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Fubar512

My First Project Car

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Recently, while going through an old box full of documents, I found a receipt from Motion Performance, in Baldwin, NY, for a basic “Super Vega” kit (motor mounts and headers), that I had purchased in the fall of 1975. That brought a smile to my face, as the memories of my first project car flooded back.

 

I had reached legal driving age in NJ, in late August of 1975, and was busy thumbing through the classified section of my local newspaper, looking for a suitable car for myself. Something that I could afford on my $500 budget. There were loads of cars in that price range, 8-10 year old compacts and intermediates, but I yearned for a true muscle car. I dreamed of GTOs, big-block Chevelles, Charger R/Ts, and Mustang Mach 1s, but found that the majority of them were selling for $1,000 and up, a bit beyond my reach. My older brother offered me a short term solution. He’d give me his then four year old Vega GT, as it was essentially worthless on the used car market, and was slow enough to keep me out of trouble.

 

The Chevrolet Vega was GM’s answer to the wave of foreign cars from Japan and Europe that were starting to make inroads on the domestic market, during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In typical GM-fashion, the car had been rushed to the market, with a crappy long-stroke, SOHC 2.3 liter, aluminum block four cylinder, that was topped by a non-cross flow cast iron head. That engine was notorious for over-heating, blowing head gaskets, and wearing out its aluminum cylinder bores within a few thousand miles. To illustrate this, my brother’s car, at a measly 36,000 miles, had already had one engine replaced on warranty, and the second one was starting to go through lube oil almost as fast as one could replenish it.

 

The rest of the car wasn't too bad, as it was probably the most attractive of the three domestic sub-compacts on the market at the time (the other two were the Ford Pinto, and the AMC Gremlin).

 

The Vega my brother had offered me, was painted "Mille Miglia" red, and was equipped with the GT package, which endowed the car with an upscale interior, full instrumentation, front and rear sway-bars, and 70-series radials on attractive (albeit minuscule) 13x5” styled steel rims. With an almost 50/50 front-rear weight distribution, the car handled well. In fact, so well, that under hard cornering, it would often send what little oil remained in the unbaffled sump up the side of the block, resulting in zero oil pressure! The rest of the car was unremarkable, with the aforementioned 85 HP, 2.3 liter mill, turning a Turbo Hydramatic 350 automatic transmission (rather overkill for that setup), and spinning a 2.53:1 ring and pinion.

 

It was no rocket, as I timed it in a 0-60 MPH dash using a stopwatch, at just a tick under 15 seconds. In other words, paint drying speed. By the end of September, the engine was smoking badly, and there was no way that I could have it overhauled on my budget. But, just as I was ready to give up on it, a solution presented itself….

 

I had been reading about an outfit in Long Island, named Motion Performance, that was shoehorning Chevrolet V-8s into Vega engine compartments. They even offered a kit, for the DIY crowd. Now, all I needed was a Chevrolet V-8, and a place to work on it. I soon learned that the old adage “Be careful what you wish for” was all too true….

 

To Be Continued

 

BaldwinVega01.jpg

BaldwinVega02.jpg

 

Big Block Motion Super Vega Video

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I really liked the combination, I got beaten so many times at the track by one that I built one, I wish they made a kit then, but we had to make everything. finally stuffed a 350 into the the little thing, had to upgrade driveshaft and rear-end. I am looking forward to seeing this, brings back memories.

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Guest 531_Ghost

Ah yes, the ol' 70's vintage Vega. I watched a LOT of Vega body style Funny Cars go down the strip at OCIR. One of my favorite body styles on the market. Now the engine, IMO POS, and I've rebuilt a LOT of 'em! Now the Cosworth Vega, that was a whole 'nother animal!

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My first girlfriend in High School had one of the Vega GTs...exactly as you described - red wth the white stripe. Spent many and hour driving up and down Mullhuland and the canyons in that thing . Horsepower? -- yah, like none!!! Good in the turns

 

Cosworth Vegas...well, that's a 'hole nuther story....

 

Instresting to note, a few years later, Chevy came out with the Monza's, basicaly the Vega chassis -but now with an available 5.0 ltr V8 (305 cid). Always wondered how them little tiny disc brakes, and really small drums in back were able to stop that thing!! It was REALLLLY fun trying to the the last spark plugs (disremember if it was 6/8 or 5/7) I remember you had to disconnect the motor mount, and jack up the engine.

 

BTW, I still have the special tool required to collapse the rear drum self adjuster mechanisms. I don't even think this tool is available anymore, anywhere, from anyone.

 

Yah, lots of memories.....sigh.....

 

Wrench

kevin stein

 

18436572

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My first girlfriend in High School had one of the Vega GTs...exactly as you described - red wth the white stripe. Spent many and hour driving up and down Mullhuland and the canyons in that thing . Horsepower? -- yah, like none!!! Good in the turns

 

Cosworth Vegas...well, that's a 'hole nuther story....

 

Instresting to note, a few years later, Chevy came out with the Monza's, basicaly the Vega chassis -but now with an available 5.0 ltr V8 (305 cid). Always wondered how them little tiny disc brakes, and really small drums in back were able to stop that thing!! It was REALLLLY fun trying to the the last spark plugs (disremember if it was 6/8 or 5/7) I remember you had to disconnect the motor mount, and jack up the engine.

 

BTW, I still have the special tool required to collapse the rear drum self adjuster mechanisms. I don't even think this tool is available anymore, anywhere, from anyone.

 

Yah, lots of memories.....sigh.....

 

Wrench

kevin stein

 

18436572

 

The rear drums on those H-bodies had a self-adjuster mechanism that my auto-shop teacher likened to that on a 1940's Ford :biggrin: Also, the trick with changing the last two driver's side plugs on 75-79 Monza 262/305 V-8s, was to remove the left front tire, and get to them through the wheel well.

 

As you'll read later on (as soon as I get off my lazy butt and finish writing this), I had to buy a few Monza V-8 parts to finish my swap...putting me well over my budget.

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PART 2

 

At that time, an uncle of mine had a well-worn, 1966 Malibu station wagon powered by an otherwise, good-running 283-cubic inch (4.6 liter) Chevrolet small block V-8. He’d used the car almost every day, to drive the five miles to and from his longshoreman's job, in Port Newark. While the wagon had less than 50,000 miles on its odometer, the body had rusted away to almost nothing, both due to the aggressive use of salt on NJ roads during the winter, and his preference for parking the car pier side, at his job. He was trying to sell it as basic transportation for a mere $100, but had no takers, as it looked really bad (he’d actually had to screw a slab of wood onto the floor boards in front of the driver’s seat, as the sheet metal floor pan had rusted completely away!). I offered him $50, and he refused the cash, offering to give me the car for free! One problem solved….now I just needed a place to work on it. Not that I knew the first thing about performing an engine swap, mind you…

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PART 3

 

The previous year, I’d taken an elective auto-shop course, to fill out my required curriculum. The auto-shop instructor back then, was a gentleman, whom I’ll refer to as “Mr. Taylor” (not his real name). Mr. Taylor was, as least to my 17-year old way of thinking, a study in contrasts. He often drove to school in his ’69 350/350 Corvette, yet he seemed rather dowdy for his age. He did not smoke, did not use profanity, and was rather soft-spoken, yet, he had absolutely no tolerance for what he referred to as “punk” behavior. By that, he meant being obnoxious and loud-mouthed, or driving recklessly. He would help anyone out, unless he found out that they’d broken either of those cardinal rules. He was also firm believer in teaching by “the hands on method”, insisting that anyone can accomplish just about anything they set out to do, if they put their minds to it.

 

Most importantly, though, Mr. Taylor also had a nice 4-bay shop, located a scant few blocks from school, that he often used for pet projects as well as for whatever side work he could drum up, to help pay the bills.

 

I approached him regarding the possibility of renting space at his garage for my project, and the first question he asked me, was “How much do you have to spend?” “Uh, well, I have $500 dollars, and the basic swap kit costs $225.” He seemed to mull this over for a moment, and confessed that he’d read about the swap I wanted to perform, and explained that I would also need an oil pan, a new radiator (the stock Vega unit was not sufficient to cool a V-8), an exhaust system, throttle and transmission kick-down cables, a new engine fan, a short water pump from a Corvette, new transmission cooler lines, etc., etc. etc. In short, he said that I’d probably need close to $750, in parts alone, and that was just for starters! I was devastated, as it would take me several months just to save the additional $250 from the meager wages that I earned at my minimum-wage, after school job.

 

“Well, I don’t see any harm in rolling it in to see just what we’re getting ourselves into. Swing by after class, and help me make some room. In fact, I’ll tell you what, If you sweep up, organize my tool boxes, and help keep the shop clean for the duration of your stay there, I won’t charge you for it.” Wow!

 

The first car in was the donor car, the Malibu wagon. Under Mr. Taylor’s tutelage, my friends Mike, “Fetch”, and myself had the engine drained of fluids, out of the car and onto an engine stand, in less than two days. Mr. Taylor then took an acetylene torch to the Malibu’s roof, cutting a hole in it from the passenger compartment, clear back to the tailgate. I looked on, puzzled as to what he was up to, when he motioned me over to a pile of scrap metal. “Toss it in, all of it….”. In went dozens of brake drums, brake rotors, manifolds, cylinder heads, steel rims, starter motors, alternators, control arms, old mufflers and exhaust pipes, etc. We essentially emptied the shop (and its attached lot) into that one car. At one point, Mr. Taylor pumped the Malibu’s tires to 45 PSI, to keep them being flattened by the added weight! Just when we thought that we were done, he pointed to a pile of differentials, and had us throw them in as well. To top it off, he had us push the lumbering wagon under the same chain hoist that we’d use to remove its engine, and used that to throw in a couple of scrap engine blocks! There was a method to his madness; The next day, a tow truck operator who owed him a favor, dragged the laden Malibu to the scrap yard, where it was now found to weigh in excess of 8,000 lbs, and where it fetched a king’s ransom in scrap value…a cool $100!

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Nice story. It is a good thing that most things are done hands-on over Stateside, here they would usually pay someone decent cash to get the whole thing done.

Edited by kct

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PART 4

 

It was early November by the time we rolled the Vega into Mr. Taylor’s shop. And, yes, I meant Rolled. The Vega’s 2.3 had been burning about a quart of oil every 100 miles or so when the project began, and its oil consumption seemed to be getting worse with each passing day. It was in fact so bad by then, that I was afraid I would be pulled over and fined for violating NJ’s emission laws, as the Vega was now constantly emitting a chocking blue-gray cloud, even at idle.

 

The first order of business, was draining the engine of fluids, and removing it from the vehicle. Just before we did so, Mr. Taylor carefully measured the Vega’s ride height. “The 283’s going to scale quite a bit more.” He explained. “We need to weigh both engines, and then, measure the stock ride height, so we can make sure that it stays about the same, using the replacement springs that came with the swap kit.” As I recall, we only needed a bathroom scale to weigh the original Vega mill, as it tipped the scales to just under 300 lbs. The 283 was another story, altogether. We took friendly bets as to its weight, and Mr. Taylor won that one (of course), as the small block Chevy pulled the needle down to the 540 lb mark, fully dressed.

 

The next afternoon, when I arrived at the shop after school, Mr. Taylor had a brush, a bucket of water, and a can of Engine Brite waiting for me. “OK, cleanup time.” He said. “I want that engine compartment spotless, and then you can do the same for the 283.” As I recall, it took almost two afternoons of scrubbing until both were cleaned to his satisfaction. To this day, every time I catch a whiff of Gunk or Engine Brite, my mind drifts back to that long ago week, in November of 1975.

 

Now came the “good” part, spending my hard-earned cash. In the ensuing month since the project began, I had managed to scrape up an additional $75 from my paltry wages, giving me a total of $575 to invest into the project. And it went fast.

 

$225 for the swap kit (motor mounts, headers, and front coil springs). A bargain basement $155 for a custom radiator from the same source. And another $195 for a brand new, Chevy Monza V-8 oil pan & pickup, “shorty” style V-8 water pump, and V-8 throttle & transmission kick down cables, from our not-so-friendly local Chevrolet dealer. To put these “low” prices into perspective, $575 in 1975 dollars equates to $2,418.95 in today’s currency! It was a sobering experience. And I still needed to part with more….

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My first girlfriend in High School had one of the Vega GTs...exactly as you described - red wth the white stripe. Spent many and hour driving up and down Mullhuland and the canyons in that thing . Horsepower? -- yah, like none!!! Good in the turns

 

Cosworth Vegas...well, that's a 'hole nuther story....

 

Instresting to note, a few years later, Chevy came out with the Monza's, basicaly the Vega chassis -but now with an available 5.0 ltr V8 (305 cid). Always wondered how them little tiny disc brakes, and really small drums in back were able to stop that thing!! It was REALLLLY fun trying to the the last spark plugs (disremember if it was 6/8 or 5/7) I remember you had to disconnect the motor mount, and jack up the engine.

 

BTW, I still have the special tool required to collapse the rear drum self adjuster mechanisms. I don't even think this tool is available anymore, anywhere, from anyone.

 

Yah, lots of memories.....sigh.....

 

Wrench

kevin stein

 

18436572

 

I was a brake, suspension and alignment tech fo 14 years, I got that tool,,bwahaha

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PART 5

 

At about this time, I realized that my part-time, after school job at the local supermarket just wasn't going to cut it. Even though I’d recently received a 25-cent raise (bringing my hourly wage up to a whopping two dollars), the 16-18 hours per week that I was putting in was not going to cover the bills. I again approached Mr. Taylor with my dilemma, confessing that the project was going to run beyond the 1st of the year because of my finances. He immediately came up with a solution. A former classmate of his was a foreman at a local trucking company, and was looking for someone reliable and mechanically inclined to perform odd-jobs in and around the yard. He could offer me a little more money, and more importantly, a steady 24-32 hours per week. Although that meant that I would have less time to work on the Vega, the added wages would allow me to purchase the parts I needed to finish the project within a more reasonable time frame. I agreed, and Mr. Taylor contacted his friend.

 

I walked the mile or so to the trucking company, and met with Mr. Taylor’s friend, a fast-talking no-nonsense type, by the name of Tony. Tony gruffly explained to me, that due to NJ labor laws (and because of the “hazardous” nature of working in and around the yard), he could only hire me if I was 18 years of age or older. So, I did the time-honored thing, something that one cannot get away with in this day and age of computers; I lied on my application. Tony put me to work almost immediately, drawing what seemed to be a prince’s salary at the time, $3 per hour. Hooray!!!!

 

It was just my luck that the winter of 1975-76 was the coldest on record. It seemed that the mercury never rose above 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-12 C) during the entire month of January. Trust me, you really don’t want to know what it feels like to work outside in that weather, with diesel fuel-soaked gloves, and nasty a sub-zero wind chill factor. But, I was raking in almost a much in a week, as I was making in a month’s time at my old supermarket job.

 

And, I started dumping money into the project. A pair of Corvette mufflers, assorted lengths of 2.5” exhaust pipe, exhaust hangers, 2.5” header reducers and gaskets, a full gasket set for the 283, a new fuel pump, a set of Gabriel Strider adjustable shocks, and other assorted odds and ends.

 

Yes, it was a happy time…until it ended abruptly. After less than three months on the job, I was called into the office, to fill out some insurance forms. When the secretary sent them in, the insurance company (after running my Social Security number), notified them that I was not yet 18. Out the door I went! But luckily, I’d managed to save an additional $600 or so.

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PART 6

 

The next two to three weeks went by a blur, as I worked on the Vega every day, getting the new oil pan, new oil pump, and pick up mounted on the 283. Speaking of which, the 283’s original flex plate had to be replaced, as it would not work with the Turbo 350 trans. Luckily, Mr. Taylor had a suitable replacement, donated from a 350 cube small block, that he laying around. Much to his displeasure, though, I elected to save money on the torque-converter, by reusing the Vega’s stock 10.5” unit, with its rather high (for a stock unit) 2200 RPM stall speed. I also saved more than a few dollars lot by retaining the Vega’s acorn-sized 6.75” non-positraction differential (for the time-being), a move that led Mr. Taylor to declare the whole project a “ticking time-bomb”. Motion offered a beefy, narrowed, 12-bolt postraction rear that was a direct bolt in, but the $895 that they were asking for that unit was a bit too steep for my pocket book.

 

Mr. Taylor then surprised me by topping off the 283 with the cast-iron intake and Rochester Quadrajet carburetor that had been the original setup on his 1969 Corvette (he’d replaced it with an Edelbrock aluminum manifold and Holley carb soon after acquiring that car). I had to spring for a carburetor rebuild kit, but found the process of going through the “QJ” fascinating, all the more so due to Mr. Taylor’s hand’s on style. We crowned the whole mess with a 14x2” Cal-Custom chromed, open element air filter.

 

Next on the agenda, was replacing the 283’s umbrella valve stem seals, to ensure minimal oil consumption. Then came a distributor rebuild; in went a fresh set of ignition points and condenser, topped off with lighter (quicker) Mr. gasket advance weights and springs. The engine was finally assembled, painted, and dropped into the chassis, on a weekend in early February of ’76.

 

All that was left was to install the radiator, fuel and transmission cooling lines, throttle and transmission kick down linkages, and the exhaust system. Speaking of which, we discovered that the Vega had scant room for a traditional exhaust system. Mr. Taylor welded up a nice compromise, using the tubing we’d purchased, with 45-degree angles aft of the Corvette mufflers, exiting just ahead of the rear wheels, “zoomy pipe” style.

 

The Vega was finally declared road-worthy by the third week in February, just in time for a break in the weather. I recall leaving my job at the supermarket early that balmy (for late winter’s night in NJ) evening, trying to get to Mr. Taylor’s shop before ten. I made it with a few minutes to spare, and found that Mr. Taylor had already started the Vega, and had it pointing out the door. “I thought that I’d try her out, but I didn't’t want to spoil your fun. Take it easy, we still don’t know how she’s going to behave.”

 

I found his fears to be unfounded, as the Vega ran, stopped, and even handled, just fine. Of course, I couldn't resist giving the throttle a quick stab, just to hear the moan of air rushing into the open element air cleaner, and the snarl of the exhaust blatting out of the dual exhausts…which everyone heard, all the way back at the shop, on that quiet, late winter’s night. I pulled back into the garage, with what must have been an ear-to-ear grin.

 

Later, Mr. Taylor admitted that he had taken her out just after dinner, found that the throttle and transmission kick down cables needed an adjustment, and that one of the mufflers was striking the underside of the unibody. He performed the necessary tweaks, and had her ready almost an hour before my arrival.

 

For the next week or so, I exercised remarkable restraint for a 17 year-old, driving the 2650 lb. V-8 Vega like an old lady, while keeping track of its fuel and oil consumption. I found the former to be remarkably similar to the four-banger’s (18-19 MPG average), and the latter, to be non-existent. This period of restraint didn't’t last long, however.

 

I soon found myself throwing caution to the wind, tempting the durability of the acorn-sized differential with a few hole shots, and discovered that traction was a pipe dream with that combination. It was all but impossible to keep the diminutive B70-13s (175/70-13 by today’s P-Metric rating) from melting into oblivion under hard acceleration, below 15 MPH. Even when traveling as fast as 45 MPH, stabbing the throttle and invoking a sudden kick down into a lower gear would often result in a screech from the right rear tire. Punching the throttle from a standing start would result in the right rear spinning out of control, with the transmission actually shifting through all three gears before the tires would stop spinning, usually at or around 25 MPH. At that point the tires would finally gain traction, forcing the transmission to snap back down into second gear. I’m sure that did wonders for the unit’s longevity.

 

With all that in mind, I set out to hunt for the Vega’s first victim, and in those halcyon days, it wasn't too hard to find one. I pulled up alongside a 1975 Trans Am that was stopped for a traffic light on a nearby highway. The two occupants paid the Vega scant attention, until I took it out of gear and revved the engine. The V-8 rumble and exhaust vapor pluming up from the twin tail pipes quickly caught their interest, and they responded by following suit. When the light turned green, the Trans Am took off hard, with nary a screech from its wide-oval tires, instantly jumping several car lengths ahead. I tried to ‘walk” the Vega off the line, but it was all in vain, as the right rear tire churned away in a cloud of rubber smoke. I did, however, manage to contain the wheel spin to first gear, only. When I pushed the lever into second, the tires bit, and the Vega started pulling like mad, the lion-hearted small block moaning through the wide open secondaries of the QJ, and roaring through the Corvette mufflers. By the time I had reached 75 MPH, the Vega had blown past the Trans Am, and was starting to put distance between us. All too soon, I found myself braking for a red light. The occupants of the T/A jumped out and surrounded me, demanding to know what the Vega had under the hood…

 

 

 

Eight cylinders, all mine!

All right,

Hold tight,

I’m a highway star!

 

Nobody’s gonna take my car

I’m gonna race it to the ground

Nobody’s gonna beat my car

It’s gonna break the speed of sound

Oooh, it’s a killing machine,

It’s got everything

Like a driving power,

Big fat tires and everything..

 

I love it!

I need it!

I bleed it!

Yeah, it’s a wild hurricane!

All right,

Hold tight,

I’m a highway star! - Highway Star, Deep Purple, 1973

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PART 7

 

To put things in their proper context, lets look at some figures.

 

The Vega now weighed 2650 lbs, according to a scale at a nearby truck stop (Dagger knows which one :biggrin: ). Its 1966 vintage 283 cubic inch small block, had zero emission controls, a 9.0:1 compression ratio, and in stock form was rated at 195 gross HP. With the addition of headers, and the four barrel manifold and carb, I'd say that figure would have been bumped by at least 50 horses, to around 245 BHP. Re-rated to SAE net values, I'd say that it was good for a conservative 200 SAE net HP.

 

Just to give you an idea how light the Vega was, in 1982, I purchased a brand new Mustang GT. On the same scales, it registered just over 3000 lbs, and with it's 160 HP 5 liter V8, it was considered the quickest domestic car produced that model year! The Vega would have eaten its lunch.

 

A typical "performance" car, circa 1975 or 76, would have been either a Camaro RS with am emissions control-choked 350 (165 SAE net HP, in a 3600 lb chassis), or a Firebird Trans Am with a wheezing 7.8:1 CR 400 cube mill (185 SAE HP, in a 3700 lb chassis). Both cars would have had a very lazy rear end ratio (2.73 or 2.56), that combined with their 27.5-inch tall tires, did little to enhance torque multiplication off the line.

 

Now the Vega was about 1000 lbs (half a ton) lighter, had slightly more HP, and despite it's 2.53 axle ratio, it's short, 22.5" tall tires effectively gave it 17% gear multiplication advantage over the two aforementioned F-bodies. I usually creamed either of them, quite badly.

 

However, older muscle and pony cars were another story. I soon learned to avoid pre-1972 340-powered Dusters, Darts, Barracudas, and Challengers. I likewise stayed away from any pre-1972 small-block Chevrolet Novas or Camaro SSs. Mustang Mach 1s, however, were usually pushovers, with the exception of the occasional 70-71 351 Cleveland-powered cars, and/or any big block "Stangs.

 

I learned to never challenge anyone from a full stop, as the Vega's lack of traction made it pointless. I'd get them to run me from a 10 MPH roll, and usually sand-bagged them quite handily.

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Currently starting a project on my car, a '00 Civic Ferio :biggrin:

 

With or without a B16A?

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B16A? Still saving up to drop one into my engine bay. Maybe B16B with some luck :rolleyes:

Indonesian model got F16 engine. Single-cam. Current state of the car: busted cooling fan motor, 66k km.

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Here's what's essentially a clone of my old Vega, but with a 350 in place of the 283. By the looks of the wheels (four-bolt hubs), its still using the stock 6.5" differential ...not a good thing with a 350 on the other end!

 

http://classiccars.com/59504.car

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Chapter 8: The Vega's Demise

 

By the time spring had rolled around, I’d managed to put an additional 1,000 miles on the Vega’s odometer, quite a feat for a full time student who lived a scant two city blocks from school. Leaded premium fuel sold for 60 cents, and the Vega’s postage stamp-sized fuel tank (IIRC it was listed as being just over 11-gallons) never seemed to be able to take more than $6.00 to fill, even when the needle was on “E”. The result of this was, that even on my supermarket clerk’s take home salary of $25 per week, I was able to go cruising almost every night. And, as I mentioned before, the Vega was, by the standards of the day, astonishingly frugal for a V8-powered car.

 

Oh man, those were the days…. Muscle cars abounded, and it was all that I could do not to get into an impromptu drag race at every other stop light. Of course, all that hot-shoeing around was starting to take its toll on the Vega’s driveline. In the ensuing month since I first drove the little red beast out of Mr. Taylor’s garage, the differential had begun to develop a bit of slack, which announced itself with a noticeable clunk whenever the transmission was placed in gear. So, I drove it over to his garage, hoping that it was something easily repairable, like a universal joint. Mr. Taylor took one look at the balding right-rear tire, and shook his head in disappointment. “Well, what did you expect? Looks like you’ve been jumping on it every single chance you get.” He then took hold of the right rear wheel, and attempted to shake it. The entire axle appeared to move a fraction of an inch, and a faint metallic clunk was heard emanating from the area of the rear-end’s “banjo”. “It’s not a U-joint, and your ‘diff sounds like it’s not too long for this world. If I were you, I’d start looking around for a replacement in the boneyard.”

 

Now, Vegas were all too common in junkyards, so getting a rear-end for one wasn’t a problem, but if I had to shell out my hard-earned cash for a used rear, I wanted one that had at least half a chance of holding up. And that meant one from the Vega’s V-8 powered cousin, the Chevrolet Monza. There was one problem; Monzas were practically non-existent in scrap yards back then, as that car had only been introduced during the previous model year. So, the Vega and I soldiered on with a wounded differential, turning down all challenges, knowing that the next burnout might be the last one.

 

Spring break fell on the second week in April that year, just in time for a week long record-setting heat wave in the NY Metro area. Daytime highs reached the mid-90s (about 20-25 degrees above normal for that time of year), and provided a true test of the Vega’s cooling system, which came through with flying colors, thanks to the Motion Performance radiator, Flexalite fan, and Monza water pump.

 

On the last Saturday of our break, and coincidently, the last day of the heat wave, my friend Mike and I decided to drive up to northwest ‘Jersey and put in a day of trout fishing. I remember picking Mike up at his parent’s house just after 4 AM, and listened to him whine about his needing a coffee and buttered-roll before hitting the road. We pulled into the parking lot of an all night diner, and went inside. We'd no sooner made it through the door, when we heard a loud crash….and I just knew it wasn’t good.

 

I ran outside just in time to see the back of a delivery truck jammed up against the Vega’s left side. Closer inspection revealed the driver’s door to be caved in so severely, that its inner panel was jammed against, and had deformed, the steering wheel. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The roof of the car was actually bent upwards right at the driver’s door, and the windshield now had a crack running from the cowl to the top molding. The car was totaled.

 

It took four weeks for the trucking firm’s insurance company to settle on a figure, and I was expecting the worst. After all, it was just a Vega. When the official-looking envelope finally arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find a check for almost $800 inside. That, coupled with another $450 that I managed to get for what was left of the car (the car’s small block V-8, swap kit, and radiator were all items that were “in demand’), allowed me to finally buy my first Muscle car, a black on black 1968 Chevelle SS396. But, that‘s another story :biggrin:

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