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I've owned both cars... first a 73 Vega notchback, my first new car. Then a 77 Pinto.
First, what was right about the Vega
1. paint job was excellent and styling .... and it never left me stranded in 4 years of driving.
1.rust, engine, interior seats, rear wheel hop
But I only kept it for about 55,000 miles, and the only thing that went on it was the starter solenoid (I was able to start it by giving it a push to go to the repair shop).
Ok, and now the Pinto
1. decent quality compared to Vega (no rust problems to speak of except a wee bit at the rear wheel wells), engine had a bit more power.
And the bad...
1. cam shaft went at about fifty thousand miles(the 77 had a warning (no recall back then to fix the problem) to use 5W oil because of a problem with oil lubrication at the cam, so I figure over time even the lighter oil didn't help) I had the cam replaced and the car was still going fine after six years of use. Nothing else went wrong...
The ride in either Vega or Pinto was not very good, but both had short wheel bases and rode on bias-ply tires. The ride on the Pinto improved some with a switch to radials. I traded the Pinto for a used 79 Monte Carlo, which went over 200,000 miles (11 years) before the rear axle mounts rusted out.
The Pinto was a far better car than the Vega, mainly due to the terrible rust in the Vega and oil consumption in the Vega after 50,000 miles. After the cam was replaced, the Pinto ran great and never used any oil between oil changes. I never had a new car since then that showed rust within the first year of ownership like the Vega did. My brother had a Vega too (74 or 75..one with the larger bumpers) and it didn't go very long before the block cracked.
I solved the oil use trouble with my 72 Vega wagon by installing a 327 & T-350 trans into the car.
Then it developed a rear differential durability problem......... LOL The stock design rear diff would last about 1 year with the 327.
Never had a rust out problem with the car. Here in Arizona we read about rust, but don't see much of it.
I never thought I'd find myself saying this, but it really was an attractive little car! I didn't realize it when they were new, because I always looked at them as cheap little deathtraps. But the styling has actually held up rather well on them.
In contrast, the Pinto just looks like a cheap little car...always has, always will. I guess the Vega/Astre could at least give you the feeling that you were driving something sporty, though.
I've always wondered...how did they hold up when you put a V-8 in one? I have an old used car guide that says avoid the Vega/Monza and its offshoots at all costs, and it did mention that putting a V-8 in a car designed for a lightweight 4-cyl was not a good idea, and suspension problems were common. I think they ended up being heavy little cars too...somewhere around 2800-2900 lb? A few years before, that was Valiant/Falcon/Nova territory!
V8 conversions can make a car better or worse depending on how well thought out the whole thing was, and how well executed. Between the weight and the torque, it seems obvious that if you leave the stock systems in place they are going to die under the strain.
Several years ago I was at a local car show and someone had a MINT Cosworth Vega restored to perfect original condition. I thought it was a cool little car, and it ended up winning BEST OF SHOW! I guess other people have a taste for the unusual as well :-)
Well, it was sponsored by a Corvette club, so about half the cars there were various Corvettes. I guess they got sick of giving top honors to a Vette every year...or maybe they just had a sense of humor :-)
I haven't even begun a topic on the car my parents had for us to drive, a 1976 Ford Maverick 4 door, with the powerful 200 cubic inch I-6. Only options were AM radio and 3 speed auto.
Myself, my two brothers, and my sister all learned to drive that car. We beat the hell out of that car, including outrunning the cops through a cornfield in it. Traded in on an 85 LTD Wagon, which my sister proceeded to total a year later.
Should I start the topic? It's 25 years old now.
My personal impression was the engine held up pretty well if it was not overheated - but it had such a small radiator and low-capacity cooling system that one burp was enough to cause overheating and major engine damage.
Mercedes' current 3.2-Liter V6 has an aluminum block that successfully uses aluminum/silicon liners. Correct me if I am mistaken, please, but I believe this alloy was specifically developed for liner use only and would not be suitable for the block casting. Thus, even though Vega and Mercedes designs both utilize aluminum/silicon cylinder wear surfaces, these alloys are quite different - both metallurgically and in performance results.
It amazes me that GM could have been so outstanding at designing full size and intermediate cars--most people would say the best--during the '60s and into the '70s, and be so world-class lousy at designing innovative small cars.
Not just quietly mediocre cars but spectacularly over-the-top lousy. Rope-drive Tempest, Corvair, BOP aluminum V8, Vega. I could understand these cars happening now when GM is patently clueless, but not back then when it had, what, 50% market share and looked unbeatable.
Maybe GM was just the best at refining proven designs but got lost once it left the beaten track.
Actually the Corvair wasn't a bad design, especially the '64-up, but it would have been a lot better if the bean counters had let the engine be aluminum. Better weight distribution would have helped the early Corvair a lot.
Once when my father took a corner I asked him if he could feel the car oversteering. He said "no" like it was all Nader hype but I can tell you the rear end was more than willing to go first around a corner. Wet roads were the worst/best depending on how you look at it. I put lots of miles on that car exploring the Santa Cruz Mountains and found out the quickest way down a tight winding road is generous oversteer.
My grandfather loved Corvairs. He had just about every variety they made at one time or another (I think my parents had a wagon when I was born, and my dad had a 64 ragtop in high school). I think they're kinda cool, they're not great performers for the most part, but the size is managable, and the styling on the 65-69 has aged pretty well.
Maybe we should start a Corvair forum?
I believe they did a patch-up job on the suspension for the 1964 model year, then redesigned it completely for 1965.
In '64 they modified the rear suspension with a transverse spring that worked against the swing axles' inclination to negative camber. This meant you could corner with the rear tires' tread instead of just their sidewalls.
I think what really worked against the early Corvair was that the recommended tire pressures were the same front and rear, and low too for a good ride. With that rear weight bias you really needed more pressure in the rear tires, and lots of it, at least 32 PSI rear and maybe 28 or so front.
The three Corvairs I had certainly impressed me with the benefits of adjusting tire pressures and that carried over to front engine cars. Just recently I set the pressure in the Lincoln LS at 32 front and 30 rear to compensate for the usual front-end heaviness, then remembered the car has 50/50 weight distribution. Force of habit but I left it that way. Maybe I can get it to oversteer a little. These new cars are boring.
The mediocre part came when GM bean counters started pulling the plug on further development,or trying to shave pennies where they shouldn't.
Apparently it was Ed Cole's dream to build a 'linerless' aluminum block when the 153 c.i. Chevy II 4 cyl.would have worked beautifully. [and did when Pontiac reworked it as "Iron Duke" and offered it in the Astre and Sunbird]. At HIS insistence the 2.3 Vega engine went into production....you know the rest.
When the aluminum V8 was used in the early-'60s BOP compacts it had a reputation for self-destructing--I knew that even as a kid then, that's how widespread its reputation was. Now in the Rover it has a new reputation as a gutless gas hog.
The V6 was a cheap quick fix for the expensive aluminum V8, basically that V8 with two cylinders chopped off and with iron block and heads. It didn't blow up like the V8 but it was a rough runner in the early days and, like the V8, it was cast off by GM in the late '60s. Today after over two decades of refinement it's a serviceable engine--I had the supercharged version in a GTP--but it's still around because of the bean counters, not because it's a world beater.
The Tempest transaxle had a reputation for disintegrating even behind the standard four banger, let alone the 326. The Corvair-type swing axles gave it Corvair-type handling with lots of oversteer. I had one, I know. The 194 four was another quick fix engine, a Pontiac 389 sawed in half. Interesting engine and available in a high-compression four barrel version but a very rough runner as any four that large would be. And that rope driveshaft had to be expensive to build. Lots of engineering for what?
The Corvair had probably the most successful engineering of the bunch since it hung on through '69. Very few were sold after '66 but that's mostly because of the Mustang. I had three and they're interesting cars. The two basic problems were the low-cost swing axle rear suspension ('60-64) and an engine that was supposed to be light-weight aluminum but ended up iron. Put the two together and you had a car that could put even an alert driver off the road in a second.
The BOP cars were completely redesigned after only three years. So on balance I see lots of engineering effort for very little results, either short- or long-term, except for a V6 that's decent but so obviously low tech that any other company would be embarrassed to still have around.
Pretty amazing, a five year old car selling for $50, and barely worth it at the same time.
There was just a slight rust problem: Both front fenders had holes behind the wheel arch about the size of your hand, the hood had two holes in the middle, near the hump, about the size of a half-dollar. The rear window had rust all around the trim at the bottom. Let's not forget the all too common rust around the tail lights. Remember when the dealers used to drill into the body to put their name on the car? Huge rust spots there, of course. Got a new hood from a junk yard. And a couple of cans of bondo from K-mart, and about a case of "touch up" paint. I rapidly discovered that body work was not a lot of fun.
Then the engine. It needed a head gasket when I bought it. Put one on. You should have seen the pits in the top of the cylinder walls, which were stupidly thin to start with. Good metallurgy GM, really did your homework there!
My father owned a gas station and we had a 55 gal drum of mixed oil. We used to set the empty oil cans on a tray on top to drain the last drops. Over the years it was about 3/4 full. My trusty Vega used so much oil, that I drained that in about a year! Self changing oil, what a concept.
Then the water saga started. I used to carry 6 gallons of water at all times. After about a year, it used more and more water. In its final 6 months, I used to get in and crank the engine and water (pure liquid) would shoot out of the exhaust. After that cleared a couple of cylinders would fire up. After 5 miles or so I could even get all four going.
It got so bad in the end, that the car had about an eight mile range before totally overheating. My girlfriend lived 16 miles away. I could get there in two "hops", with steam spewing out when I arrived. It was nice having time to tlk to her parents while the car cooled off. (they were all good sports about it)There was so much compression leaking into the water jacket, that with the radiator cap off a good rev could shoot water at least 6 feet in the air.
Well, after all, it cost me $50, I drove it for two years, and sold parts off of it for about $200 which I used to buy my second car.......another Vega!
I remember a family member buying a 69 Impala for $50 and driving it for about a year also (77-78). This car was pretty beat up, but had the trusty 350 2-barrel. I think it finally died due to overheating as well. Traded for a cousin of the Vega, a brand new 78 Pontiac Sunbird. Woo hoo!
Ghulet: you missed out on the best part of the Vega: the "Dura-Built 2300" all aluminum OHC 4. By 78; your Sunbird would have had the "Iron Duke" 2.5 ohv. 4 that went on to power everthing but Cadillacs in the 80s!!!Don't you LOVE the names???
I do remember the Iron Duke; my aunt had an 82 or 83 Firebird with one, mated to an automatic. Zero to sixty in about 15 seconds.
I was headed for my last 2-1/2 years of college (after J.C.) in 1974, was going away from home and needed a car with a new-car warranty, good MPG (after suffering the long filling station lines from the '73 Arab oil embargo), some decent space to haul my stuff, and plentiful dealer support locations.
CHOICES? - VW Beetle - NOPE-no heat for Chicago winters, 20 year old body style, no space. PINTO - NOPE - Simply didn't have a single cool line anywhere in the entire body style. ANY JAPANESE STUFF? - At that time, my perception was that they used recycled tinfoil and Budweiser cans to stamp out the "sheetmetal", if you could call it that. Tinny wasn't nearly a strong enough word. Dealer suppport back then was awfully few and far between for Japanese dealerships, also. FIAT? - 'nuff said.
So I ended up with a 1974 Vega GT Kammback (read- wagon). Had a 4-speed, and I averaged about 23-24 MPG combined driving. I had it Ziebarted, though it still showed a couple of small rust-through holes behind the front wheel wells four years and 65K miles later.
I never had any major problems with it, though I was pretty bent on maintaining it (oil changes, tune ups, radiator flushed, etc.) cause it already had a bit of a reputation just 4 years after its initial release. I don't remember the oil consumption when new, but at the end it burned a quart every 1,000 miles.
Had to have a new carb put on it around 50K, but it never overheated on me. Perhaps the Chevy gods were looking after me on this one, eh??.
Perhaps the 'one that got away', though, was the German-built Buick Opel. In addition to the sports coupe (Manta??), didn't they also offer a 2-door sports wagon? I remember people used to call the Opel GT "the poor man's Vette" due to the miniaturized resemblance to the 68-73 vintage. It was '75 or '76, though, that GM struck a realtionship with Isuzu, I think, to badge one of Isuzu's small cars and call it an 'Opel' by Buick. That was certainly the end, don't you think?
This is off topic but what I see GM doing now reminds me a lot of the last days of automakers like Hudson and Studebaker. Keeping obsolete engines like the 3800 in production, using designs like the Bonneville well past the point when other makers would have restyled them, or overstyling old designs like the Sunbird to make them at least different if not current. Lots of quick fixes or no fixes.
Reminds me of those early-'50s Hudson and Stude body shells that sprouted fins in '57 in a desperate attempt to get hip. Not a good sign.
Is the 3800 obsolete? GM seems to think so since it's tried to replace it twice, first in the late '80s with the DOHC 3.4 and more recently with the Shortstar.
The 3800 has been massaged to the point where it's a very good 1962 engine. Granted, it offers better low end than some of the competition but it's not nearly as smooth or quiet and it runs out of breath way too quickly for a modern sedan engine. (But it would make a great engine swap into a Vega or Astre--loved those mailslot taillights.)
The problem with the 3800 and Iron Duke isn't that they're bad engines, it's that the competition is lightyears ahead in offering the refinement most buyers want. A smooth modern engine makes a car a better driver--that's why everyone but GM spends millions of dollars every few years to upgrade their engines. I don't know if that's the only reason GM continues to loose market share but it's got to be a big one.
So what has this got to do with Vegas? Back to my original point: when you look at GM's fours and sixes its record has been a little sketchy lately.
I had an '82 Cutlass Supreme with a Buick 231. It's amazing, for as good a reputation as that engine has today, it was a whole different story back in the 70's and early 80's. Mine was sounding its death knell around the 73K mile mark. I called the local junkyard to find out if they had any used engines, and they said all their 231's were shot. Asked 'em how much it would cost to rebuild, and the guy responded "I don't know, I've never seen one worth rebuilding". Now, I seriously don't know how well this car was maintained before I bought it. It was 11 years old and I only paid $800 for it! One of my supervisors though, predicted it would die before 80,000 miles. He had a Pontiac Bonneville with that engine, and that's when it blew. Sadly, my mechanic said the same thing.
One other thing I remember about that 231...it was a nightmare to work on. As crowded as everything was under the hood of a Cutlass Supreme, I'm sure it must've been even worse in something like a Vega or Monza!
Just wondering...how were these things with 350's in them? If the 231 was enough to cause suspension problems, what kind of havoc did a V-8 wreak? My neighbor used to play around with Vegas back in the 70's and early 80's, and had dropped a 350 into them on several occasions.
The 350 Vega was a very popular swap and there were plenty of articles about it but I don't remember much of the details. I do know that with the Monza 262 small block, a factory option, you had to loosen one motor mount and jack up the engine to do some sort of minor maintenance--change the oil filter, I think. I imagine you had the same problem with the 350 Vega, and getting to the plugs must have been a real bear too. Of course guys who drove 350 Vegas didn't mind skinning their knuckles.
I think you could get away with using the front coils from the AC-equipped Vega to compensate for the extra weight of the V8. The stock rear end could handle a fair amount of torque if you were using an automatic and no slicks, but if you had traction the GM ten-bolt was essential (and would have helped with the weight distribution as well).
I always thought the Buick V6 was a natural for the Vega/Astre, especially something based on the larger 252-4v. Wonder what happened to that displacement?
I was kind of partial to the Astre with its GTO-style taillights, and I thought the rare two-door sedan was sharp in a business coupe sort of way. The wagon was nice too.
I'm pretty hard on GM in general and Pontiac in particular but that's coming from a long-time GM guy who's more than a little disillusioned with what used to be the leading American automaker. I've owned three late-model Pontiacs--'93 Grand Am with Buick 3.1, '95 Firebird Formula V8 and '98 GTP--and couldn't wait to get out of them. But I have a short attention span and a deep-seated fear of commitment ;-).
And while the 3.8 may be old, and I agree with you on many points, it actually is very refined. The supercharged version is amazing.
Of course, if given the choice I would put a VW/Audi 1.8t motor in everything too small for an LS6, so maybe I need to shut up now....
Speedshift, I always liked the Astre, too. There's one near my home that's kind of a fluorescent green, and I swear it looks like it rolled off the showroom floor. Actually, it looks better than that, because I hear that some of 'em left the showroom with the rust already forming ;-)
As for that Buick 252, I forgot about it being a 4-bbl, but I think it was only produced from 1980-84. I know by the time my grandparents bought their '85 LeSabre, only engine choices were a 231-2, 307-4, or the 350 diesel. Was the 252 bored or stroked, compared to the 231? I'm guessing if it was bored, the water jacket might've been narrower, and it would've been more subject to overheating?
That's a good point about overheating. The 4.1 was bored out. I have a book on V6 performance from 1982 with photos of the 3.8 and 4.1 short blocks, and the 4.1 cylinder bores don't have much meat between them compared to the 3.8. No wonder they never turbocharged the 4.1--those thin cylinder walls would have done some serious flexing under pressure.
It's interesting reading about the Buick V6 circa 1982. I'd forgotten it had the same convoluted oiling system the smallblock Buick had--makes sense, they're both based on the 215 aluminum V8. I wonder how much of that Rover cleaned up.
Was also reminded that the 3.8 block is heavier than it needs to be because the original V8 tooling had the bracing and deep skirt an aluminum block needs. I know they lightened the block in the early '90s, the Series II engine.
Large water passages in the block deck made the early ones weak and prone to warping. Combine that with only eight bolts to clamp down each head and keeping head gaskets must have been a problem. That explains the high mortality rate in the '80s.
There was a heavy-duty 3.8 block in 1982 that they must still use, or something like it, with the supercharged 3.8.
Note to topic police: we're still on topic here since the V6 was available in the upmarket versions of the Vega, the Monza and Starfire. But my feeling is that as a topic the Vega is pretty thin material although it does have the man-made disaster factor working for it.
What's more interesting is the big picture: that an industry leader like GM would have so much trouble designing an innovative small car drivetrain, going all the way back to 1960.
It seems to me, in the 60s and 70s, at least. That 4 cylinder engines, in general, NOT counting the Vega, were fairly reliable. V8s were also reliable. In-line 6s, especially the slant 6, were reliable, BUT the V6 seemed to be a disaster.
I am not really talking brand specific.
What do you guys think???
I think of the V6 as a packaging compromise. You DO get a lot of displacement for the external size of the engine, but at the cost of vibrations of all types. The most goofy example of this is the VW/Audi variants of V6 (which I expect run smoothly due to well-designed motor mounts). To be fair, the short crankshaft has to be of some advantage.
I'm suprised we haven't seen more boxer 4 layouts. You end up with a good spot for a spare, very little vibration and low placement.
On the other hand, I'm suprised how well inline 6's have held up in high performance use (BMW). I appreciate the smoothness over an I4, but seem to remember (as an example) the differences in longevity in the Datsun teams in the early '70s comparing 510 and 240Z engines (which are basically identical aside from cylinder count and are thus a good example). The I4's cranks would last all season while the I6 cranks would need a serious looking at after every race. I suppose advances in metallurgy in both the reciprocating parts and the bearings accounts for this.
Of course, if anybody gave a lick about the environment or oil dependency, we'd all be driving I4's (aside from commercial use). They can be built to provide plenty of power in 'reasonably' sized cars, this would be a world consisting of things like the "Smart" car at the bottom and maybe a Passat at the top.
You wanna go fast in I4 world? Buy a Cosworth Sierra.
The first domestic V-6 I can think of from Ford was the 232 "Essex" V-6, which I think came out in 1982 as an optional engine on the Granada/Cougar, and probably a credit-delete option on the T-bird/XR-7. Chrysler didn't have a V-6 until 1987, when they chopped 2 cylinders off their 318 to make the 3.9 that's still used in the trucks to this day.
So back in the '60's and 70's, I guess you can say GM made both the best AND the worst V-6'es!