Junkyard Find: 1972 Chevrolet Vega Hatchback Coupe

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

The General made more than two million Chevrolet Vegas during the car’s 1971-1977 run, and the numbers climb much higher if you include the Vega-derived Chevy Monza and its siblings. The Vega’s many quality problems and rapid cheap-subcompact depreciation led to nearly all of these cars disappearing from American roads well before the dawn of the 1990s, but I still find the occasional example during my junkyard travels. Here’s an early Vega two-door hatch that seemed to be in pretty good shape before it hit a large animal on an Arizona road a couple of years back.

Ouch. Let’s hope the driver was wearing the Vega’s modern (for 1972) shoulder belt correctly when the deer, cow, horse, or giant mutated javelina leaped in front of the car.

Most of the early Vegas came with four-speed manual transmissions, for the sake of cheapness and fuel economy, but the original purchaser of this car went for the automatic transmission option. Air conditioning would have been considered frivolous in a subcompact in 1972… unless you lived in Arizona, where AC-equipped white cars have been everywhere for decades. The radio is aftermarket, but I’m guessing this car once had at least the factory AM/FM unit.

No rust at all, which isn’t surprising, and we can assume that the powertrain was working at the time of the crash. Some lucky Arizona Vega lover may have harvested plenty of good parts off this car. Ninety horsepower when new, which would have felt like about 50 horses with that 3-speed automatic.

The Vega could have been the car that rendered Toyota, Honda, and Volkswagen irrelevant in North America during the 1970s, but it never lived up to the potential of its design. The same could be said of the Citation in the 1980s. Still, both the Vega and the Citation sold in large numbers, for a while, and I still look for them in wrecking yards.

Vegas are happy cars. They enjoy their work. They enjoy being driven.

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Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Snakebit Snakebit on Jun 24, 2019

    Based on the taillight design, either a 1974 or 1975. And, as others have posted, why Chevrolet didn't have the presence of mind to use the Iron Duke four cylinder from day one instead of designing and pig-headedly getting behind the aluminum 2300 for years has me shaking my head in disbelieve. Folks complain that the Iron Duke was a rough-running and noisy motor, but as someone with plenty of experience driving brand new Vegas in the early 1970s, so was the 2300 in new Vegas. The one asset that Vega had over Pinto was its look, admittedly much more beautiful. Mechanically and from a sheet metal evaluation, the first five years of Vega were deplorable, saved only by the Monza 2+2 variation which, when ordered with a V8, was the car the Vega should have been.

    • Robert Spinello Robert Spinello on May 25, 2023

      Because the iron Duke is a pushrod relic. GMs customers got what they deserved when they put that anchor in half their lineup.

  • Robert Spinello Robert Spinello on May 25, 2023
    First you need to get the model year right. It's a 74, you know, the year Chevy was forced into changing the car a year earlier than promised because of the 5-mph front and rear bumper standard.
  • Carson D I hadn't seen a second-generation Courier with a Mazda engine before. I've seen a few with Ford engines. There was one at the Cox Driving Range that they used to collect golf balls. Golf would definitely be more entertaining to watch if they used moving targets.
  • Tassos ooops, Tim, you missed this one. Would make a lovely "Tim's used car of the day". It satisfies all the prerequisites except the wildly overpriced bit.
  • Tassos ASTON AND BOND BY A MILE. While Aston Martin sells a TINY FRACTION of what even the rarified Ferrari and Lambo sell, it is unbelievably well known. Credit the idiotic, but hugely successful and sometimes entertaining James Bond Movies.
  • Tassos 1988? Too young for me. It's all yours, Tim... BAHAHAHAHA!
  • Gray Awesome. Love these. But, if I had the money for a Fox-body, there is a clean '84 GT 350 here for little more than half the price.