Chevrolet Vega

Published: 06th September 2010
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In the fall of 1959 Detroit automobile manufacturers attempted to confront entry-level imports and domestic small cars such as the Studebaker Lark and Rambler American and in doing so created the compact class of cars, including the Chevrolet Corvair, Ford Falcon and Plymouth Valiant, each introduced as 1960 models. By the 1970s, while cars like the Chevrolet Nova, Ford Maverick, and AMC Hornet had evolved into the smallest versions of the traditional six-passenger American family cars, they were larger than subcompacts, and many were delivered with optional V8 engines.

The Chevrolet Vega was introduced September 10, 1970 as part of GM, Ford and AMC automakers entering a new subcompact car class. The AMC Gremlin was introduced six months prior and the Ford Pinto one day after the Vega's introduction. They competed directly with the successful, but aging VW Beetle, as well as Japanese imports from Toyota and Datsun. Although the Vega's conventional rear wheel drive layout and unibody was similar to the Japanese subcompacts, its 97.0-inch (2,460 mm) wheelbase and 169.7-inch (4,310 mm) overall length were longer than Toyota Corolla's 91.9-inch (2,330 mm) wheelbase and 161.4-inch (4,100 mm) length.


Origin 1967

Chevrolet and Pontiac divisions were working separately on small cars in the early and mid 60's. Ed Cole, who was GM executive vice-president of operating staffs, was working on his own small-car project using the corporate engineering and design staffs. He presented the program to GM's president in 1967. When the corporation started seriously talking about a mini-car, Cole's version was chosen with the proposals from Chevy and Pontiac rejected, and Cole's new mini-car was given to Chevrolet to sell. Not only did corporate management make the decision to enter the mini-car market, it also decided to develop the car itself. It was a corporate car, not a divisional one.

In 1968 GM chairman James Roche announced that General Motors would bring out a new mini-car in two years. Ed Cole was the chief engineer and Bill Mitchell, the vice-president of the design staff, was the chief stylist. Cole wanted a world-beater, and he wanted it in showrooms in 24 months. This was an extremely short time to design and engineer a new car, especially one that borrowed almost nothing from any other. Cole formed a GM corporate design team exclusively for the Vega headed by William Munser, who had worked on the Camaro and the Turbo-Hydramatic transmission. Code-named XP-887, Chevrolet "teaser" ads began in May 1970, not announcing its name at first, stating-"you'll see." The Vega, like the Corvair, has long been referred to as Ed Cole's baby. It was as GM president that Cole oversaw the genesis of the Chevrolet Vega.

Development 19681970

XP-887 clay model, GM studio, September 1968

The Chevy Vega was conceived in 1968 as a simple, low-cost transportation vehicle to utilize the newly-developed all-aluminum die-cast engine block technology. In October 1968, there was only one body style the 11 style Notchback Coupe, one engine, one transmission the MB1 Torque-Drive manually-shifted 2-speed automatic, no headliner, one base trim level, a bench seat, molded rubber floor covering, no glove box, no air-conditioning option, ventilation only through the upper dash direct from the wiper plenum, and exterior paint on the interior. As the program progressed into development, the market changed, and so did the product:

December, 1968 Hatchback, Wagon, and Panel delivery styles added. Kickpad floor-level ventilation added. Optional performance engine (-11 2-barrel) added; predicted at 20%, actually ran at 75%. Bucket seats replaced bench seat as standard equipment. Carpeting and headliners added for hatchback and station wagon. Air-conditioning option added; predicted at 10%, actually ran at 45%.

February, 1969 Opel three- and four-speed transmissions added (3-speed standard, others optional), Powerglide added (now four transmissions), mechanical fuel pump replaced by in-tank electric pump, power steering option added, base 11 style Notchback trim upgraded to match Hatchback and Wagon (carpet and headliner).

April, 1969 Gauge-pack cluster option added, HD suspension and wide tire option added (ran at 40%), adjustable seat back option added (ran at 45%), bumpers restyled, lower valance panels added, swing-out quarter window option added (ran at 10%).

July, 1969 Electrically-heated backlite option added (ran at 10%), T package option added at $325.00 (ran at 35%), bright window-frame and roof drip moldings added to Hatchback and Wagon (instead of painted).

This is essentially how the car launched as a 1971 model on June 26, 1970. After the National GM strike (9/70-11/70) ended, bright roof drip moldings were added to the base 11 style notchback; moldings were sent to dealers to update units already in the field in December. The car still had no glove box.

Design & Engineering

1971 Vega Hatchback Coupe

1971 Vega Sedan (Notchback)

As introduced, the Vega was one of the first Chevrolet vehicles to have as standard equipment front disc brakes, an electric fuel pump, side guard door beams, a double paneled roof, and foam-filled, hi-back bucket seats with floor mounted controls. Many service operations were intentionally designed so that they were able to be performed by Vega owners. To further that end, a "Do-It-Yourself" service manual was included with each new Vega.

All four Vega models share the same hood, fenders, floor pan, door lower panels, rocker panels, engine compartment, and front end. In a size comparison with a 1970 Nova, the Vega has 20 inches (510 mm) less overall length, 14 inches (360 mm) less wheelbase, 7 inches (180 mm) narrower width and 2 inches (51 mm) lower height.

The aluminum block inline-4 engine was a joint effort from General Motors, Reynolds Metal Corp. and Sealed Power Corp. The engine and its die-cast block technology was developed at GM engineering staff, long before the program was handed-off to Chevrolet to finish and bring it to production. Ed Cole, who had been very personally involved with the design of the 1955 Chevrolet V8 as chief engineer at Chevrolet, was equally involved with the Vega engine as GM president, and was a frequent visitor on Saturdays to the engineering staff engine drafting room, reviewing the design and giving direction for changes. As the engine development progressed at Chevrolet, it became known (in closed offices) as he world tallest, smallest engine due to the very tall cylinder head.

Opel was commissioned to tool up a new 3-speed derivative of their production 4-speed manual transmission. Opel had a 4-speed available that was in high-volume production, but the GM finance department insisted that the base transmission be a low-cost 3-speed, with the traditional profit-generating 4-speed as an extra-cost option. Opel did just that, and tooled up a new 3-speed from scratch, just for the Vega application, whose actual cost was higher than the optional 4-speed due to the tooling investment and low production volume. Both transmissions came by ship from Germany 100 transmissions to a crate, and arrived in shipments of thousands of transmissions at a time.

1971 Vega Kammback Wagon

1971 Vega Panel Express

Its suspension and live rear axle design, near ideal weight distribution, low center of gravity and neutral steering give the Vega world-class handling characteristics that were praised by the automotive press. The overall chassis suspension was to be tuned to a new A78 x 13 tire that was being developed concurrently with the vehicle. The front suspension is classic General Motors short and long-arm. The lower control arm bushings were actually larger than those of the Camaro. The four-link rear suspension copied that of the Chevelle, and coil springs are used throughout. This was a significant departure from the leaf spring suspension used in the Camaro and Nova. The Vega's brake system copied an excellent Opel design including solid rotors and a lack of a proportioning valve.

Due to its "Modular Construction Design", a Vega sedan with 578 body parts had 418 fewer parts than its full-size Chevrolet counterpart. Modular Construction Design reduced the number of joints and sealing operations resulting in stronger, tighter bodies, effectively contributed to vehicle quality and made possible a very high rate of production. The Vega's body surface was the first accomplished completely through use of computers. Body surface information recorded on tape derived from the clay styling model, allowed computers to improve the body surface mathematically. Tapes developed through the computer were also used to control drafting machines in producing master surface plates which were extremely accurate. The computer was also utilized in making the hundreds of necessary engineering calculations including vision angle, field of view, rear compartment lid and door counterbalance geometries, structural stresses, deflection calculations and tolerance studies..

The Vega's styling was judged conservative, clean-lined and timeless. GM styling studio's main influence was the 1967-1969 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe AC, and the Chevrolet Camaro/Corvette studio grafted a 1970 Camaro-like egg-crate grille and Chevy-style dual taillights. The original approved clay model had small rectangular front parking lights below the bumper. One morning John DeLorean (GM Vice President and Chevrolet General Manager at the time) brought Zollie Frank, the owner of the world largest Chevrolet dealership (Z. Frank Chevrolet in Chicago) into the styling studio to show him the clay and get his thoughts on the design. He looked at the painted clay model, walked around it, then stood in front of it for a minute or so, and said: et rid of those wimpy-looking parking lights they should be big, round things that look like european driving lights. DeLorean turned to the studio chief, told him to make the change Zollie wanted, and said they be back to look at it later that afternoon. The modelers were put to work on large, round lamps and DeLorean and Zollie came back later that day and approved the change. DeLorean mentioned to the studio chief as they were leaving that ollie sells more Chevrolets than anyone else on earth he knows what the customers like. The car went to production exactly as it was revised that afternoon.

Models & changes 19711977

The Hatchback was the most popular Vega model with its lower roofline and useful hatchback with fold-down rear seat, and accounted for nearly half of all Vegas produced. The Sedan, renamed Notchback in 1973, had the lowest price at $2090. It has more rear seat head room than the Hatchback and is the only Vega model with an enclosed trunk.

1971 Vega Panel Express

1972 Vega Kammback Wagon

The Kammback Wagon with more cargo capacity and a swing-up liftgate, retains the Coupe's handling capabilities. The Panel Express, a one passenger Panel delivery based on the Wagon, has steel panels in place of the rear side glass, and an additional enclosed storage area. An auxiliary front passenger seat was optional.

In mid-1971 a GT option package for Hatchback and Kammback models was introduced. It included the L-11 two-barrel carburetor engine, F41 Handling suspension, 6-inch-wide GT wheels with trim rings, center caps and A70-13 raised white-letter tires, black-finished grill and lower body sills, full instrumentation and a hood/deck sport stripe option.

Yenko Chevrolet sold a modified Vega, the Yenko Stinger II through 1973. Based on the GT, its 140 CID L11 engine featured a turbocharger, high-compression pistons and was rated 155 hp (116 kW). Included were front and rear spoilers and side striping with "Yenko Stinger II" identification.

1972 models were essentially carried over from 1971 with a few refinements, including revisions of the rear shock absorbers, and exhaust system. The Turbo-hydramatic 3-speed automatic transmission was added. A custom cloth interior option was new and a glove box was added and replaced dash storage bin.

The 1973 Vega had over 300 changes, including new exterior and interior colors and a new standard interior trim. The front bumper was extended 3 in (76.2 mm) on stronger brackets with a steel color keyed filler panel to meet the 1973 5-mph front bumper standards. New Saginaw manual transmissions replaced the Opel-designed units, and the Powerglide transmission was discontinued. Two new models were introduced- The Estate (Woody) Kammback introduced in January, featured vinyl wood side trim. (ran at 8%); The LX Notchback introduced in May included a vinyl roof (ran at 3%) Both models included the custom exterior and interior options. In April, 1973 the First Cosworth Pilot Program was conducted at Ste. Therese, Quebec Assembly Plant (Lordstown Assembly was not operating due to adjacent Fisher Body Stamping Plant strike) Seven silver cars were built for Engineering.

Subzero-temperature durability testing of GM's Wankel rotary engine installed in 1973 Vegas began in Canada. Initially planned as a 1974 Vega option, the engine was first delayed, then planned for the proposed Vega-based Monza 2+2. The 1975 Monza's high floor tunnel was designed to accept the Wankel, but GM canceled the engine due its inability to meet emissions and fuel economy requirements.

1973 Vega GT Hatchback Coupe

Limited special edition Millionth Vega

Interior of limited special edition Millionth Vega

On May 17, 1973 the millionth Vega was produced at the Lordstown assembly plant - a bright orange GT Hatchback with white sport stripes, Millionth Vega door handle accents, a neutral custom vinyl interior, and orange accent color carpeting. A special limited edition "Millionth Vega" was produced replicating the milestone car. 6500 were built at 10 per hour from 5/1 to 7/1.

The 1974 model year brought the only major exterior design changes, due to the revised Federal front and rear 5 mph (8.0 km/h) bumper standards-A slanted header panel with a steel louvered grill (replacing the plastic egg-crate grill) and recessed headlamp bezels complement the larger, front 5 mph (8.0 km/h) aluminum bumper. Front and rear license plate brackets were relocated and a larger rear 5 mph (8.0 km/h) aluminum bumper was used. A revised rear panel on Notchback and Hatchback had larger single unit taillights and ventilation extractor grills were eliminated on trunk and hatch lids.Overall length was increased six inches (152 mm) compared to the 1971-1972 models. In January, 1974 plastic front fender liners were added after replacing thousands of sets of fenders under warranty on 1971-74 models.

In February, 1974 The Vega Spirit of America Hatchback limited edition was introduced. It featured a white exterior, white vinyl roof, blue and red striping on body-sides, hood and rear-end panel, Spirit of America I.D. on front fenders and rear panel, white "GT" wheels, trim rings and Chevy center caps with A70-13 raised white-letter tires, and a white custom vinyl interior with red accent color carpeting. 7500 were built through May.Vega sales peaked for 1974 with 460,374 produced.

The 1975 Vega had 264 changes including High-energy electronic ignition and catalytic converter. Power brakes and a tilt steering wheel were new options. A new special custom cloth interior option was offered with interior trim and carpeting upgrades similar to the Monza 2+2. The Pontiac Astre was introduced. Pontiac's version of the Vega was offered in Notchback, Hatchback and Safari Wagon models. A Panel Delivery version of Astre was offered in 1975 only. SJ models (hatchback and wagon) are luxuriously appointed. GT models (hatchback and wagon) and 'Lil Wide Track' and Formula (hatchbacks) offered a choice of sporty models.

1973 Vega GT Hatchback Coupe

1974 Vega GT Hatchback Coupe

In March, 1975 the Cosworth Vega was introduced after a year and a half delay. The first salable production Cosworth was built on the 27th. Chevrolet's single color ad stated, "Cosworth Twin Cam-one Vega for the price of two." It features an all-aluminum 122 cu in (2,000 cc) DOHC 16 valve inline-4 with stainless steel headers and Bendix Electronic fuel injection. All 1975 Cosworth Vegas are black with gold accent stripping, gold-colored aluminum wheels and a black custom vinyl, black custom cloth, or white custom vinyl interior with a gold "engine turned" dash bezel and gold-plated plaque with Cosworth ID and build number. In 1976, eight additional exterior and two additional interior colors were offered. Only 3,508 were built through 1976. The Vega Panel Express was discontinued at the end of the 1975 model year. Never a big seller, Panel Express sales peaked the Vega's first year at 7,800 units. After leveling off to an average of 4,000 units per year, only 1,525 1975 models were sold.1975 was a olling model change at 100 cars per hour with no downtime.

1976 Vegas were refined with extensive engine, chassis, and body integrity improvements. Chevrolet advertised the 1976 Vega as "Built to take it." A facelift included a revised header panel, wider grill, revised headlamp bezels-all made of corrosion resistant material-and tri-color taillights for Notchback and Hatchback. The 2.3L engine, named Dura-built 140, received improved cooling and durability refinements. The chassis received the Monza's upgraded components including the box-section front cross-member, larger rear brakes and torque-arm rear suspension, replacing the four-link design, and effectively eliminating wheel-hop on rough roads. The body received extensive anti-rust improvements. New models introduced were the GT Estate wagon and the Cabriolet Notchback. The Cabriolet package replaced the LX and featured a half vinyl roof and opera windows similar to the Monza Towne Coupe. The Cosworth Vega was quietly discontinued.

1974 Vega Hatchback Coupe

Limited special edition Spirit of America

1977 Vega GT Hatchback Coupe

1977 was the final year for the Vega, carried over from 1976 with a few revisions and additions. The Notchback was re-named Coupe. The Dura-built 140 engine received a version of the Cosworth engine's pulse-air system to meet the more strict 1977 Federal emission standards. A full console was a new option, and the GT received blacked-out trim and a revised side stripping option.

Vega production totaled more than 1.9 million vehicles in seven model years. At its peak, total Vega production was 2,400 units per day. Ed Cole retired from General Motors in 1974, and was killed in an airplane crash in 1977. After a three year sales decline, Chevrolet without emotion, trimmed the car from its line-up after the 1977 model year.

The Vega's design expanded starting in the 1975 model year with additional car lines in four GM divisions - Chevrolet Monza, Pontiac Sunbird, Buick Skyhawk, and Oldsmobile Starfire The sporty models are derived from the Vega and continued through 1980.



140 CID (2.3 L) 1 bbl. I-4, 90 hp

Sports Car Graphic magazine said in September, 1970: "The new die-cast aluminum Vega 2300 (engine) is a masterpiece of simplicity. There are many innovations made to reduce the number of pieces and improve repairability. One belt drives cam and water pump. The movable water pump is also the belt tensioner. The oil pump is on the crankshaft and is also the front engine cover."

Collectable Automobile magazine said 30 years later in April, 2000: "The Vega engine was the most extraordinary part of the car."

The Vega engine is a 140 cubic inch (2.3 liter) inline-4 featuring a die-cast aluminum cylinder and case assembly and a cast-iron cylinder head with a single overhead camshaft (SOHC). The cylinder block is an open deck design with siamesed free-standing cylinder bores. Outer case walls form the water jacket and are sealed off by the head and the head gasket. The block has cast iron main caps and a cast iron crankshaft. The cast iron cylinder head was chosen for low cost and structural integrity. The overhead valvetrain is a direct acting design of extreme simplicity. Only three components activate the valve rather than the usual seven of a typical push rod system. The camshaft is supported by five conventional pressed-in bearings. The camshaft is driven from the crankshaft by an externally mounted continuous cogged belt and sprocket system. Six v-grooves on the outside of the belt drive the water pump and fan. The large bore and long stroke design provide good torque and lower rpm operation for reduced wear. Compression ratio for the standard and optional engine is 8.5:1, as the engine was designed to operate on low-lead and no-lead fuels. A single-barrel carburetor version produces 90 hp (67 kW). The two-barrel version (RPO L11) produces 110 hp (82 kW). From 1972 on, rating was listed as net horsepower. The one-barrel engine produces 80 hp (60 kW). The two-barrel option boosts output to 90 hp (67 kW). The relatively large (for an inline-4) engine is naturally prone to vibration and is subdued by large rubber engine mounts. Vibration and noise levels were reduced in the 1972 models with a redesigned exhaust and better driveline damping. The 1972 Rochester DualJet 2-barrel carburetor required an air pump for emission certification and was replaced in 1973 with a Holley-built 5210C staged 2-barrel carb. Emission control revisions made in 1973 reduced power output by 3 bhp, although the engine's cruising noise levels were reduced. High energy electronic ignition was added for 1975.

Non-air conditioned cars had a small 12-inch (300 mm) by 12-inch (300 mm) radiator core. The reason for the relatively small radiator was the aluminum engine block and its superior heat conductivity as compared to iron. At the very beginning of the experimental engine program at GM engineering staff, Ed Cole stated in a meeting that there would probably be no need for a traditional radiator, due to the excellent heat rejection to the air from the aluminum block. He felt that coolant could simply be passed through the heater core, with outside air ducted through the core and exhausted under the car to provide auxiliary cooling. Several pre-prototype cars were built this way at his insistence, and all of them were dismal failures from a cooling perspective. After having one seize up while he was driving it at the Milford proving grounds one Saturday, he backed away from his theory and allowed the design to continue with a conventional cooling system.

Dura-built 140

Dura-built 140 CID (2.3 L) 2bbl. I-4, 84 hp

The 1976 2.3 engine, named "Dura-built 140", featured improved coolant pathways for the aluminum-block, a redesigned cylinder head incorporating quieter hydraulic valve lifters, longer life valve stem seals which reduced oil consumption by 50%, a redesigned water pump, head gasket, and thermostat. Warranty on the engine was 5 years/60,000-mile (97,000 km).

1976 Vega, 60,000 miles in 60 days

New York International Auto Show, 1976

"August 1, 1975. 8 a.m. Outside the southern edge of Las Vegas. Three medium orange Vegas start their engines. They won't be turning them off much during the next 58 days except for rest and food stops, refueling and maintenance. They have a job to do." Chevrolet conducted an advertised 60,000 miles in 60 days Durability Run of the 1976 Vega and its Dura-built 140 engine. Three new Vega hatchback coupes equipped with manual transmissions and air conditioning were driven non-stop for 60,000 miles (97,000 km) in 60 days through a Nevada desert, Death Valley test loop with air temperatures seldom under 100 F (38 C) degrees. Fuel stops and oil changes were supervised by the US Auto Club. All three 1976 Vegas completed a total of 180,000 miles (290,000 km) with no failures. (One car needed a timing belt replacement and twenty four ounces of coolant) The 1976 Vega was marketed as a durable and reliable car.

The 1977 Dura-built 140 engine, painted blue its final year, added a pulse-air system to meet the more-strict 1977 U.S. exhaust emission regulations. The Chevy Monza standard engine was the 140 inline-4 its first year in 1975; the Dura-Built 140 for 1976-77. Pontiac used the 140 engine for the Astre in 1973-74 (Canada), 1975, and the Dura-Built 140 engine in 1976 only, in both the Astre and Sunbird. Oldsmobile's first four-cylinder offering was the Dura-built 140, standard in the 1977 Olds Starfire.

Aluminum engine block

Aluminum cylinder block

GM Research Labs had been working on a sleeveless aluminum block since the late 50's. The incentive was cost. Getting rid of those liners on a four-cylinder block would save $8, which was a substantial amount of money back then. Reynolds Metal Co. came up with an alloy called A-390, composed of 77 percent aluminum, 17 percent silicon, 4 percent copper, 1 percent iron, and traces of phosphorus, zinc, manganese, and titanium. The A-390 alloy was suitable for faster production diecasting which made the Vega block less expensive to manufacture than other aluminum engines. Sealed Power Corp. developed special chrome-plated piston rings for the engine that were blunted to prevent scuffing. Basic work had been done under Eudell Jackobson of GM engineering, not at Chevrolet. But then, suddenly, Chevrolet got handed the job of putting this ohc sleeveless, aluminum block into production - a feat never before attempted.

The Vega engine block was cast in Massena, New York, at the same factory that produced the Corvair engine. Molten aluminum was transported from Reynolds and Alcoa reduction plants to the foundry, inside thermos tank trucks. The block was cast using the Accurad process. The casting process provided a uniform distribution of fine primary silicon particles approximately 0.001 inches (0.025 mm) in size. Pure silicon provides a hard scuff and wear resistant surface, having a rating of 7 on the mohs scale of hardness as compared to diamond which is 10. The blocks were aged 8 hours at 450 F (232 C) to achieve dimensional stability. The technical breakthroughs of the block lay in the precision die-casting method used to produce it, and in the silicon alloying which provided a compatible bore surface without liners.

Silicon cylinder bore magnified 680 times

Four-layer electro-plated piston skirts

From Massena, the cast engine blocks were shipped as raw castings to Chevy's engine plant in Tonawanda, New York. Here they underwent the messy etch and machining operations. The cylinder bores were rough and finished honed conventionally to a 7 micro-inch finish then etched by a new (then) electro-chemical process. The etching removed approximately 0.00015-inch (0.0038 mm) of aluminum leaving the pure silicon particles prominent to form the bore surface. (left image)

At a machined weight of 36 pounds (16 kg), the block is 51 pounds (23 kg) less than the cast-iron block in the Chevy II 153 cu in (2,510 cc) inline-4. Plating the piston skirts was necessary to put a hard iron skirt surface opposite the silicon of the block to prevent scuffing. The plating was a four layer electo-plating process. (right image) The first plate was a flash of zinc followed by a very thin flash of copper. The third and primary coating was hard iron, 0.0007 in (0.018 mm) thick. The final layer was a flash of tin. The zinc and copper were necessary to adhere the iron while the tin prevented corrosion before assembly of the piston into the engine. Piston plating was done on a 46 operation automatic line. From Tonawanda, the engines went to the Chevrolet assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio.

According to Jackobson, "The aluminum blocks were inpregnated with sodium silicate before shipping to Tonawanda (engine plant). Machining through the outer skin exposed areas that had not previously leaked, so various leak tests were required as the block progressed through the machining line. As I recall, if a part still leaked after three tries, it was scrapped."

Jacobsen, pointed out one of the early problems. "We had a catastrophe when we first started trying to finish the aluminum engine-block castings at Tonawanda. We found scuffing in the cylinders and couldn't figure out why... we finally figured out that we were putting too much pressure on the bore hones and cracking the silicon. We were trying to put a product into production and learning the technology simultaneously. And the pressure becomes very, very great when that happens. The hone-pressure problem was solved before engines actually went out the door, affecting pre-production engines only."

Stillborn L-10 Engine

Although the optional L-11 engine with 2-barrel Weber carburetor became a mainstream part of the program in December, 1968 (and ran at a 75% level in production), the Chevrolet engine group had an intense dislike for the tall iron cylinder head with its unusual tappet arrangement and side-flow eron combustion chamber design that had been thrust on them from engineering staff, and set out to design their own. The design evolved rapidly as a rossflow aluminum head with a single centrally-mounted overhead camshaft and roller rocker arms operating intake valves on one side and exhaust valves on the other, remarkably similar to the Ferrari V-12 cylinder head design of that period; it was almost 4 lower than the production head, was a lot lighter, had true emi chambers with big valves, and made excellent power. Numerous prototypes were built, and manufacturing tooling was started in anticipation of approval for production. The real story never came out, but some combination of corporate politics (ou don need another cylinder head mine will work just fine) and additional program investment killed the program. Had it gone to production, it would not have had the differential expansion head gasket problems that plagued the iron-head engine, and would have provided significantly higher performance than the optional L-11 engine.

Cosworth Twin-Cam

Chevrolet Cosworth Vega

1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega Twin-Cam


Chevrolet Motor Division

Parent company

General Motors Corporation

Also called

Cosworth Twin-Cam



Model year(s)



Lordstown Assembly-

Lordstown, Ohio, United States



Body style(s)

2-door hatchback


FR layout


GM H platform (RWD)


122 CID 2.0 L DOHC EFI I4


4-speed manual

5-speed manual w/overdrive (1976)


97.0 in (2,464 mm)


176.4 in (4,481 mm)


65.4 in (1,661 mm)


50.0 in (1,270 mm)

Curb weight

2,760 lb (1,250 kg)

The 1975-76 Cosworth Twin-Cam is a limited production, performance version of the Vega. Its purpose was to "create excitement" for the entire Vega line. Only 3,508 were built from March 1975 through 1976.


The racing version was known internally at Cosworth as Project EA. It was not a successful racing engine due to engine block structural failures. Chevrolet later offered a special heavy-duty block with thicker case walls for racing applications, but by that time Cosworth had moved on. The Vega production version was developed and built by Chevrolet at its Tonawanda engine plant. The first 1971 development engines delivered an impressive 180 bhp (130 kW).

Chevrolet press kit photograph, 1975

During early 1973, Cosworth development was proceeding relatively on schedule at engineering, and production of pilot units had been scheduled to take place at Lordstown in April, 1973 with a production launch scheduled for August, and later re-scheduled for May, 1974. Shortly before the pilot build was to gear up at Lordstown, the adjacent Fisher Body plant went on strike, shutting down Lordstown assembly and resulted in the pilot being moved to Ste. Therese, Quebec at the last minute. Ste. Therese was building Vegas on one shift at 30 per hour at the time, and was preparing to add their second shift, so they had additional training manpower available that could be dedicated to organizing and executing the Cosworth pilot along with Lordstown personnel. Lordstown body, paint, trim, chassis, and final assembly staff, along with material & production control and quality & reliability staff relocated to Ste. Therese for about 10 days, where they were joined by a number of engineers and specifications people from Chevrolet engineering and Bendix. Seven silver Cosworths were built, with the planned ff-line final assembly operations done in their final repair area by several veteran Ste. Therese repairmen they dedicated to the program. The cars were built on schedule, thanks to the Chevrolet and Bendix engineers who sorted out some of the mis-matched components that had been released and got the cars running properly, and returned to Lordstown.

A burnt exhaust valve in a test engine caused the engine to fail the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 50,000-mile (80,000 km) emission control system durability test. This delayed the car's introduction a year and a half while Chevrolet revised the Cosworth engine's emission control system, the Bendix Electronic fuel injection and the timing specs. It passed the EPA test the second time, and the Cosworth Vega was introduced in March, 1975 with significant differences from the cars that were built at Ste. Therese. Final rating was 110 bhp (82 kW) Car and Driver reported, "The 3.11 First gear matched to a 3.73 Axle ratio makes the Cosworth Vega tough to launch from a stop." They measured 0-60 mph (97 km/h) times of 8.7 seconds.

122 CID DOHC-16 valves

Cosworth Twin-Cam

122 CID (2.0 L) EFI I-4, 110 hp

The Cosworth Vega engine is a 122 cubic inch (2.0 liter) inline-4 and features a die cast aluminum cylinder and case assembly and an aluminum, 16 valve cylinder head with double overhead camshafts (DOHC). The head design was assisted by Cosworth Engineering in England. The camshafts are held in a removable cam-carrier which also serves as a guide for the valve lifters. Each camshaft is supported by five bearings and is turned by individual cam gears on the front end. The two overhead camshafts are driven, along with the water pump and fan, by a fiberglass cord reinforced neoprene rubber belt, much like the Vega 140 (2.3 liter) I-4 engine. Below the cam carrier is a 16 valve cylinder head constructed of an aluminum alloy using sintered iron valve seats and iron cast valve guides for added durability. Forged aluminum pistons are used for added strength with improved durability under severe operating conditions. The engine features an electronic fuel injection system, and a stainless steel exhaust header. Each engine was hand-built and includes a cam cover sticker with the engine builder's signature.The engine develops its maximum power at 5,600 rpm and is redlined at 6,500 where the SOHC Vega engine peaks at 4,400 and all is done at 5,000.

Features & changes 19751976

1975 Cosworth Twin-Cam Vega

Chevrolet general manager, John DeLorean chose black over Cosworth silver, the original choice, as the car's exclusive color. 1974 pre-production cars released to the press and all 2,062 1975 Cosworth Vegas were indeed, black with gold "Cosworth Twin Cam" lettering on the front fenders and rear cove panel and gold pinstriping on hood bulge, body sides, wheel openings, and rear cove. Black exterior color wasn't available on lesser Vegas until the following year. The black or white custom vinyl, or black custom cloth interior includes a gold engine-turned dash bezel and gold-plated dash plaque with build sequence number, a specific 8000 RPM tachometer, and a Cosworth Twin-Cam Vega steering wheel emblem. At $5,916, it cost double a normal hatchback, and only $900 less than a Corvette. The Cosworth package includes a 'torque arm' rear suspension which provides optimum rear axle power control. This unit compares to the assembly used on the Monza 2+2. The Monza 2+2 axle is also used and provides a 3.73:1 gear ratio from a 7-1/2" ring gear. No other gear ratios were available, but a limited slip differential was optional. GT special springs, shocks, and stabilizer bars are included as are exclusive BR70-13 BSW radial tires on British-made 6 inch, gold-painted cast aluminum wheels with Chevy center caps. The Vega engine overheat protection system is used on the Cosworth package. This adds add coolant and temp/press warning lights to the instrument cluster. If the radiator coolant level becomes one quart or more low, a sensor, located in the radiator, activates the add coolant light. If the coolant temperature reaches 260 F (127 C). or greater or if the engine oil pressure drops below 6 psi (0.41 bar), then the temp/press light is activated. Air conditioning was not offered on the Cosworth Vega, due to interference between the induction system, specifically the air cleaner and the air conditioner's evaporator case. Power steering and power brakes were also not offered.

1976 Cosworth Twin-Cam Vega

For 1976, the Cosworth, like all Vega models, received a facelift including a wider grill and tri-color tail lamps and the extensive body anti-rust improvements. A new Borg-Warner 5-speed manual overdrive transmission with 4.10 axle was optional in addition to the std. Saginaw 4-speed manual. The exhaust system featured a single outlet tailpipe as opposed to the dual outlet pipe on the '75. Eight additional exterior colors were offered in addition to black and two additional interior colors were offered. Still, only 1,446 were built for 1976. The Cosworth Vega, although meeting the more strict 1977 emission standards in advance, would not be offered in the Vega's final year. Production fell well short of projected sales of 5,000 per year. Introduced a year earlier in 1974, as planned, the car might have met its sales goal. 1,500 unused Cosworth engines were simply scrapped for lack of demand.


The Chevrolet Vega was initially popular with the automotive press, winning awards and praise for its innovative engineering, timeless styling, and sports car-like handling. Chevrolet advertising for the Vega included ads promoting awards won by the car.

Chevrolet Vega advertisement-1971

Chevrolet Vega advertisement-1972

Car and Driver magazine, in 1971 awarded top pick to the Vega above five other cars including the Ford Pinto, AMC Gremlin, VW Beetle, Toyota Corolla and Chrysler Simca "...because of its particular suitability to American driving conditions. It was the only car besides the shortened compact Gremlin that could cruise at 70 miles per hour or above." Its long 2.53:1 axle ratio allowed a low 3,000 rpm at 80 mph (130 km/h). The Vega's ride and handling were highly rated. It was the quickest of the cars tested, taking 12.2 seconds to reach 60 mph (97 km/h). C&D stated: "It provides an excellent combination of performance and economy." "It's a car for all occasions."

Car and Driver in a 1972 Super Coupes test including the Vega GT, Pinto Runabout, Opel 1900 Rallye, Mazda RX-2, Capri 2000 and Toyota Celica said: "...If looks alone determined the best Super coupe, the Vega GT would win hands down without ever turning a wheel."

Car and Driver readers voted the Vega "Best Economy Sedan" three years in a row (19711973) in its Annual Reader's Choice Poll. In 1971, the Vega's first year on the market, it managed to unseat the incumbent import, breaking its eight year winning streak.

Motor Trend magazine in its August 1970 issue said: "...the Vega GT comes close to what a racing GT car should be, in handling, performance and comfort. Because it's basically a low-priced compact, the results are all the more surprising and rewarding."

Motor Trend named the Vega one of the "Ten Best Cars of 1971" and "Motor Trend Car of the Year" for 1971. MT said: "The base Vega is a magnificent automobile without any options at all." "We choose the Vega as the Car of the Year because of Vega's engineering excellence, timeliness, styling, and overall value...for the money, no other American car can deliver more."

Motor Trend selected the Vega GT "1973 Car of the Year in the economy class" stating: "The Vega was judged solid, warm and comfortable, with a good finish."

In 1973 the Vega Wagon's 27.083 mpg-US (8.6850 L/100 km; 32.525 mpg-imp) fuel economy was rated number ten in Motor Trend's mid-summer cruise of "15 Cars To Own in a Gas Crisis". In 1974 the Vega LX Notchback's 30.0 mpg-US (7.84 L/100 km; 36.0 mpg-imp) was rated number nine in Motor Trend's "50 Cars Worth Their Weight In Gold". In 1975 The Vega was included in Motor Trend's "10 Best Selling (American Made) Cars" test. MT said: "The Vega has been vacillating on the sales charts from just out of the top 10 to just into the top 10. We have to conclude that Monza sales have hurt the Vega and will continue to do so."

Chevrolet Vega advertisement-1971

Chevrolet Vega GT advertisement-1973

Road & Track magazine stated in September 1970, "Vega is the best handling car ever sold in America."

Road & Track in their 1970 road test of "Vegas Plain and Fancy" said: "...with the Vega, they've turned out one of the finest-looking compact sedans in the world." "The engine proved a let down. It's extremely rough and noisy..on the positive side, freeway cruising is relaxed and quiet, the slow-running engine's noise covered by wind and road noise, and it was economical not withstanding our overall mileage figures which include some very hard driving." "Ride and handling were departments in which we also expected good things and here we weren't disappointed. The Vega in standard form rides and handles very well indeed."

Road & Track from their Vega owner survey (of early models), stated: "The level of assembly doesn't match the virtues of the design."

Road & Track in a Vega GT road test, began: "The 1973 Vega is still the stylish, somewhat sporting economy car it was when new, but improved. The Vega's engine is much improved, with cruising speed noise levels lower than most economy cars." Closing the test article, R&T stated: "After what we've said about earlier Vegas, it's a pleasure to report the current Vega is attractive, respectably quick, and frugal-and it's the best highway car in class. Well done Chevrolet."

Road Test magazine in September, 1970 said: "Chevy pulled out the stops on this one-aluminum ohc engines, four body styles, high style options put it in a class by itself." "It's innovative without being complex."

In a July 1974 Test report on a Vega LX Notchback, Road Test said: "Vega engineers have tamed the low-speed characteristics of the engine. It's wonderfully torquey and flexible at drive-away speeds, and you can shift early into fourth and chug around town all day if you normal driving low and mid-range torque is what counts and this engine has plenty of it." "The Vega ride is not like that of a Caprice, but neither is it a choppy "little-car" ride thanks to the big car rear suspension (coil springs and control arms), ample suspension travel and reasonably good damping..." "The standard manual steering is on the heavy side and is too slow to permit fancy maneuvering..." "Braking performance is right in there too, which is credited to the brakes themselves and the big (radial) tires." "In summary, the 1974 Vega is a vastly improved car over the original and even over last year's model. All of the important gripes have been taken care of and it can now face up to its competition, domestic and imported, on a feature for feature basis.

Hot Rod magazine in 1972, road tested a Vega GT Kammback, and said: "The car never looks like something you had to buy..It's the kind of car we'd buy to look good in, work on, add to, and wash once a week." Hot Rod in a 1972 models introduction issue voted the Vega GT "Best Buy" of the entire 1972 Chevrolet line. Hot Rod, on the Millionth Vega, said: "Chevrolet was so smitten with the car, they've built 6143 Millionth Vegas. The series is basically a styled-up Vega GT with some nice interior touches..They'll probably sell a million of 'em."

Chevrolet Vega GT advertisement-1973

Chevrolet Vega advertisement-1975

Small cars magazine said in 1972: "Z/29 Vega GT: It's either the sportiest economy car in the world or the most economical sports car in the world."

Road & Track, in its 1976 Cosworth Vega road test noted: "The reduction in displacement adds an important degree of smoothness..." a result of the shorter stroke. "We can't resist saying that with the Cosworth Vega engine, the Vega now runs the way it should have run all the time-easy, smooth, good response, good handling: a nice balance between performance and economy."; "For all its exotic features, however, the Cosworth Vega engine is not a high performance unit with a specific output of only 55 bhp (41 kW; 56 PS) per liter, modest indeed when compared to engines of equal sophistication." "The Cosworth Vega's handling is very good..."; "All our drivers agreed that it is a far better handling car than those Vega derivatives that have been fitted out with V6 or V8 engines."

The 1974 Pre-production Cosworth Vega made Car and Driver's Top 25 Acceleration Champs. They said: "Each year one car emerges as the winner." The Cosworth Vega was the quickest 0-60 mph car of 1974 with a time of 7.7 seconds.

Car and Driver stated in 1977: "John R. Bond, the recently retired editor of Road & Track, once caused himself and GM a peck of trouble with the Federal Trade Commission by calling the Vega the best-handling sedan from Detroit in the pages of his magazine, and though he may have been stretching the point a bit, the Vega/Astre does handle awfully well, provided there are no bumps in the road. The suspension is well tuned and the car stays flat and goes where its pointed."

Car and Driver chose the Cosworth Vega as one of the "10 Best Collectable Cars" in its fourth annual Ten Best issue, stating: "We're talking about historical significance here."

Car and Driver', in its 35th anniversary retrospective issue in 1990 mentioned the Vega three times: Detroit Fights Back - Ford Pinto and Vega 2300: "...they are the best, most import-beating subcompacts that American Technology knows how to build. If VW and the other small intruders survive this attack, they'll be assumed invincible." Cosworth Vega Preview - "A sixteen-valve head on a Vega aluminum block seems like a neat idea to us, so we rev up our prose. The car when it finally arrives, cannot keep up with our feverish preview." Showroom-Stock Challenge III - "We win again, this time in a-Vega GT, proof that truth is stranger than fiction." Detroit Fights Back - "The Pontiac Astre is introduced. It's a Vega with better decals."

Car and recently included the 1971 Chevrolet Vega on its "10 most Embarrassing Award Winners in Automotive History" list criticizing Motor Trend, 38 years after the fact, for selecting the 1971 Vega "Car of the Year."

Popular in November 2008, listed the 19711977 Chevrolet Vega as one of 10 cars that damaged GM's reputation.

Lordstown Assembly

Lordstown Assembly, Chevrolet Vega

GM purpose-built an advanced $75 million plant, Lordstown Assembly in Lordstown, Ohio, to produce the Vega. When completed, Lordstown was the world's most automated auto plant. 90 percent of the necessary welding was performed by 26 high-tech unimate industrial robots performing 520 welds on each Vega. Sub-assembly areas, conveyor belts and quality control were all computer directed. Vega production at Lordstown was projected at 100 cars an hour from the beginning: one vehicle every 36 seconds. This was nearly twice the normal volume and by far was the fastest rate in the world. Two exits on the Ohio Turnpike were constructed to handle traffic to and from the plant.

As initial production ramped up toward the goal of 100 per hour, a major problem developed in the Paint Shop. At 85 per hour, the incidence of runs, pops, and sags became a major issue, with nearly 100% of the units requiring repair, and they had to plateau the rate through the spray booth at 85 per hour. They simply couldn lay the paint on fast enough with conventional pressures and tips, and when they increased pressures and opened up tips, they got runs and sags everywhere. Fisher Body paint engineering didn have a solution, so they called DuPont (lacquer paint supplier); DuPont sent in experts and chemists with two mobile paint laboratories. They literally developed a whole new paint chemistry and application specifics over a weekend (NAD Non-Aqueous Dispersion Lacquer). There were production paint colors to that new formulation within a week, which enabled them to continue the production ramp-up successfully to 106 per hour in the paint shop. The body shop main line ran at 109, paint at 106, hard trim at 104, and chassis & final assembly at 102 in order to maintain 100 average off the final line with the inevitable occasional short stops for minor breakdowns. Masking, painting, and demasking the GT option's sport stripes was something to see at 106 per hour.

After two years of production, sales asked for a wood-grain option for the Kammback wagon, and it was released at the beginning of the 1973 model year. Nobody at Lordstown had applied wood-grain film to a car since the Caprice wagon in 1969, and it was nearly impossible to apply to the Vega body contours at 100 bodies per hour without wrinkles and tremendous scrap of the material. Wood-grain was pulled from the production schedule, and they called in an expert from Schlegel, the wood-grain film supplier, to refresh everyone skills and show them how to do it at their high line rate. He set up shop in the company car garage, and trained a team of twelve people six from each shift on three wagons they sent through the system on purpose without the film installed. Everyone picked up the techniques, and they put wood-grain back in the schedule the next day and ran with no problems.

The normal Chevrolet Broadcast Sheet (referred to today as the uild Sheet) was an 8-1/2 11 printed form, with many boxes for part numbers and/or broadcast codes for both body trim and chassis operations. It became obvious that they couldn use the standard Chevrolet sheet, as they were printed in about 30 locations throughout the plant on teletype printers and it wasn possible for the printers to print the standard-length broadcast sheet at 106 per hour. About 80 per hour was the best they could do. (None of the other plants had ever run at more than 65 per hour). There was no help from the printer manufacturer, so John Hinkley, plant coordinator, arbitrarily cut the length of the sheet in half, condensed the codes, and created a body broadcast for trim and final operations and a chassis broadcast for chassis and engine line operations; this was the only way the printers could keep up with production. The front end of a Vega on the Final Line looked like it was apered with sheets it took twice as many broadcast sheets per car as at any other plant and about 600 of them per hour filled up in the trash cans at the end of the line.


The Vega was designed to be shipped vertically, nose down. Special rail cars known as Vert-A-Pac cars held 30 Vegas versus 18 in normal tri-level autoracks. Each Vega was fitted with four removable, cast-steel sockets inserted into the undercarriage.

30 Vegas in a single Vert-a-pac

Vegas loaded on Vert-a-pac

Chevrolet conducted vibration and low-speed crash tests to make sure nose-down Vegas wouldn't shift or be damaged in railcar collisions. Chevrolet's goal was to deliver Vegas topped with fluids and ready to drive to the dealership. To do this Vega engineers had to design a special engine oil baffle to prevent oil from entering the No. 1 cylinder, batteries had filler caps located high up on the rear edge of the case to prevent acid spilling, the carburetor float bowl had a special tube that drained gasoline into the vapor canister during shipment, and the windshield washer bottle stood at a 45 degree angle. Plastic spacers were wedged in beside the powertrain to prevent damage to engine and transmission mounts. The wedges were removed when cars were unloaded.

The DeLorean factor

John DeLorean and the Vega 2300 in 1970

John Z. DeLorean, General Motors vice president and Pontiac general manager was promoted to Chevrolet general manager in 1969, a year prior to the Vega introduction. He discussed the Vega in the Motor Trend August 1970 issue: "Our design concept was we wanted to build a car that does everything well, and if you drive the car you really will be very impressed. It has far and away the best handling of anything in its class. In fact it handles better than many sports cars. The performance is excellent. It out-performs any car in its price class in accelerating..." "The Vega is going to be built at a quality level that has never been attained before in a manufacturing operation in this country, and probably in the world.." "We have automatic inspection of virtually every single engine part and so we know it is going to be right..." "There is nothing that comes within a mile of the Vega for performance and handling. This car will out-handle almost any sports car built in Europe. Not just little cars, but sports cars too. This is quite an automobile." "It has a very high degree of craftsmanship...I think the ride and handling of some of the imports is quite mediocre. But some of them are extremely well put together. The Vega has good craftsmanship, without the faults of the imports."

In contrast to the 1970 Motor Trend interview, the Vega chapter in On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors -John Z. De Lorean's Look Inside The Automotive Giant by J. Patrick Wright, published nine years later, was critical on corporate decisions associated with the Vega's design, weight, pricing, even its name. "A study of the conception and gestation of the Vega reveals not a lesson in scientific marketing and development, but rather a classic case of management ineptitude..." "This program produced a hostile relationship between the corporate staffs, which essentially designed and engineered the car, and Chevrolet Division which was to sell it. From the first day I stepped into Chevrolet, the Vega was in trouble. General Motors was basing its image and reputation on the car, and there was practically no interest in it in the division. We were to start building the car in about a year, and nobody wanted anything to do with it. Chevy's engineering staff was only going through the motions of preparing the car for production, but nothing more. Engineers are a very proud group. They take interest and pride in their designs, but this was not their car and they did not want to work on it." The biggest objection from the Chevrolet engineering staff was reserved for the Vega engine. GM Engineering policy group chose the engine pushed by Ed Cole and the corporate staff which used an aluminum cylinder block, a cast iron head and a longer stroke design which was traditionally less polluting. They were using an innovative production process using aluminum while they were relying on an old basic design for the engine, and Chevrolet engineers were ashamed of the engine.

DeLorean's most important problem was to motivate the division to get the car into as good shape as they could before introduction. As the Lordstown, Ohio assembly plant was converted to Vega production, he introduced an intense program for quality control with the target of making the first cars off the assembly line the best quality cars, from a manufacturing standpoint, ever built. As the starting date approached, he put tens of additional inspectors and workers on the line and introduced a computerized quality control program in which each car was inspected as it came off the line and, if necessary, repaired. The first 2,000 Vegas built were test driven and a sizable proportion of the others thereafter.

Work that had proceeded on the car revealed that the central staff had completely misgauged the weight and cost of the car they designed. As general manager of Chevy, he was called upon to explain why the car differed from GM chairman James Roche's announcement given two years earlier. How could DeLorean call his car "competitive" when it weighed almost 400 pounds more, and was priced more than $300 above the intended foreign competitor. While he was convinced that Chevy was doing their best with the car that was given to them, he was called upon by the corporation to tout the car far beyond his personal convictions about it. This conflict never resolved itself fully in his mind and was one of the factors that precipitated his departure from the company. DeLorean continued: "I said with a clear conscience that it was a quality car, and I believed it was because the first 2,000 cars were road tested off the assembly line and millions of dollars was spent to reinspect and repair each vehicle."

In naming the car, DeLorean stated that studies were conducted showing that one name stood above every other - Gemini. When pronounced it almost said "G-M-ini". But modern, scientific, marketing tests not withstanding, Ed Cole liked the name Vega and so did top corporate management, who disregarded Chevrolet's test results.


Although the Vega sold well from the beginning, the buying public soon started to question the car's quality. It had every right to; it came out prematurely and still had a lot of glitches. Development and upgrades continued throughout the car's seven year production run addressing its engine and cost-related issues.


XP-887 Coupe, Chevrolet studio - final design

Jerry L Brockstein, assistant to Henry Haga, head of the Camaro/Corvette studio where the Vega prototype was restyled, recalls finalizing the Vega bodies: "Chevrolet was trying to build this car as cheaply as possible and wanted us to take a lot of money out of it. At first the metal was so thin on the Kammback wagon that in the test facilty it kept buckling under its own weight. Fisher Body had to come back and put stiffing ribs in the roof." John DeLorean stated in 1974: "The first prototype was sent to the GM proving grounds for durability testing. After only eight miles on the Belgian blocks, it broke in two." Note, though, that Fisher often under-engineered prototype bodies because it was easier and more economical to reinforce a weak body than to shave one that had more strength than needed. Chevrolet's side, in a January 1971 Vega engineering report stated: "Early difficulties were experienced at the front and rear suspension attaching points. Using scaled suspension members to impose static loads, stress evaluations were conducted. It was determined that addition of reinforcements, metal gauge increases, and some redesign of the pieces would give desired structure."

GMAD-Fisher Body

Workers on the Lordstown Vega Assembly line

The worker at Lordstown had only 36 seconds to do his job instead of the normal minute. Even if the work was reduced the job was intolerable. With 25 percent more line workers than needed, the speed of assembly didn't bother most workers at first, and the Vegas that came off the line in those early months were well built. They still had mechanical flaws but issues such as fit-and-finish were not a problem. Then in October 1971, General Motors ordered Chevrolet and Fisher Body to turn over Lordstown to the General Motors Assembly Division (GMAD) One of its missions was to cut costs. Typical Lordstown employees (average age, 22) were products of the 60's. They'd grown up in an age of civil disobedience. GMAD ran a much tighter ship and discipline became more rigorous. The United Auto Workers (UAW) claimed that 800 workers were laid off at Lordstown within the first year of GMAD's arrival and the line speed didn't slow. Feelings got worse with management accusing workers of intentionally slowing the line and sabotaging cars by leaving parts off and doing shoddy work. Quality did suffer, and in March 1972, the plant's 7,700 workers called a wildcat strike that lasted a month and cost GM 150 million dollars.

Fisher Body Vega Elpo dip

Fisher Body was very proud of its Elpo primering process, which should have prevented rust, but didn't. The Elpo process involved submerging the assembled Vega body in a huge vat. The Elpo vats at Lordstown each contained reddish-brown paint-primer particles in 65,000 US gallons (246,052 L; 54,124 imp gal) of water. In the Elpo dip, the metal body received a positive electrical charge, the primer particles carried a negative charge, and by leaving the body in the vat for two minutes even the most remote recesses get coated, theoretically. The body was then dried, sprayed with acrylic lacquer and baked in a 300 F (149 C) degree oven. The Elpo dip, however, did not flow to every surface. Vega expert Gary Derian, interviewed by Collectable Automobile in 2000 said: "The design of the front end caused air to be trapped at the tops of the fenders, so they never got coated. Early cars had no inner fenders or fender liners, so the tops of the front fenders got blasted by sand and salt thrown up by the tires, and they quickly rusted." Derion pointed out, too, that a rust-prone gap existed between the front fenders and the cowl v...

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