Be happy with the car your parents provide you, it’s not a Vega

Dennis Warden

I grew up in town within walking distance of the newspaper. From ages 10 to 15 I either walked, ran or rode my bike everywhere I needed to go. This included anywhere in town and four to five miles outside town to go swimming or fishing.

Something happened to those modes of transportation when I turned 16. They were no longer needed because I had use of an automobile.

When I turned 16 in 1975 my parents purchased a 1972 Vega Kammback wagon so my younger sister (when she turned 16) and I could transport ourselves. I believe they paid around $2,000 for it. 

The name “vega” derives from the brightest star in the constellation Lyra.

Now that Connie and I have went through the same time in our lives I can understand the relief my parents experienced when they no longer had to shuttle me to school functions.

Produced from 1970 to 1977, the Vega was GM’s answer to subcompact cars from the Japanese auto makers. In the beginning the Vega received praise and awards. It’s hard to believe but only one year after it was introduced by GM, the Vega was Motor Trend’s Car of the Year.

Somehow I don’t remember the Vega in the same light as Motor Trend. If you’ve ever attended local car shows you will notice that no one displays a Vega. 

It was NOT a muscle car. The Vega was powered by an inline four-cylinder 140 cubic inch (2.3-liter) engine with a lightweight aluminum alloy cylinder block. That engine pulled an incredible 80 hp at 4,400 rpm. In comparison a new Dodge Hellcat with a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 is good for 707 hp.

Believe me, when you pushed down on the gas peddle, nothing much happened. You may have heard of Sammy Hagar’s song “I Can’t Drive 55.” Dad used to tell me that this car was not meant to be driven over 55. Believe me he was correct. It could barley reach 55 going down hill.

For 1972, the Vega came with a revised exhaust system and driveline to reduce vibration and noise; also revised shock absorbers. Turbo-hydramatic three-speed automatic transmission and custom cloth interior were optional and a glove box was added.

Can you imagine telling your children, be happy with this car, if we would’ve purchased the 1971 model you wouldn’t have a glove box. Cars have come a long way.

Recently Ethan (our second child) was complaining that his first car, passed down to him from our oldest son Jacob, had holes in the floor board. I reminded him — that 1992 Nissan Pathfinder was four-wheel drive. It’s the only 4x4 I’ve ever owned, and the boys got to drive it.

To show how much difference 20 years can make the Pathfinder had a similar size engine, 3-liter, but had 143 hp. Ethan had nothing to complain about.

Back to the Vega. 

Born in late November I was one of the oldest in the group I hung around with and one of the first to have a car. So we cruised in the Vega.

It used to snow a lot around here in the winter. In the winter of 1976 we were doing the things that boys do. With weight in the back of the Kammback to help the rear wheel drive navigate in the snow we tried, emphasis on tired, doing donuts.

After several unsuccessful attempts by me to produce the desired results one of my friends, Ray (his real name) said he could do better. My response to him was to prove it. Ray got behind the wheel. On his first attempt he not only did not perform a donut, he hit a fireplug. I know what’s going through your mind. But the Vega was not big enough to knock over a fireplug.

The collision did break off a piece of plastic under the front bumper. I told dad that I could glue it back on if he wanted me to.

In another adventure in the Vega too much speed and a bump in town combined to knock a hole in the oil pan. I knew right away that something was amiss and drove it directly to a repair shop.

According to Wikipedia the Vega became “widely known for a range of problems related to its engineering, reliability, safety, propensity to rust, and engine durability. Despite a series of recalls and design upgrades, the Vega’s problems tarnished both its own as well as General Motors’ reputation” and was discontinued in 1977.

Less than four years after he purchased it dad was lucky to get $500 for that car.