The Chevy Vega was introduced by the Chevrolet division of General Motors in 1971 to compete against other subcompact cars that were growing in popularity at the time, such as the VW Beetle, Toyota Corolla, Datsun 510, and the Ford Pinto. It even won the Motor Trend Car of the Year when it was introduced. Within a couple of years however, it was obvious that the Chevy Vega was a candidate for Click and Clack's Worst Cars of the Millennium. Obviously, the Chevy Vega didn't have much competition in 1971, but the Vega was not a bad car when brand new. It took a year or two for its glaring faults to emerge.
Rust Never Sleeps
To Coin a phrase from Neil Young, that is. Rust was already having breakfast on the insides of most Chevy Vegas by the time they were driven off the new car lot by their trusting and naive buyers. Due to sloppy design that trapped pockets of water, careless metallurgy, and little or no effort to rustproof them, rust holes soon appeared on the doors, fenders, cowlings, and even trunklids of the little gem before the payment book was even half gone. In the snow belt, these cars looked like swiss cheese within 3 or 4 years, and some literally fell apart.
Even if the Chevy Vega never saw rain or snow, it would soon fall victim to the other problem endemic to the Vega. The engine was innovative, using a lightweight aluminum block, and used an aluminum radiator
, rather than the traditional brass radiator. This saved both money and weight, but the metallurgy and corrosion protection provided by the coolants of the time caused deposits to close up the cooling tubes in the radiator. This set up a chain reaction
which pretty much doomed the car. First, the clogged radiator would cause the engine to overheat
. While a hot engine was not good
for any car, it was fatal to the aluminum block Vega. Since Aluminum expands more rapidly than cast iron
, results of an overheated Vega engine would be a warped engine block
or Cylinder Head
. This would cause the head gasket
to blow, allowing coolant and oil to intermix, or cause the piston
s to seize. If this did not cause immediate death to the car's engine
, the damage would cause the engine to use large amounts of oil and coolant, though the engine would soon succumb anyway.
The later Vegas and its cousins, the Pontiac Astra and Chevy Monza were stripped of the troublesome aluminum engine and radiator, and a cast iron sleeved engine known as the iron duke was installed, and solved most of the mechanical problems with the car, but by that time the die was cast. Nobody wanted a Vega by 1975, and the car was discontinued in 1976. It was replaced by the Vega 2.0, more commonly known as the Chevette.
No, I never did have the misfortune to own a Vega, but my college roommate and also my regular ride home from Virginia Tech owned them. I also had to deal with employees who did field service with their Chevy Vegas. Neither they nor their cars lasted very long under the strain of constant use.