Cars I Have Known – The Vega

The first car I ever lived with, was a 1973 Chevrolet Vega Notchback Sedan. It was bought by my dad as a commuter car, and was thus equipped with the luxuries of an automatic transmission and an AM radio. That was it. No power windows, power door locks, power seats, A/C, cruise, nothing.
Now, when I got the car handed down in 1979. it had already lived well past its’ professionally-predicted life-span. The Vega had a cast-aluminum engine, common now, but a rarity in the 70s. People weren’t religious about changing engine oil, and that would kill the Vega’s engine. My dad, being totally OCD about maintenance of machinery, made sure it got changed regularly. So the part that should have killed the car, its’ engine, was still going strong.
The body? That was another issue. The body was made of non-coated steel, and in the Chicago heavily-salted winter, you could WATCH the car rust. The only advantage was, the car lost about 30-40 pounds per year as we sanded and ground away the rust, replacing it with fibreglass and Bondo. So the car actually performed BETTER with age!
As the car aged, my father grew less willing to spend big money on repairs to the vanishing body. When the inner and outer door panels rusted away from each other, my dad glued them back together with roofing tar. Yes – roofing tar, the fibred kind to provide some binding force. Flapping fenders were restrained with bailing wire. When I passed it back in 1987 after getting my Cavalier, there was NO original body below the tops of the wheel wells. Fibreglass, bondo, lacquer putty, roofing tar, pieces of flattened tin cans, all sorts of things – but no original sheet metal.
By the time I inherited the car in 1979, the mechanicals had been beat up pretty good, as well. My sister drove it for a few years before I got it, and she was HARD on the poor thing. By the time I got it, there was a quarter-turn in the steering wheel that did NOTHING, the throttle linkage had broke and been wired back into service, and the suspension was gone. The one thing that never failed (other than the power plant) were the brakes. They remained great to the day the car was traded in for my dad’s 1989 wagon.
This was the car I drove into the city to go to college, fighting with the rest of the idiots on the Chicagoland freeways. When I started working downtown, I drove it forth and back to the commuter train station, a 2-mile too-short-to-warm-up sprint. I drove her all around Chicagoland, from Wrigleyville in the north to Aurora in the southwest, in rush-hour stop-and-go residential traffic and at 70mph on the freeway. (Which was quite a feat, considering the engine was spinning as fast as it could (“redlined”) to get there.) And despite allĀ  the car’s faults, it only stuck me once – when the temperature dived below -20 degrees and I left it out on the street by a friend’s apartment. (We towed it home behind our huge 1970 wagon, me in the Vega with no heat and temperatures in the negative teens! 8O ) Other than that, the car soldiered on, gradually disintegrating, until the day in 1989 when my dad traded it in on his (still going) 1989 Celebrity wagon. And less than a week later, the dealer sold it to some gent as a “starter car” for his teenage daughter!
That Vega was ugly, slow, cheap, poorly equipped, and an all-around beater. And I loved her for every minute we spent together. It’s true – you never forget your first love.

Watch for Part 2 of Cars I Have Known – The Wagon With Its’ Own Zip Code…..

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22 Responses to Cars I Have Known – The Vega

  1. fasab says:

    Now that’s recycling – you turned tar and tins and stuff into a car!

    • Not so much recycling, more like “vainly trying to stave off the inevitable” – I’m sure it’s ALL at the bottom of a landfill somewhere. And believe it or not, my other car, a Buick wagon, has to last ANOTHER 2 months before it ties the Vega for longevity, which is still surpassed by my dad’s monster 1970 wagon (21 years) and my Cavalier (25 years and counting – sort of). :D

      • fasab says:

        How the world has changed, we made things last as long as possible, the younger generation throws out perfectly good things as the fashion changes – and then they have the gall to lecture us on conservation and recycling etc.

      • Oh, part of the fun of the Vega was it was NOT supposed to last! Especially the engine – they were supposed to be good for only 4-5 years. The beauty was that the Vega and Pinto were “shrunk” from larger cars, so they were technically overbuilt. The Japanese cars were “expanded” from Japanese market little boxes, so they were underpowered and not meant to last. Nowadays, the Japanese overbuild things, giving Camrys and Accords tremendous staying power, while the American marks build little tin crapboxes from Japan and South Korea!
        Meanwhile, European marks are about to go under – despite Opel (GM) building a mid-size wagon with a twin-turbo V-6 making as much HP as a Nissan Z-car! Lunacy……

  2. Elyse says:

    I have a soft spot for Vegas. In the early 80s my sister had one, and I once took her three kids and 1 friend each out bowling for a memorable evening. I only had enough money for one game, so we drove donuts around the parking lot shouting “We’ve got a VEGA!” We talk about that evening every single time we get together — the rallying cry is still “We’ve got a VEGA!”

    I am smiling wide.

    • I can just picture that! Never fear, first there will be a series of these as introductions – then the REAL fun starts, as tales of idiocy and mayhem ensue. Like the time I got my Vega to fly – NOT fun! Wait til we get to my Cavalier – there are EPIC tales of stupidity by the score with that one!

  3. El Guapo says:

    Yeah, no matter how big a lemon, we always love our first.

    • I gotta admit, while that Vega was no style goddess or luxoboat, she was one darn reliable car! I think the most faulty part was the loose nut holding the steering wheel – the one in the seat! :D

  4. benzeknees says:

    Some of my friends boyfriends had Vegas as their first cars. We would all pile into these cars & ride around for as long as we were allowed. Fond memories like yours!

  5. aFrankAngle says:

    We do recall our first car — mine was a 1965 Chevy Chevelle. … No, not an SS.

  6. tom says:

    During the first governor term of Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown,, he larded up the State motor pool with Vegas and AmC Pacers while he tooled around in a K car. Needless the car of choice for State employees checking out a car was the Vega.

    • I have actually never driven nor been in a Pacer, something I can never forgive myself for. I have, unfortunately, had a K-car as a rental beater. I absolutely hated the thing – right up to the point where Grace Lee Whitney walked out of the convention, spotted it, and INSISTED I drive her to lunch, as she had auditioned for a Chrysler ad and wanted to get more familiar with the car. (Sigh.) Just my luck – I get my first crush alone in a car, and she wants to check out THE CAR. Typical….. ;)

  7. Our first car was a 1972 green Gremlin! And it was new! :-) Cool cars, right? LOL!

    • Oh, I loved the Gremlin! Well, except for the Levi Jeans version. You wanna REALLY feel sick? Go search eBay! Vegas trade out there for 4 or 5 digits – more than new! And Gremlins are considered collector’s items! 8O

  8. vbehling says:

    Love it, esp as a former Vega driver myself

    • Well, hello there! Nice to see you over here at my little corner of the Internet. Yeah, I really did love that car, even with all its’ faults. Wait til we get to my Cavalier Z-24. though – that had the power and quality to allow me to REALLY get into trouble! ;) :D

  9. Pingback: Even Better Than The End Of The World – The Beginning Of A Year | Guapola

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