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Thread: 19751976 Chevy Cosworth Vega

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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    19751976 Chevy Cosworth Vega

    The DMC-12 gullwing coupe isn’t the only bad idea that can be laid at the feet of poor old John Z. DeLorean. As Chevrolet Division Manager in the early 1970s, DeLorean had a brainstorm: He wanted to recreate the sales magic of the 1964 GTO—which he had personally helped design when he was an engineer at Pontiac—but this time, using a compact economy car as the base vehicle.

    He chose the Vega—a car that would become infamous as one of the all-time automotive stinkers—a lemon so tart it could make a Pinto pucker. The centerpiece of the awfulness was the Vega’s engine—an all-aluminum four-cylinder that eventually became the focus of massive recalls. Aluminum is light and thus preferable to steel if the object is to shave weight. But aluminum is also a softer material than steel, so when it’s used to make engine blocks, steel sleeves or inserts are typically used to prevent premature wear—and excessive oil consumption. But the Vega’s 2-liter engine did not use steel liners; the pistons rode up and down in their aluminum bores, scouring out the soft metal—sometimes in just a few months of use—resulting in a smoke-spewing Exxon Valdez on wheels. DeLorean himself later admitted in his book, On a Clear Day, You Can See General Motors that Chevy engineers “were ashamed of the engine,” and that it looked “like it had been taken off a 1920 farm tractor.” Of course, when a Vega was driving around, it often wasn’t a clear day.

    As for the car itself, DeLorean described the initial road test of the prototype at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds thusly: “After eight miles, the front of the Vega broke off. The front end of the car separated from the rest of the vehicle. It must have set a record for the shortest time for a new car to fall apart.” Apparently the test was graded on a rather generous curve, however, and production continued.

    This was to be the basis for the Cosworth Vega, a “high-performance version” of the Vega that Chevy hoped would “generate excitement and bolster interest in the GM small car market.”

    Instead it generated recalls and disappointment.

    The aluminum engine was fitted with an innovative (for the time) four-valve twin cam cylinder head, ostensibly to improve airflow and thus power output—but the added pressure only accelerated the disintegration of the already over-stressed bottom end of the engine. “Firsts” such as electronic port fuel injection, the use of pressure cast aluminum wheels, and an exhaust header instead of a cast iron manifold weren’t much solace to owners of broken-down, fast-to-crumble and quickly worthless Vegas. Not even the partnership with well-respected Cosworth Engineering during the car’s development made the Vega smell any better. Today it is regarded as one of the greatest performance car flops ever—and spoken of only in hushed tones at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit.

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    Last edited by Eric; 08-22-2009 at 07:48 AM.

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