Was The 1971 Vega The Worst Car Ever?

Greg Zyla
Q: Greg, back in 1971 we owned a ‘71 Vega and it was the worst car we ever purchased.
At 20,000 miles the tires were bald; the aluminum block had steam coming out the sides; the body had begun to rust; and it would just stop running at the most inopportune times!
Then, after shaking it and a lot of cussing, it would re-start! We were told that it had a design flaw in the electrical system that led to it shorting out. In the end, we never could figure out how or why it would re-start.
The Cosworth engine Vega you wrote about recently was a last ditch effort by General Motors (GM) to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I maintain that the Vega was responsible for selling a lot of Toyotas back then, and a principal cause for the collapse of GM! They could never shake the bad reputation of the Chevrolet Vega. I wouldn’t take one if you gave it to me.  Charles F. Morton, Union City, MI.

A: Charles, your comments are well taken. Although I agree the Vega was a very troublesome vehicle thanks to electrical, transmission and head gasket problems, it was named Motor Trend magazine’s “Car Of The Year” in 1971-a prize something every car manufacturer hopes to attain.
Too bad Motor Trend was dead wrong, as the more miles one would put on a Vega, the more money needed for repairs (and more cussing!).
Additionally, the American competition during that time, specifically, the Ford Pinto, was another compact that had its pros and cons, and then surpassed the Vega in “trouble land” due to rear end collision gas tank fires! The Pinto may had been built better mechanically, but suffered from horrible press dealing with the rear impacts.
You are correct that the Toyotas and other foreign cars were the beneficiaries of the Pinto and Vega flaws. My best friend bought a new Datsun over a Vega back then as we used to commute together in that car. I have to admit, that Datsun was a better car right from the start.
I appreciate your letter, and admit I owned a 1973 Vega GT. It was green with white stripes and looked really good from the exterior. I traded it on a brand new 1974 AMC Hornet X, which I paid I think $2,890 for with a 258-inch 6-cylinder and three speed standard floor shift tranny. I never had one single problem with that Hornet, but the Vega was in the transmission shop one week after I bought it.  I traded it with just 25,000 miles.
Thanks for your letter, Charles, as it brings back some good and bad memories. As for all those “lemon” Vegas, drag racers scooped them up, built a racing chassis under them and then put big V8s in them that to this day are very popular across the country.
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