original owner? I’m going to say yes.
Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011Worth rescuing? No… but I hope there’s still at least one low-mile Monza or Sunbird wagon hiding in a barn somewhere in the year 2029.

Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Junkyard Find: 1979 Chevrolet Monza Wagon http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/junkyard-find-1979-chevrolet-monza-wagon/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/junkyard-find-1979-chevrolet-monza-wagon/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2011 13:00:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=399914 When I first glimpsed this Malaise Era compact wagon in my local wrecking yard, I thought “Wow, I haven’t seen a Vega in a junkyard for years!” Then I saw the grille and realized that I was looking at an example of the very rare Monza wagon, which was a Monza snout grafted onto the […]

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When I first glimpsed this Malaise Era compact wagon in my local wrecking yard, I thought “Wow, I haven’t seen a Vega in a junkyard for years!” Then I saw the grille and realized that I was looking at an example of the very rare Monza wagon, which was a Monza snout grafted onto the discontinued-after-1977 Vega wagon. At the risk of enraging the small but very devoted Vega Jihad, I’m going to pronounce this thing The Most Terrible Station Wagon Detroit Ever Made.

This one has the 3.2 liter version of the venerable Buick V6 engine, which made a pretty-good-for-1979 105 horsepower. You could also get a ’79 Monza with a 130-horse, 305-cubic-inch V8, and one can only hope that a few of these were made with the V8 and the four-speed manual transmission.

The automatic transmission siphoned off much of that V6 power, unfortunately.

The Monza wagon listed at $3974, only 60 bucks more than the ’79 Chevette four-door. The Pinto Pony wagon could be had for $3,633. Meanwhile, the ’79 Honda Civic wagon was priced at $4,759.

I’m trying to dredge up some sadness that this car, which somehow managed to stay on the street for 32 years, is going to be eaten by The Crusher… but I just can’t do it. Next stop, Chinese steel factory!

DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-21 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-01 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-02 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-03 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-04 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-05 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-06 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-07 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-08 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-09 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-10 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-11 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-12 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-13 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-14 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-15 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-16 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-17 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-18 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-19 DOTJ-79MonzaWagon-20 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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More Weird Diecast Cars To Clog Up My Desk: Malaise Detroit, Warsaw Pact http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/more-weird-diecast-cars-to-clog-up-my-desk-malaise-detroit-warsaw-pact/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/more-weird-diecast-cars-to-clog-up-my-desk-malaise-detroit-warsaw-pact/#comments Thu, 19 May 2011 13:00:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=395398 Once the word gets out that a 24 Hours of LeMons judge has a thing for oddball toy cars, racers will scour the earth to find increasingly obscure and/or terrible examples. What goes with a Leyland P76 and a Nissan Prairie? Well, a 1:24 scale ’74 Gremlin, for starters. The employees of the Chinese factory […]

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Once the word gets out that a 24 Hours of LeMons judge has a thing for oddball toy cars, racers will scour the earth to find increasingly obscure and/or terrible examples. What goes with a Leyland P76 and a Nissan Prairie?

Well, a 1:24 scale ’74 Gremlin, for starters. The employees of the Chinese factory making these things must be wondering what the hell kind of crazy country not only builds a car like this but feels nostalgic enough about it to buy toy versions. To go with it, I have this lovely red Pinto.

Completing the Terrible Malaise Era Compact Cars set is this Chevy Vega, in the bilious metallic green color that GM sprayed damn near all these things. All three cars came to me courtesy of the Team-ing With Bad Ideas turbocharged Beetle team, which managed to get an amazing 207 laps out of their VW at last weekend’s race.

This 1:43 scale ZAZ-968 came to me courtesy of the Communists-Я-Us BMW 320i team. I’m a huge fan of the Soviet Corvair, so this car gets a prime parking spot on my desk.

The Moskvitch 408 rally car will park right next to the Zaphorozhets.

As an A100 owner, I’ve always got room for another diecast Dodge van. Supposedly there’s a large-scale A100 piggy bank out there…

Here’s a toy car that doesn’t require a sense of irony or love of Warsaw Pact machinery to appreciate: a 1936 Tatra 77, straight from a toy store in Prague.

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Feature: Five Automotive Passenger Pigeons http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/feature-five-automotive-passenger-pigeons/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/feature-five-automotive-passenger-pigeons/#comments Sun, 15 Nov 2009 18:20:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=335533 Passenger pigeons were the most common bird found in North America. So common that flocks numbering 2 billion were up to a mile wide and 300 miles long. In other words, the average North American in the 18th and 19th Century saw a lot of these pigeons. You could easily argue that a passenger pigeon […]

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(courtesy:hogansclassiccars.com)

Passenger pigeons were the most common bird found in North America. So common that flocks numbering 2 billion were up to a mile wide and 300 miles long. In other words, the average North American in the 18th and 19th Century saw a lot of these pigeons. You could easily argue that a passenger pigeon sighting in 1812 was something on the same scale today as seeing mind-numbing crap on TV. Not a particularly noteworthy or unique experience. So what took the passenger pigeon down? It was a combination of things but the biggest factor was that these pigeons tasted pretty good (a lot like chicken) and they were plentiful-hence a cheap source of food.bThey were wiped out at the pace of millions per year, so the last documented passenger pigeon named Martha died on September 1st 1914. In other words, something the average American had seen every day was extinct in a matter of a few decades. Quick extinction of a very common species is not a phenomenon exclusive to Mother Nature because cars can disappear overnight too. Here are a few that will soon be joining that “whatever happened to…” list.

The 1971 Chevrolet Vega-this car had the best press in the world because GM orchestrated a brilliant pre-introduction PR campaign. They kept dropping hints about the car to an extremely curious press but never really leaked any substantial information. Then, when the Vega was unveiled, it really captured the imagination of the auto world. It had a sporty European look, disc brakes, coils all around and an exotic aluminum engine.

It was Motor Trend ‘Car of the Year’ in 1971 and was picked as Reader’s Choice ‘Economy Car of the Year’ at Car and Driver. They sold 277,000 of these 1st year econo- boxes and it was a great moment for Chevy-until the reviews came in after 20-30,000 miles. GM cheaped out on the aluminum engine and used cast iron heads so the bond was never really good between head and block. Vegas became instant oil burners and to be honest, they also cheaped out on the build and material quality.

The net result was the cars sucked mechanically and in build quality, they were cheap and disposable and they disappointed a lot of owners in 1971. They were as common as dirt in the early 70s but try and find a stock, mint condition 1971 Vega in 2009. It would have to be stored in a vacuum sealed garage with 2 miles on the dial.

1972 Dodge D100 pickup-these were actually a pretty decent looking departure from the boxy D 100 look that Dodge leaned on from 1961-71. In fact, the cosmetics compared favorably in some ways to the legendary 1972 Chevy C10 plus Chrysler trumped the competition by introducing the Club Cab-the first entry into more space in a pickup.

The problem was that Chevy was at the end of the run for its design from 67-72 and the 1973 GM set the bar for design in 1970s trucks. In 72, Dodge had a nice looking truck with decent appointments but it was stuck in the 60s design that GM had just left behind.

Dodge also had some serious rust issues with these trucks around the wheel wells and the government mandated smog crap was a disaster for Mopar engines. They just hated damp and cold conditions and that automatic choke problem was a big problem for anything with a pentastar on it for most of the 70s.

They sold 100,000 of these trucks but try and find a 72 Dodge truck at a show. Worse, if you want to be cruel, count the number of 72 Chevys at the same show. Dodge trucks were just that-trucks. So they lived a fairly short, beat the hell out of me, unglamorous life as a workhorse then disappeared off the face of the earth.

Because of this horrible abuse, the AT&T, or highway maintenance 72 Dodge fleet trucks that were so common in the 70s were used up and became a part of automotive history by the time Ronnie Reagan took the oath of office. They didn’t even save the 1972 Dodge call truck from the TV show Emergency.

1973 Plymouth Fury-This was the workhorse of cars back in 1973. They were a natural taxicab with great interior room and, if you were falling down drunk and didn’t take a cab home, they also made great police cars. Either way you got the roomy back seat. 1973 Furys were all over the place. They were unglamorous working vehicles and the closest they came to looking sporty was when Dad ordered a station wagon with the fake wood on the side.

The Arab oil embargo sounded the death knell for these giant cars- nobody outside of police agencies saw any value in these big Furys and the styling was getting old. They had some rust issues but no more than average. The quirky “I hate cold, wet weather” carb was probably their biggest mechanical liability.

They were just too big and outdated at the wrong time so even though Chrysler sold 288,000 of these 4-wheeled Clydesdales, they are a heartbeat away from the passenger pigeon Hall of Fame. Vintage NYPD police car collectors are the only guys with even a remote interest in these cars that used to jam up every urban street in North America.

1974 Honda Civic-The Civic was the answer to the problem that 73 Furys couldn’t solve-they were fun, ran great and most of all they were lethal to the efforts of OPEC to hold a world hostage to oil prices. The Civics looked contemporary-even cutting edge in style so they clearly said “welcome to the 70s” to buyers. They pulled down 40 MPG, had decent power and, with the addition of the CVCC motor and a 5 speed, gave the little Civic some real sportiness. Sales topped 100,000 in 1974.

They ran like Swiss watches, quickly establishing early Honda engine reliability as a constant but they had one fatal flaw. In their rush to save weight, Honda put some pretty thin metal in the Civic-the result was disastrous for the future of these mid-70s icons. Most owners really enjoyed their Civics but the concept of a long-term relationship for the tragically rusty Civic was, at best, a dream for anybody living outside the non humid- no rainfall Death Valley zip code.

1977 Toyota Celica-Most people liked to call the lift back version of this car the Japanese Mustang and the term fit. This was a good-looking little car and, even though those back seats made a Mustang fastback back seat feel like a limousine ride, the Celica was a winner in every way. The 20 R engine was evolved from earlier engines and it was indestructible, economical, reliable and it had decent power and great economy. These cars sold like crazy from the start-1.5 million from 1970-77. They were found everywhere as North Americans became more familiar with the positives of these imports. They appealed to younger buyers and like the Civic, their timing was great during the soaring gas price era of the mid-70s.

The Celica was taken down by some of the same issues as the Civic. The light metal wasn’t great so these cars practically disintegrated over 2 or 3 North American winters. Heat was also a bit of an issue in northern climates for Celicas-they had trouble keeping up with the demands of a real winter and drivers often looked through frosty windows as part of a Celica cold weather experience. Interiors weren’t really big enough for super-sized Americans either and seats didn’t hold up well with 200 pounders.

Like the Civic, the Celica established Toyota as a player in car building and as we all know, they cured most of the rust and interior space issues. But it didn’t stop these cars that were once so common, from becoming a member of the Passenger Pigeon Hall of Fame.

In almost every example these were above average vehicles in many ways and they covered city streets in the 70s like a flock of passenger pigeons.

But like those unlucky birds, we’re down to the “Marthas” of 1971 Vegas, 72 Dodge pickups, 73 Plymouth Furys, 74 Honda Civics and 1977 Toyota Celicas.

For more of Jerry Sutherland’s work go to mystarcollectorcar.com

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