In defense of the Chevrolet Vega

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(Car Lust) - During Viva Las Vega week, my fellow contributors acted as the prosecution in the case against the Chevrolet Vega-- the car that should have been GM's small-car savior but that
instead has become one of the automotive world's most notorious synonyms for failure. They built a thoroughly damning case against the Vega and spared none of the painful details, including the rampaging rust, the massive engine vibration, the durability issues caused by its aluminum block and cast-iron head, and the labor issues that compromised the assembly of an already flawed design.
It is now my turn to present my defense of the Vega, and I'm left with very little foothold to do so. I can't appeal to the facts-- the facts have already been presented, and they are damning. I can't pander to public sympathy--too many people have been burned by Vega ownership, and the worldwide community has long condemned the Vega as one of the automotive world's great failures. Ultimately, I have to admit that the prosecution is right--their case is air-tight and well-presented. Public opinion has concurred in pronouncing the Vega guilty of being a truly awful car.
But yet, despite all that, I can't help but love the woebegone Vega and its H-body siblings, and so I'll explain why I continue to lust after it despite all of the evidence that I'm a fool to do so...
Continued: http://xrl.us/ChevroletVega
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On 12/19/10 9:52 AM, Dave U. Random wrote:

There is NO excuse for the Vega, N O N E!. I was dumb enough to buy one-my Bad.
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My brother had one. When he moved cross country, I drove it out there for him. It died soon after. Sustained 75 mph for 3000 miles was just too much for it.
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wrote

They were really a bad example for Chevy, especially when you look at how many Pintos ran to 200,000 miles, and then they used the basic engine in Rangers until 2000 with similar results.
Come to think of it, Chev made Vegas, then Chevettes, hell I can't even remember what followed those Chevette POS, have they made a small car worth owning yet?
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Dave U. Random wrote:

i loved all of the Vegas I had. From the 71 up through the 75 Cosworth (which I should have NEVER sold). They were not a bad car really. Once you got a Durabuilt engine in them they held up fine. Most of the family had them for a while. Three uncles (6-7 different ones between them), 4 cousins, one grandfather, My Mom&Dad, Myself (4 different ones). Most were retired due to mileage or in the case of a couple of the cousins, stupidity while in operation (they wrecked them beyond repair).
I had a 72 GT that was going to be a project car until someone came along and wanted it more than me. The Cosworth was a similar thing. I should have kept it though. They are VERY rare now. Also had many of the later H bodies. Monza's, Starfires mainly. Things were all good in snow and were fun to drive.
--
Steve W.
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The Vegas I knew of had the silicon/aluminum engine which was a disaster in every case that I ever heard of.
Other posters have mentioned other engines.. I never saw them.
This was, IMO, a piece of cheap junk, engineered (?) to sell cheaply to junk chumps. A true POS.
GM earned its bankruptcy.. It wasn't a gift.
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Maybe it is fair to say that GM management was/is gifted?
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wrote:
message

There was plenty of junk around in the 70's. Not just GM junk. The Vega was just worst than most others. I got through the 70's with only one serious car problem. With a '64 Bug, a '67 Skylark, a '66 F-150 and a '74 Dart. A '71 Nova with a 307 burnt a valve - I really pushed that one - and I junked it. Consider it the Worst Car I Ever Had. Every other car had no engine or trans problems, they just rusted away. VW sold a lot of Rabbits that started burning oil right away. The Jap cars were quickly dissolved by rust and you had to scrape the ice from inside of windshields while driving up north. Never heard anything good about them either. AMC was ALL junk and probably blew more head gaskets than Vegas. I don't know about Fords, except my dad was happy with his LTD.
You couldn't go far wrong with a GM 350 or Chevy or Chrysler straight 6. Those were probably the best. Some might add the Chrysler 318, but I've never been a Chrysler fan.. Most EVERYTHING else was JUNK. ALL OF THEM. Those pioneers who bought small for fuel economy ended up paying more in the long haul. But they were necessary sacrifices to advance technology. I honor their sacrifice. Suckers. Nah. just kidding. Only other '70's cars I had besides the Dart and Nova was a '76 Caprice and a '78 Chevy Beauville van I bought after 1980. Both with 350's, and both did just fine except for rust.
The '70s was a terrible decade for all cars. GM continued that trend in the 80's with the Citation and its brethren. But just like the Vega, anybody with any sense didn't buy them. The Citation and it's ilk were a boon to Jap auto manufacturers. That's when they began to really began to eat the market. First decent 4-cyl GM had was the 2.0, and first decent V-6 was the 2.8. I bought both only after they were proven. Now I'm looking at the Ecotec to be in my next ride if I go with a Malibu. It'll be my first without push rods. But if I decide on an Impala, it'll be a 3.5 with push rods.
--Vic
I'm crossposting this to rec.auto.tech - might get other ideas, since they are much more sophisticated in matters automotive..
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I think you are right that it was not just GM dropping quality for greed for many years. Particular problem for GM was size and they did not see the trend of improving quality for cheap cars in general until way too late.
What will happen now with GM is anybody s guess because they are obviously doing some things right.
The Volt is looking good at the moment and there are a lot of good cars made by GM.
If it is enough is hard to tell right now and it is certainly too soon to tell if the management and the management systems have improved enough for GM to survive in todays buyers market.
If someone would try to make cars the way they did 40 years ago in todays information society they would be crusified like what happened to GM earlier.
I am very interested to follow GMs fate now as a social experiment.
A few years ago it was quite obvious what would happen and it was really interesting to see how long time it took for GM to fall flat on its face.
Today we have not began to see what GM is all about yet and everything is a bit foggy with all the bailout/loans/politicians involved.
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wrote:

I've never had a problem finding value in GM cars, but I always buy used which is a tremendous advantage with GM.

The Volt is a great concept as far as I'm concerned. But until its quality is proven it won't do GM much good. The PR value is significant now - but if the car fails it will be a very big failure.

That's mostly been written already. The union has caved out of necessity. Hopefully the corporate culture has been swept of most of the trash. What's important now is running a profitable business. That means producing quality vehicles and gaining market share. Despite past failures and earning enemies, there is a large segment of Americans who want GM to do well and will buy their products if their trust is earned. Then some don't care or even think about GM as a brand. They just buy what appeals to them for various reasons. Two of my daughters have Hyundai Santa Fe's. I don't know why. Except they brag about the warranty. $27,000 per. That's just not in my vocabulary, nor are SUV's.

True.
--Vic
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There is an interesting similarity to former GM failure and BPs failure with the oilrig.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/26/us/26spill.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all
"What emerges is a stark and singular fact: crew members died and suffered terrible injuries because every one of the Horizons defenses failed on April 20. Some were deployed but did not work. Some were activated too late, after they had almost certainly been damaged by fire or explosions. Some were never deployed at all.
At critical moments that night, members of the crew hesitated and did not take the decisive steps needed. Communications fell apart, warning signs were missed and crew members in critical areas failed to coordinate a response.
The result, the interviews and records show, was paralysis. For nine long minutes, as the drilling crew battled the blowout and gas alarms eventually sounded on the bridge, no warning was given to the rest of the crew. For many, the first hint of crisis came in the form of a blast wave.
The paralysis had two main sources, the examination by The Times shows. The first was a failure to train for the worst. The Horizon was like a Gulf Coast town that regularly rehearsed for Category 1 hurricanes but never contemplated the hundred-year storm. The crew members, though expert in responding to the usual range of well problems, were unprepared for a major blowout followed by explosions, fires and a total loss of power.
They were also frozen by the sheer complexity of the Horizons defenses, and by the policies that explained when they were to be deployed. One emergency system alone was controlled by 30 buttons."
The similarities are that in both BP oilrig and in GM operations the tools were all there and all the handbooks were there and what was needed to do in order to keep everything going.
Problem in both cases were that management did nothing to test out the systems and see if they really did work.
In both cases there was a blowout (actually a bailout in GMs case) and a lot of measures should have been taken by management but they did nothing and were just frozen in time.
In the BP case the events have been investigated and blame passed around.
In the GM case I am not sure if they have identified the problems and acted to stop them happening again.
It is not enough to send management on seminars in Hawaii and spend some time enjoying beautiful women and good wine and food once in a while.
They should prepare and try out real life problems and know how to act on them.
I am not sure the systems inside GM have been tested yet for future problems.
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On 12/27/2010 07:30 AM, Vic Smith wrote:

message
as far as the Impala goes, I would definitely go with either the 3.5, 3.9, or 3.8 if you are going older... I had one as a company car with the old 3.4 and it was awful and underpowered. I'm not a big fan of the chassis though...
re: older Chrysler products, I don't understand the hate, as long as you stay away from "Lean Burn" cars and the Aspen/Volare (RUST!) they were actually the best of a bad lot IMHO
AMC's blowing head gaskets? really? I have no personal experience with them but from what I've heard it seems like they are the engine of choice for high boost turbos as they are supposedly almost as strong as the old Studebaker V-8s and are much larger in displacement...
nate
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I've been driving and working on AMC cars for decades, the only general head gasket issues I am aware of are with the 196 six-cylinder aluminum engine they used for a few years in the early 1960s. (The metallurgy of the time was not up to the task.) Also the old 196 cast-iron mill was a pre-war design that needed the head retorqued at regular intervals to prevent gasket problems.
The 232 cid Rambler Six introduced in 1964 was a completely different animal, and with engineering updates was used through the 2006 model year in Jeeps.

That would be the old Nash 250/287/327 cid V8 engines. Those engines were rushed into production to replace the Packard V8 that Nash had been using in the Ambassador, and were overbuilt with forged rods and crank due to limited testing time. (The engine went from design to production in only 18 months!) See:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AMC_V8_engine#GEN-1_Nash.2FHudson.2FRambler_V8s_.281956-1966.29
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yes, and also the subsequent 390/401 engines
if you scroll down that wikipedia page it says that the 390/401s used forged rods because AMC didn't have time to do testing, which sounds like a win for a budget minded hot rodder.
actually a Packard 352 or 374 wouldn't be a bad choice either, but those had oiling system issues and were really, really, really big (had one in a Stude Golden Hawk; it was pretty much a press fit even under that huge hood) so never really caught on with the hot rod crowd. nate
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wrote:

I don't have any experience with them either, except buddys with a Maverick and Gremlin both blew a head gasket at low miles. So I was guessing. OTOH I never had a buddy with a Vega. Friends are friends. I don't hate Chryslers. No experience with them beyond my '74 Dart and my ma's '55 Belvidere flathead with the blown head gasket. I just stick with what I know best, a limited GM selection.
My son the mechanic hates Chryslers though. He was actually warming to one - his girlfriend's 2000 Stratus - when he started maintaining and driving it. Then it burned to the ground at a busy intersection. Embarrassing to a mechanic like him, with all them firemen asking what happened and him with no clue. PS line came loose due to a faulty fitting. They had it sent to a scrap yard after paying a couple days storage fees to the towing outfit. A week later they got a recall notice from Chrysler addressing the hose fitting. Too late. They never got a cent. Total loss. Now he doesn't hold back. He works on the trucks all the time and hates seeing them come in. Says you might as well order 5 Pitman arms to get it lined up, since they're all differently made. Talking about the 1500's and up. Said he'd buy a Toyota or cut off his balls before he bought a Chrysler. Anyway, I consider him prejudiced, but reliable. OTOH, I always liked the looks of the Sebring ragtop, and the Pacifica is a good looking SUV to me. Anyway I came here to praise Chrysler, not bury it. They can handle that all by themselves. Just like GM, I hope they get their act together. More selection and competition is good.
--Vic
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Nothing special about maverick engines. Same inline 6s and 302 V8 used in mustangs and other fords.

My parents had a vega. sold it with 93K miles and 8 or 9 chicago winters. rusted out, burned and leaked lots of oil. guy who bought it patched it back up and sold it. It probably hit 100K+ before it reached the junkyard.
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They blew up in Mustangs and other Fords too.
The mid-seventies really was the darkest era in American car design, and you can't blame any particular manufacturer because they all had serious design and quality control issues.
My college roommate had a brand new Dodge Omni catch fire on his test drive. You don't see that happening today.

That was unfortunately about typical with American cars of that era. It is amazing to see how far we have come since then. --scott
--
"C'est un Nagra. C'est suisse, et tres, tres precis."

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I've heard more 'lasts forever' stories than 'blowed up' stories

Maverick engines were the same found in 1960s fords except with 1970s emission control systems, as were many at GM and Chrysler. 70s quality control however could ruin anything.

are you sure? :)

A lot has to do with modern lubricants and rust protection IMO.
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On 27 Dec 2010 14:11:58 -0500, snipped-for-privacy@panix.com (Scott Dorsey) wrote:

My roommate had a 76 Capri (import from ???) and it caught fire and burned up while he was driving it. It's risky making too much of single anecdotes.

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I'd call that an honorary American car anyway, if only because Americans were selling it.
If it makes you feel better, I can say "the mid-seventies really was the darkest era in car design" and be a bit more general about it. --scott
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