Thursday, October 20, 2011

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1974 Chevrolet Vega 2300

Rounding out 1970s Economy Cars week is this 1974-75 Chevrolet Vega 2300 hatchback. It was GM's effort to beat the Japanese at their own game, building a practical, affordable domestic compact with a plethora of body configurations and a lightweight aluminum engine block. The engine was the car's main stumbling block, since its lack of steel cylinder wall sleeves (an $8 per car savings) allowed piston motion and heat to ruin the engine. According to GM engineers, the culprits were brittle valve stem seals and an undersized radiator which, if the owner ignored his fluid levels, together could let coolant and oil run low and make the engine overheat, penetrate the head gasket with antifreeze and cause the pistons to scuff the cylinder walls all to crap. The early cars simply weren't tested for owner neglect and the Vega was designed too quickly and too cheaply to correct everything before production time. The subsequent flood of warranty repair claims cost GM millions. The engine problem was rectified later, as were many other problems, but the Vega never lost its tarnished reputation and was later replaced by the nearly-identical Monza in 1978. The attractive miniature-Camaro styling introduced in 1971 was updated in 1974 to make the car more current, compensating both for the fact that the Feds mandated gigantic 5-mph bumpers and the fact that the Camaro had also been restyled. Still available were the Vega 2-door sedan, 2-door hatchback, Kammback 2-door wagon, and a sedan delivery with blank window panels.

This hatchback is in decent condition for its age, with a relatively straight body and minimal rust (a common problem on early Vegas, rectified around the time this car was built). It wears a set of Retro Sport four-spoke wheels and a rear ducktail spoiler. I have a soft spot for the Vega for a couple of reasons. One, my mother's first car was a robin's egg blue '72 Kammback with a 4-speed, and she loved it. It was comfortable, drove well, and survived several instances of people crashing into it. That was well before my time, though. The other reason I like them, is because they have a large engine compartment and will happily accept a small-block V8. That's probably why one sees so few stock Vegas in decent condition, because good examples have been retrofitted with more powerful engines and used for racing.
I'm reasonably certain this car has the stock engine still, because the front end would be sitting lower with a bit of extra weight in it. I hope this car actually has an engine in it, because that front end is really high up, and I don't think it's the flat tire in the back causing it to look that way. As rare as these little cars are now, I'm just glad to see one at all.

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