Junkyard Find: 1972 Chevrolet Vega Hatchback Coupe

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1972 chevrolet vega hatchback coupe

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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  • Beken Beken on Jun 24, 2019

    I had a 1974 Pontiac Astre. The in-tank fuel pump was replaced many times. I went in and adjusted the valve lash every 3 weeks, added a quart of oil every week. At about 90,000 miles, installed steel liners in the cylinders. Rebuilt the carburetor twice. Rust was cut out of the fenders and new sheet metal was welded in. I installed my own clutch. The car was easy to work on and it gave me great experience in working on cars. I did one top speed run on the car and it got to 106 miles per hour. What could I have been thinking? Any minor mishap, and I would be dead in that thing. Still, in 1985, I sold it to the mechanic that installed the steel liners for me, for $500. I still think it could have been a good car, but wow, was it ever under developed. My Datsun 510 owning friends all laughed at me. The memories of my youth.

  • 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.

  • Tassos SNAAB shot itself in the foot when it BASTARDIZED its unique brand by BADGE ENGINEERING its vehicles with GOD DAMNED GM, OPEL, CHEVY, LANCIA and who knows what other automotive RIFF RAFF. I know of no Saab Enthusiast (they do exist) who felt sorry when the stupid maker went BANKRUPT.
  • 28-Cars-Later Example is located in Coldwater Michigan, so..." needs work -- including new brakes."Brakes, brake lines, probably fuel lines. Probably should hit the master cylinder too unless there are seal only kits for it."It has an automatic transmission."Likely needs a new one of those as well."an exhaust leak"Add an exhaust to the list."an inaccurate speedo."Wow and TMU to boot!These days five to six bills isn't too horrible but this example could turn into a headache really quick due to parts availability. The right buyer for this is a small time tradesman, the HVAC guy who was just leaving my house is rolling a late P80 Volvo 850 sedan in manual which he treats like a truck. Said he'd love a wagon if he ever came across one... if you're local to Coldwater Michigan this is a nice work beater. Annual inspection/registration tax probably costs nearly as much as the car.
  • 2ACL Amazing price, but that's (IMO) a reflection of the interest in an old 2.0T repmobile made interesting only by being a wagon. The Epsilon 9-3 was a sanitized take on the Saab formula. That's not to say it lacks interesting variants, but this isn't one of them. If it had a stick, maybe. But this generation's automatics are sealed and known to become temperamental if not serviced. If the owner can't provide proof of regular servicing, run.
  • Tassos The 3 lt turbodiesel should be FAR, FAR more efficient than the 6.2. ANything that walks would be more efficient than the 6.2. Are you kidding me?The 3 lt turbodiesel in my 4,000 lb+, 208 HP, 400+ LBFT E320 Bluetecs is more efficient than even the 2.2 lt ICE with its meager 125 HP in my 1990, only 2,822 lbs, Accord Coupe 5 speed LX. 100%. I have the full detailed records to prove it beyond any doubt. I consistently get over 35 MPG HWY, which I never got with the Accord (usuallt 32-33 tops)The big question is, will GM ask $5k more for the diesel than for the gas version, as usual? Mercedes only asked $1k m ore for the diesel, $51k vs $50k for the gas back then, which you would recover in just ONE YEAR of average miles driven.
  • Cprescott Lucid has the right idea about building cars - I agree that these have a presence to them and certainly make all Teslas look like cheap golf carts with doors in comparison. I hope Lucid survives because they actually build luxurious products and not pretenders like Tesla.