Remembering the Vega

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It seems 2014 is a year of commemorations; 100 years since the beginning of the First World War, 75 years since the start of the Second World War, 50 years since the creation of our official flag. For enthusiasts of the Ford Mustang this is also a noteworthy year as the Mustang made its world debut in April 1964. As a boy of nine years at the time, I too was smitten by the little four seater. There was simply nothing like it and the sporty design and affordable price resulted in a huge sales success for Ford. This was also a time in my life I was getting into plastic model kits. A Mustang fastback would be the first 1/25th scale model kit purchased with my own money.

Ten years later I would be debating whether a Mustang II fastback would be my first new car. You see my father promised me while I was in my high school that upon completing my post-secondary education, he would buy me a new Volkswagen Beetle. As I was an only child and he and mother managed their money well, this was easily done.

When the final year of my study in broadcasting at SAIT was winding down by then more economy cars were on the scene and the Beetle, an outdated vehicle by 1974, was no longer on my radar. I narrowed my selection of graduation gift to two little cars – the new Mustang II and a Chevrolet Vega. Not just any Vega model but the GT. Having driven a 1973 GT one summer weekend thanks to the folks at General Motors in Calgary, I was smitten with the little car. Now I realize that some of you may have owned a Vega back in the day and don’t have as many fond memories of your car as I do of mine. But when I did the math a well equipped Vega GT was better value for the money than a similarly equipped Mustang II fastback. The basic Mustang was around $4,100 and my well-optioned Vega came to nearly $3,900. It just made sense to get the fully-optioned Vega.

The Vega came in four variations; hatchback, notchback, station wagon and panel wagon and was GM’s answer to the growing sales of Japanese of German economy cars. Ford’s answer was the Pinto which was not nearly the car the Vega was. I test drove a Pinto and it did not make my short list back then. From its revolutionary die-cast aluminum engine block to its innovative manufacturing and distribution techniques, the Vega grabbed a lot of attention. Its styling seemed to mimic the Camaro but on a smaller scale. The Vega was good on gas, comfortable and an excellent highway car.

Unfortunately although well built in part because of by robotics, it was poorly engineered and many owners dealt with a variety of mechanical ills. Although thankfully my Vega was not nearly as bad as it could have been.

My father thought a four cylinder powered car was not a wise decision, but the price of gasoline had crept up thanks in part to the so-called “gas shortage” of 1973. In no way was I going to pay almost 50 cents a gallon to fuel a V8 powered sedan. Such a gas guzzler could drain me financially leaving little cash for anything else!

So I saved up $100 as a deposit for the dealer and told my father I would factory order a Vega GT in a deep metallic red, just like the Vega in the image. This I did in May 1974 and the car, as I recall ,arrived at Nicholson Chev-Olds at the beginning of July. By then I was working at the Red Deer television station which was my first job following completion of a successful “practicum.” I couldn’t be happier as with a pay cheque every two weeks, I was ready for four-wheeled freedom. And so began my many years of motoring.

There were a few engine modifications and a performance muffler added which made my little car unique in Edmonton. The Vega put on a lot of miles as I travelled everywhere including a six-week road trip through the US and Canada in the summer of 1975. My travelling companion, Grant Dorosh, who now lives in Stony Plain, shared the driving and a pup tent as we and the cargo-laden hatchback explored a good slice of North America. The little Vega did well on the trip even after overheating near Palm Springs, California. There were a few minor mechanical ills otherwise it was great transportation.

By 1976, I was working full-time in radio at OK Radio in Westlock and acquired a 1971 Ford Custom sedan as I didn’t want the Vega doing duty as a work car. The Vega was used very little until I moved to Prince George, B.C., to work in radio and television news. Two years later I bought a new 1979 Mustang Cobra and the Vega was sent back home to Edmonton. It stayed in the family and at one point wasn’t running because of engine trouble (no surprise with the finicky aluminum block). But years later with a rebuilt engine the Vega was put back into service for our growing family. Years after that the pressure was on to sell it and a young man bought the car with spare parts in 1990 right here in St. Albert. The Vega was still in good shape as my care and undercoated underside saved it from rusting away early in its life. I haven’t seen the car since and wonder if the kid ever fixed it up. I still dream about that car from time to time, do you ever dream about your first car or any four-wheel vehicle you’ve enjoyed? Let me know in the comments section below.

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