By on August 17, 2018

An enterprising GM executive, a British tuning company, and a compact hatchback came together in 1975 to make a very special, limited-production Chevrolet.

It’s the Cosworth Vega, naturally.

This Vega is the third instance of an H-body vehicle in the Rare Rides series; the only time we’ve featured a single platform thricely.

Chevrolet’s Vega was the first vehicle on General Motors’ H-body. Hitting dealer lots back in 1971, the Vega was available in two-door sedan, hatchback, wagon, and sedan delivery variants. As it stood on dealer lots, the Vega was very much a middle market car, with middle market performance. None of this was very interesting to GM vice president John DeLorean, so he sent an engineer over to England to scout around for a way to add some sportiness to the Vega. The engineer in question ended up visiting with Cosworth, who designed a twin-cam cylinder head that worked with the existing Vega engine.

Throughout its run, two different variations of inline-four engines powered standard Vega models — both of them 2.3-liters in displacement. This engine was reworked considerably for Cosworth Vega duty, shrinking down to 2.0 liters, and paired with the aforementioned Cosworth cylinder head. But the project was a low priority among GM management, and DeLorean had an uphill battle to get corporate approval. With the engine ready in early 1971, DeLorean brought the project to GM’s president, Edward Cole.

DeLorean pitched the idea by preparing three performance Vegas for Mr. Cole to sample. One was a base model, the second had a small-block V8 under hood, and the third was the Cosworth. Cole was duly impressed by the tuned four cylinder, and offered his approval. Cosworth was go.

Chevy prepared a number of test cars to comply with EPA testing standards. More than one rework of the engine was required, as well as further test car examples to prepare for revised EPA regulations starting in 1975. The ’75 regulations required a revised electronic ignition, the addition of a catalytic converter, and a rework of the fuel injection system.

As 1975 rolled around, the Cosworth passed all tests and began production with its 140-horsepower engine. Assembled at the Lordstown, Ohio plant which would later make Cruzes, all 1975 models shared the same black and gold theme. 1976 saw a cosmetic update and the addition of several different paint color options. Though the car magazines were all impressed, the asking price for a Cosworth Vega was just $900 less than a Corvette in the same showroom. Ouch. All told, Chevy made just 3,508 Cosworth Vegas.

Located in Kansas City, today’s example comes complete with a sale ad featuring eleven pages of all-caps text. The miles are 2,948 and the asking price is $20,000.

[Images: seller]

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50 Comments on “Rare Rides: This 1975 Chevrolet Is Both Vega and Cosworth...”

  • avatar

    I can hear that car rusting from here.

    • 0 avatar

      They were absolute world championship rustbuckets. My great-grandparent’s last car was a baby-blue ’76 Vega wagon. It was literally NEVER driven in snow, and very rarely in the rain, as literally used it just to go shopping, and would just stay home. When they died in 1995, it had less than 15K on it, and rust holes in the sills. Though otherwise it was pretty much a museum piece.

      My great-grandfather was a tough old Mainer too – that car had a black vinyl interior, no A/C, no power steering and no power brakes. I think the ONLY option were the rear window defogger and the automatic transmission. I drove it some in High School and it was a WORKOUT to drive. Also ran like poop, though after a bit of spirited driving as only a 17yo high school student could do it got much better. I may have literally blown some mice out of the poor thing.

    • 0 avatar

      One of the primary reason for the tendency to rust was that they were dunked in a tank so the bare steel could be coated for rust prevention. That was cheaper than priming, and it sounded like a good idea. Unfortunately for GM, there were area in the body that trapped air so when dunked, all those air pocketed areas received no coating at all. The completely bare steel rusted out in no time…

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Well once again give John Z credit for trying.
    For those who have not, I recommend reading ‘his book’ (more an as told to) On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors.

    • 0 avatar

      Read that and then Irreconcilable Differences (story of Ross Perot and Roger Smith) and Call me Roger (written by Roger Smith’s speech writer). Amazing that they made it to 2007 before filing.

  • avatar

    It looks cool enough, but for $20k and less than 3K miles on it, its a trailer queen from here on out.

    Of course, given the record of Vega’s reliability (or lack thereof), it might as well be one anyway.

  • avatar

    You can’t make a silk purse out of a sows ear. Does’t matter how good the new engine was, the car was crap. I owned a normal Pontiac version of the Vega. By ’76 the engine block had steel liners and the rust issue was improved to average. The rest of the car was the poster child for the Malaise era for cars. Workmanship and reliability was bad beyond belief. The person I bought mine from bought a new Honda, I replaced mine with a Ford. This one car sold two competitors cars. Good jog GM.

  • avatar

    I have never cared for the front end on these or the same era Camaro. Just ugly and uninspired. I vaguely remember Vega (and its siblings) growing up but I do remember seeing them. By the time a ’75 was 10 years old, I was 8 and most were probably rotted out and or worn out.

    A shame that this Cosworth package didn’t do well, it would be the Vega to own. I wouldn’t do 20k for this, but this is probably the only Cosworth Vega like it in the world. On the edge of the “rare but not valuable” equation here. It’s rare, it’s slightly valuable, but not really and only to a handful of people.

    The Craigslist Ad is interesting and fun, but painful to read in all caps.

    • 0 avatar

      I couldn’t get through the whole ad, props to you for that.

      These do come up for sale online from time to time. I’d go for one with a bit higher miles and a bit more realistic selling price. Maybe 50k on the clock and $10k asking.

  • avatar

    The only time I see these nowadays is on the drag strip. Same for the Pinto.

  • avatar

    As I recall, the ads for these said “One Vega for the price of two.”

  • avatar

    These cars just weren’t really useable as a daily driver the engine was just too high strung. That is a big reason why you find so many low mile examples still out there, sure the initial cost didn’t help either.

    The cam timing was such that the low end torque was weak and the idle speed was 1200-1250 rpm. That led to some fun when trying to get a Cosworth through my states emissions testing at one point.

    One part of the test was idle emissions, for that test to be run the car had to idle at 1100 rpm or less. So with the car set to the factory specs they told the guy no we can’t test. He had the FSM and tired to show the operator that the spec was indeed more than 1100 rpm. He told them to talk to the state as they set the rules, not the 3rd party testing company.

    So the guy contacted the state’s area rep who was responsible for overseeing the registered emissions repair facilities and technicians. Since the shop I was working at had the lowest number of waivers issued in his area, IE we fixed the problem didn’t just bill the customer enough for them to get a wavier, the rep contacted us, and said just get it under 1100 rpm.

    Of course that just wasn’t possible so the rep came in and spent a bunch of time in our shop, with that FSM on the fender, trying to do all the tricks to get it to idle long enough and clean enough at 1100 rpm to pass the test. After about an hour he finally gave up and did what every he had to do to give the owner the paper work needed to register the car.

    • 0 avatar

      They weren’t too peaky for the road, but the price paid for a useful torque curve while meeting emissions standards was that they were only rated at 110 horsepower in production form; not the 140 horsepower mentioned in the article. You’re right about the high idle speed though.

      The reason these aren’t more collectible goes beyond what a disappointment they were in production form. Like the ’76 Eldorado convertible and every Indy pace-car replica ever produced, too many speculators stuck them in storage and waited for the ‘inevitable’ appreciation. There’s never a shortage of low-mile examples, as there are more preserved Cosworth Vegas than there are people who care about them. They’re like SVO Mustangs. They’re less valuable than preserved standard Vegas or Mustang GTs, as there are less people who remember using them when they were new cars and they never really delivered on their promise.

      At least you can say that the Cosworth really pointed to a great time of efficient and powerful 4-valve-per-cylinder engines, while the SVO merely pointed to a future of miserably compromised turbocharged four cylinder engines. Maybe that’s what makes it so fun to tell speculators who finally give up on making money off of their 30-year-stored SVO that you’re going to stick an LS in it and enjoy the car’s seats, brakes, and suspension upgrades the way they should have been enjoyed in the ’80s: with naturally aspirated V8 power.

  • avatar

    I actually checked out a 1976 Cosworth Vega in the fall of 1975 when shopping for my first new vehicle purchase. I passed on it because even if the motor and drivetrain were OK, the rest of the vehicle was a cheaply made piece of junk.

    • 0 avatar

      I had this thought about the Cobalt SS/ Saturn Ion Redline. Good powertrain, great driving car, but in a poorly made and cheap wrapper. I know you’re a GM aficionado, but to me, all the Generals cars are this way.

      • 0 avatar

        “I know you’re a GM aficionado, but to me, all the Generals cars are this way.”

        Perhaps not as much as you think. I love my aging 2012 Impala – so far it has been nearly flawless, but I may look elsewhere than GM for my next vehicle when that time comes.

        To be fair, I really don’t see much difference in general quality and materials in any domestic OEM.

  • avatar

    I had a lot of experience with Vegas and other H-body clones.

    On the plus side, there were very good handling and driving cars, with the optional sway bars and wide wheels. I also liked the looks a lot. Seating position and comfort for the driver was pretty good as well.

    On the down side, they were built like crap. Plus, the engine was so rough it made everything else in the car buzz and rattle. Plus, they rusted.

    I made a car better than a Cosworth Vega when I put a Ford 2800 cc V6 in one. Smoother, faster, easier to live with than a Cosworth. The smoother engine eliminated lots of interior noises. As I recall, the Chevy transmission bolted to the Ford clutch housing. Just needed to fabricate a clutch release mechanism.

    GM purists these days put 215 CID Buick aluminum V8s in Vegas, and that works well also.

    But this was in the 70s and early 80s. Time has moved on.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Vega’s were all over where I grew up. A few people I knew bought, like most of them, inexpensive used ones that were just starting to burn oil and have the engine re sleeved with iron liners or buy the V6 or V8 installation kit.
    GM’s shortsightedness caused what could have been a decent compact sport coupe to become a joke.
    They could have just used one of the better Opel four cylinders or lopped off two from the Pontiac OHC-6. That and a better rust prevention process would have produced a competitive car.
    The late 70’s into 80 Vega and Monza were better constructed but by then their reputation was cast in aluminum.

  • avatar

    “the asking price for a Cosworth Vega was just $900 less than a Corvette”

    Does anyone else here see a marketing problem?

    • 0 avatar

      The Corvette you got for that $900 more was no prize either. We had one when I first got my drivers license equipped with an automatic. It was such an anemic POS that my dad had no problem with me driving the car. I remember some of those wonderful drives. Cruising along a country road with my dad reaching out the window trying to unjam the wipers. Ahh, memories. Present day me would go for the Cosworth over the Corvette. Back then, I would have opted for the Corvette.

  • avatar

    I remember looking at one of these on the showroom floor in late 1974. It was black like this one. I don’t know if they came in other colors. I was not impressed as, by this time, the Vega had developed a poor reputation and I really didn’t know what a Cosworth engine was.

    • 0 avatar

      All were black for the first couple years.
      The last 1-2 yrs of production there were a FEW other colors. I remember a Dark Red one at Tonawanda Motor Plant. Where the engine was made.

      Tragic about the wheels on the car for sale. Stock ones were beautiful. Slotted mags on this car -FUGLY.

  • avatar

    The funny thing is this rare ride isn’t nearly as rare as trying to find a regular stock Vega today, which sold in the millions. I bet the survival rate on Cosworth Vegas is 80+%, and many of them are low mileage because many enthusiast thought they were going to be collectibles just like the 1978 “limited” 18,000 unit Pacecar Corvette, the 1976 Eldorado “last convertible”, etc, etc.

  • avatar

    I can’t decide if that Craigslist ad is an ad or a manifesto, and this is comically overpriced, but it’s still a cool little car, and it was a pretty strong performer for its’ day.

    For grins, check out the little pull levers for the vents, located to the bottom right and bottom left of the instrument panel. Ah, the years before A/C.

  • avatar

    My first car was a 1974 Chevy Vega 2-door 4 speed manual. In lovely beige-ish piss yellow. I believe my dad paid $2,400 for it new…Mods included a $14 no name AM/FM/Cassette stereo playing though Jensen 6 x 9 coaxials in the rear deck. That was it. By 25k miles its aluminum block was well worn and burning a quart of oil per tank of gas. My dad said to think of it like a 2-stroke snowmobile engine where you needed to mix the oil and gas. Of course, the oil cap was actually an oil plug that took a screwdriver to pry out of the hole.

    Like all Vegas, rust began immediately upon delivery and claimed this sample in 1980 when the frame broke in two right behind the firewall…Can’t remember the miles on it but I’ll summarize it as ‘high maintenance’.

    I remember the Honda Civic CVCCs that came out in the late 1970s. They were literally the polar opposite of the Vega in quality and refinement.

    • 0 avatar

      The engineers at GM outdid themselves with the Vega engine. For the first time in automotive history, they created a power plant that could store enough unburnt hydrocarbons in the exhaust system to allow the engine to run in reverse for up to a full minute after the ignition was switched off. The Holley carb didn’t care if it was sucking or blowing, but to tell the truth, most of the time my ’73 sucked at being a reliable ride.

  • avatar

    Rare Rides: This 1975 Chevrolet Is Both Junk and Junk

  • avatar

    Slot mags. Yep.

  • avatar

    It gathered dust at the dealership for two years when new, sold at approximately a 35% discount, then magically appreciated 5000% in forty years.
    I know what you got, buddy, and you’re likely to still have it for quite a while.
    Vegas are to automobiles what off-label bologna is to Porterhouse steak.

  • avatar

    The problem was the coolant overflow bottle wasn’t big enough. The overflow bottle would overflow after a hot soak. So you’d continually lose coolant until the engine was low on coolant, and then overheated. This would cause the ceramic lining of the cylinders/sleeves to crack and get scraped off by the pistons. And then…massive oil consumption.

    This problem with too-small coolant overflow bottles ALSO affected the Jaguar XKE from the time it went from an open to a closed cooling system. Since the damn thing would piss a little in some parking lot, and not on your garage floor, most owners never realized they were constantly losing coolant.

    Replace the 2 pint bottle with a milk jug and solve the problem with either car.

  • avatar

    I remember once seeing at Barrett-Jackson an early Vega, a white notchback, that still had its sticker and the plastic on the seats. Even a cursory inspection of the virtually no-miles car showed astonishing quality gaffes.

    It was a sad time for Detroit.

  • avatar

    No idea why these get the attention that they do, just more GM hubris.

  • avatar

    Many years ago my older sister bought a new Vega (not Cosworth). We convinced her that they manufactured them in Vegreville, Alberta (home of the big Easter Egg).
    There is one Cosworth Vega for sale in Canada – in Toronto. Asking $13,900 in CDN dollars, so about $11k US. Not sure why anyone would want the headache of maintaining this thing.

  • avatar

    I just came across an article about the unique way the Vega was transported vertically in railcars. That way they could fit an extra 3 Vegas onto a railcar and reduced the freight cost.

    I’m guessing the Vegas must have been shipped without fluids, as they were packed into the railcars nose down?

  • avatar

    Apparently God doesn’t like trailer parks or Cosworth Vegas.

  • avatar
    Carroll Prescott

    Actually by 1975 the Vega’s Gremlins were exercised. Rust was no more of an issue than the average Japanese car (or better depending on the model of Japanese car sampled); the quality issues were resolved and the Cosworth engine was first rate. Since the Vega always handled better than the Pinto, this would be the model to have if you were going to have a Vega.

    • 0 avatar

      True. They had figured out what caused the rust problems and fixed that, and made the engines reliable to include a 5-year/60,000 mile warranty on them.

      The ad is hard to read – I practically got a headache looking at the text in ALL CAPS. I had to go there to figure out why the guy had put on a set of period slot mags, and where the original wheels went (he’s stored them).

      • 0 avatar

        The first owner got a screamin’ deal on this car, as it sold for $4000 in February, 1977, as a demonstrator.

        It’s amazingly original – it even still has the original dual outlet muffler and tailpipe.

    • 0 avatar

      True. Way back in the mid 80’s my brother ran a small used car lot and one day he showed up from the auction with a fairly low mileage ’77 hatchback. Really wasn’t too awful of a car, ran good and had zero rust (a major miracle here in n.e. Ohio). He sold it to a friend of mine who used it to deliver Domino’s pizzas :) .

  • avatar

    All Vegas had the aluminum engine, no iron sleeves. Reliability was improved by enlarging the radiator to minimize overheating.

    Pontiac & Olds versions, and Monzas after 77, had iron Pontiac engines, “Iron Duke”, related to the 4 cylinder engine used in Chevy IIs.

  • avatar

    My father bought a ’74 Vega GT, and I got my license in the spring of ’79. That damn Vega didn’t last long enough for me to drive the thing, our wonderful Cleveland winters ate that turd up in less than 5 years.

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