Wednesday, September 22, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1972 Chevrolet Vega 2300 GT Kammback

This week I decided to do another themed series of features. Like the Big Three Vans series I did a few months ago, this will also deal with some of Detroit's finest - and not-so-fine - family haulers. That's right, this week we'll be looking at Big Three Station Wagons.

Second in the series is General Motors, represented by a much more compact interpretation of the wagon. This is a 1972 Chevrolet Vega 2300 GT Kammback. The Vega was supposed to be a revolutionary small car for Chevy, intended to take on the slow and/or crappy domestic compacts and their equally slow but slightly less crappy imported competitors. The Vega should have been a resounding success with its aluminum-block 4-cylinder engine, but instead it failed as miserably as the unprotected aluminum cylinder walls, blown head gaskets and rusting fenders that plagued it.

To be fair, though, the Vega WAS a success for GM. They sold a heck of a lot of them in the first few years of production - enough that Chevy released a special "Millionth Vega" edition in 1973. They built 394,592 in 1972 alone, an impressive figure by anyone's standards. Of course, many of them started falling apart soon after and earned the Vega a very poor reputation for build quality. Much of this was from corporate bean counters forcing cost-cutting measures that came back to bite them in the butt with warranty claims. Kind of like the Pinto with its exploding gas tank. The Vega's ills were cured later in its production run (also like the Pinto) but its reputation was forever tainted.
I've always had a soft spot for the Vega, particularly the Kammback body style, because my mom had one back in the day. It was a regular non-GT '72 Kammback in Mediterranean Blue with a 4-speed manual, and it was her first car.
This Vega is not just any Vega. It's a Vega GT, which translates to special wheels, a handling package, black grille, GT badging, full instrumentation in a special woodgrain dash, and a modest performance upgrade through a two-barrel carburetor and better camshaft. This one even features the optional hood stripe. The paint, if it is original, appears to be Spring Green Poly. I do hope that the owner tends to that rust forming in the front fenders and eating away at the rear hatch. These Vegas are getting very rare.

2 comments:

  1. The first brand-new car I ever bought was a 1972 Vega GT Kammback. It was, hands-down, one of the best handling automobiles I've ever driven, especially after replacing the stock 70-series Firestone Wide Ovals with real, Rayon cord 60-series Goodrich TA radials.

    It had the best factory paint job I've ever seen on a car - Mohave Gold.

    The trouble, of course, was the engine -- and after the engine let go, the much larger problem was the way General Motors customarily treated its customers. At age 19, and well up to the task, I came about as close to putting a smart-mouthed Ardmore, Oklahoma Chevy dealer service manager through a wall as either he or I wished to come. After scaring the snot out of him (didn't touch him), I tried to calmly explain why it seemed inappropriate to me to call a paying customer "boy."

    A button-down businessman type standing by in manager's office, obviously buffaloed by the jerk before I arrived, had a wide grin on his face as I left the office, keys-in-hand, without paying the $45 he wanted for compression-testing an engine burning a quart of oil every hundred miles and telling me "there's nothing wrong with it."

    That didn't wash me out with Chevrolet, however. My hard-headed, iron-clad family loyalty to the brand led me to buy several other GM cars.

    And then I bought my first Honda automobile.

    GM's regular repudiation of trust with customers it had injured by design is one of the great shames and disgraces of the American story. And to think -- we let these arrogant asses beat us out of our metropolitan trolley lines.

    TOM ELMORE
    Moore, Oklahoma

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  2. Right On, Tom. My first 'new' car too. However, no fisticuffs involved - they replaced the engine. Got 100k miles out of that sucker and loved every mile. Replaced by a '89 SI Hatch, which I also loved and eventually passed on to my middle son who has been a 'Honda guy' ever since. Honda was replaced by 1.8T GTI which I still drive, and love. What a great series of cars.

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