The Chevrolet Cosworth Vega is a subcompact four-passenger automobile produced by the Chevrolet division of General Motors for the 1975–'76 model years. The Cosworth Twin-Cam is a limited production, performance version of the Chevrolet Vega. Its purpose was to "create excitement for the entire Vega line." The production version of the Cosworth Vega twin-cam engine was developed by Chevrolet with the cylinder head design assisted by Cosworth Engineering in England. The vehicle was introduced to the public at the Chicago Auto Show in February 1975. The all-aluminum 122 cu in inline-four engines were hand-built at GM's Tonawanda engine plant — each signed by the engine builder. "Cosworth. One Vega for the price of two" was only $900 less than the 1975 Chevrolet Corvette. 5,000 engines were built, but only 3,508 cars were produced in 18 months.
In a hand-written August 1969 memo, John DeLorean, then Chevrolet's general manager and vice-president of General Motors suggested Jim Musser, Vega project leader to contact Cosworth Engineering racing experts in England to see if they’d be interested in transforming Chevy’s new aluminum-block into a 300-hp racing engine.
The Cosworth racing engine based upon the Vega aluminum block was known internally at Cosworth Engineering as Project EA. The EA engine produced a reported 260 hp. Installed in Chevron and Lola chassis, it proved the fastest in the 2-liter class in its first outings. The ZO9 Cosworth Vega is a direct derivative of the EA racing engine. Although it has been widely thought of by the general public as a souped up Vega engine, it is in truth a de-tuned EA racing engine. It lacks the EA's dry sump lubricating system (neither necessary nor desirable for passenger car application), has a lower compression ratio and different valve timing and uses Bendix electronic fuel injection in place of the Lucas mechanical injection, but bore, stroke and valve sizes are identical. The Bendix injection is actually more sophisticated than the Lucas since it has to cope with a wider range of operating conditions as well as emission controls.
In March, 1970 DeLorean sent engine designer Calvin Wade, a 25-year veteran of Chevrolet performance wars, to England in search of the cylinder head technology that would pep up the Vega's engine demeanor for the street. It would take some new technology — fuel injection to control emissions without power loss — and far stouter internal parts to work with the existing block and the Cosworth head. By the Summer of 1970, DeLorean authorized Wade to build the prototype for what would become the Cosworth Vega. But the budget was meager and stout resistance from managers between Wade and DeLorean resulted in low priority for the project. On the positive side, no one could kill the idea once it received approval from John Z.
Prototype parts were in and assembled June, 1971. The Cosworth Vega engine (street version) came to life for the first time. Breathing through a pair of Holley-Weber two-barrel carburetors, the Cosworth quickly turned in a peak of 170 hp. By Easter, 1972 a key break for the Cosworth engine came when several advanced Vega creations were offered to GM President Ed Cole for a drive. A base Vega was on hand for reference to an all-aluminum small-block V8 and the Bendix-injected Cosworth. Ed Cole loved the Cosworth concept and pledged his support in the Engineering Policy Group, which would have to approve DeLorean's request to initiate production. DeLorean's first ride came a few months later. His approval for development — aimed at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certification swiftly followed. Cal Wade began a development program with 12 cars to accumulate emissions certification mileage and prove the engine in a variety of circumstances including high altitudes and hot and cold climates. At the GM desert proving ground, the car could reach 122 mph.
In April, 1973 the design was frozen and two cars were built for the mileage accumulation necessary for EPA emission certification. The press was keyed into the program and a pilot car was the center of attention in the August 1973 Car and Driver, alerting the public to an upcoming 140-hp Cosworth Vega. But what the engine needed was dyno-time, new cam profiles to trade in a little high-end punch for a lot more muscle in the low end and a tubing header to replace the undesirable cast iron exhaust manifold. It meant a much higher priority for the project: more engineering manpower, more money — and also more delay. A chance for a major engineering coup by Chevrolet was clearly within reach if it could get a certified race engine into production. Everyone was watching: Chevy dealers were accepting huge deposits for an early delivery.
Once again the design was frozen in January, 1974. A stainless steel header was specified, which helped horsepower from 2,000 rpm up to the 7,000 rpm redline. Camshaft lift and duration were eased back and throttle area sized down to reshape the torque curve to a street-oriented curve that peaked at 5,200 rpm. Willam Large, project coordinator for several months, built two durability cars and sent them off and running. By April 1974, emissions performance for the first 40,000 miles showed the Cosworth Vega to have a truly "clean" engine. But then hydrocarbon curves on the first car shot upward at a precipitous rate, far exceeding the allowable 3.0 grams per mile. Disassembly reveled burned exhaust valves. For certification of the Cosworth Vega, five months of durability miles would have to be reaccumulated. Chevrolet argued in vain with the EPA to allow averaging between the two cars. A new round of development was begun, this time to improve emissions durability and also to ready the engine for more stringent 1975 standards. The fuel injection was redesigned for better air distribution. High-energy electronic ignition was added along with the mandatory catalytic converter. A Pulse Air system was added. Functionally, Pulse Air is the same as an air pump but without the pump's six-hp loss. The larger version catalytic converter also prevented a power loss. More advanced timing and the lead-free fuel required with the converter would cancel any likelihood of exhaust-valve failure.
One of Chevrolet's criterion is that all engine designs live for 200 hours at full load. The Cosworth Vega endured the punishment for over 500 hours. For a clutch burst test, Cale Wade bravely buzzed the engine up to 9,400 rpm under its own power. Both the clutch and the engine lived. Three cars began mileage accumulation once again in September 1974 - in three different configurations to insure passage.
By January, 1975 mileage accumulation was completed with no failures. One configuration stayed within 1975 California limits, making the Cosworth Vega the only GM car certified for all 50 states. All cars came close to passing the proposed 1977 Federal standards. On March 14, 1975 the EPA issued Chevrolet an emissions certificate allowing sale of 1975 Cosworth Vegas. Production was begun immediately to fill the backlog of orders. Engine production rate was 30 per day with hand assembly teams two or three workers per engine in the Tonawanda, New York engine plant's "clean room", a special facility originally devised for the ZL-1 all-aluminum 427 cubic inch V8. At the Vega's Lordstown Assembly plant, the Cosworth rate was 1.6 cars per hour.
Cosworth Vega 0001, the original Chicago Auto Show vehicle, complete with its special clear Plexiglas hood is part of the GM Heritage Collection.
All 2,061 1975 Cosworth Vegas were finished in black acrylic lacquer with gold "Cosworth Twin Cam" lettering on the front fenders and rear cove panel and gold pinstripping on hood bulge, body sides, wheel openings, and rear cove. The black exterior color wasn't available on lesser Vegas until mid-1976. The black custom interior with perforated vinyl seat trim (RPO ZJ1) was standard; black cloth seat inserts were available at an additional charge of $50. Approximately 16 percent were equipped with white vinyl interiors. Included with all interiors is a gold engine-turned dash bezel and gold-plated dash plaque with build sequence number, a specific 8,000 rpm tachometer, and a Cosworth Twin-Cam Vega steering wheel emblem.
At $5,916 it cost double a normal hatchback and $892 less than a Corvette. The Cosworth package includes a 'torque arm' rear suspension which provides optimum rear axle power control. This unit compares to the assembly used on the Chevy Monza 2+2. The Monza 2+2 axle is also used and provides a 3.73:1 gear ratio from a 7.5 inch ring gear. No other gear ratios were available, but a limited slip differential was optional. Included were GT springs, shocks, and stabilizer bars (the rear bar larger than the Vega GT's), exclusive BR70-13 BSW radial tires on British-made 6 inch, gold-painted cast aluminum wheels with Chevy center caps, black-finished wiper arms, H.D. radiator and provisions for “Fast Steer” option. This was the first use of electronic fuel injection on a Chevrolet passenger car. Air conditioning was not offered on the Cosworth Vega. Power steering and power brakes were also not offered. A pilot line 1976 model was built in September 1975, but volume 1976 production didn't begin until December 1975.
1976 models at $6,066 received a facelift including a wider grill and tri-color tail lamps and extensive body anti-rust improvements. A new Borg-Warner five-speed manual overdrive transmission with 4.10 axle was optional in addition to the std. Saginaw four-speed manual with 3.73 axle. The exhaust system featured a single outlet tailpipe as opposed to the dual outlet pipe on the 1975. The seat trim changed to a grained vinyl and the optional cloth trim seat inserts was changed to a "houndstooth" type, named sport-cloth, for an additional $18 charge. In January, a "Sky-Roof" with tinted reflectorized sliding glass and 8-track tape player options were added.
In February, eight of the Vega's fourteen 1976 exterior colors were added — Antique White, Dark Blue Metallic, Firethorn Metallic, Mahogany Metallic, Dark Green Metallic, Buckskin, Medium Saddle Metallic, and Medium Orange, and two additional interior colors were added — Firethorn, and Buckskin. Still, only 1,447 were built. In November 1975, the decision had been made to cancel the model availability after the 1976 model year. Production ended in July 1976 with a Medium Saddle Metallic model delivered to a Cleveland, Ohio dealer. 190,321 Vega hatchback coupes were produced in the same 18 month time period from March 1975 through July 1976.
122 CID DOHC
The Cosworth Vega Twin-Cam engine is a 122 cubic inch inline-four featuring a die cast aluminum alloy cylinder block and a Type 356 aluminum alloy, 16-valve cylinder head with double overhead camshafts (DOHC) designed in conjunction with Cosworth Engineering of England. The camshafts are held in a removable cam-carrier which also serves as a guide for the valve lifters. Each camshaft is supported by five bearings and is turned by individual cam gears on the front end. The two overhead camshafts are driven, along with the water pump and fan, by a fiberglass cord reinforced neoprene rubber belt, much like the Vega 140 cubic inch engine. Below the cam carrier is a 16-valve cylinder head constructed of an aluminum alloy using sintered iron valve seats. Sturdy forged aluminum pistons and heat-treated forged steel crankshaft and connecting rods reveal racing ancestry; assure high performance durability.
The engine features a stainless steel exhaust header and electronic fuel injection (EFI) – a Bendix system with pulse-time manifold injection, four injector valves, an electronic control unit (ECU), five independent sensors and two fuel pumps. Each engine was hand-built and includes a cam cover sticker with the engine builder's signature. The Cosworth Vega engine is some 60 pounds lighter and presents a far handsomer spectacle than the odd looking SOHC Vega engine. The engine develops its maximum power at 5,600 rpm and is redlined at 6,500 rpm where the SOHC Vega engine peaks at 4,400 rpm and all is done at 5,000 rpm. Final ratings are 110 hp at 5,600 rpm, 107 foot pounds of torque at 4,800 rpm. With only 3,508 of the 5,000 engines used, GM disassembled about 500; the remaining engines were scrapped for a writeoff of $10k each.
Aluminum engine block
GM Research Labs had been working on a sleeveless aluminum block since the late '50s. The incentive was cost. Engineering out the four-cylinder's block liners would save $8 — a substantial amount of money at the time. Reynolds Metal Co. developed an alloy called A-390, composed of 77 percent aluminum, 17 percent silicon, 4 percent copper, 1 percent iron, and traces of phosphorus, zinc, manganese, and titanium. The A-390 alloy was suitable for faster production diecasting which made the Vega block less expensive to manufacture than other aluminum engines. Sealed Power Corp. developed special chrome-plated piston rings for the engine that were blunted to prevent scuffing. Basic work had been done under Eudell Jackobson of GM engineering, not at Chevrolet. Subsequently, Chevrolet was given job of putting the ohc sleeveless, aluminum block into production.
The Vega engine block was cast in Massena, New York - at the same factory that had produced the Corvair engine. Molten aluminum was transported from Reynolds and Alcoa reduction plants to the foundry, inside thermos tank trucks. The block was cast using the Accurad process. The casting process provided a uniform distribution of fine primary silicon particles approximately 0.001 inches in size. Pure silicon provides a hard scuff and wear resistant surface, having a rating of 7 on the mohs scale of hardness, the same as quartz, as compared to diamond which is 10. The blocks were aged 8 hours at 450 °F to achieve dimensional stability. The technical breakthroughs of the block lay in the precision die-casting method used to produce it, and in the silicon alloying which provided a compatible bore surface without liners. Before being shipped to Tonawanda, the blocks were inpregnated with sodium silicate, where they were machined through the outer skin. From Massena, the cast engine blocks were shipped as raw castings to Chevy's engine plant in Tonawanda, New York. Here they underwent the messy etch and machining operations. The cylinder bores were rough and finish-honed conventionally to a 7-microinch finish then etched by a new (then) electro-chemical process. The etching removed approximately 0.00015-inch of aluminum leaving the pure silicon particles prominent to form the bore surface.
With a machined weight of 36 pounds, the block weighs 51 pounds less than the cast-iron block in the Chevy II 153 CID inline-4. Plating the piston skirts was necessary to put a hard iron skirt surface opposite the silicon of the block to prevent scuffing. The plating was a four layer electo-plating process. The first plate was a flash of zinc followed by a very thin flash of copper. The third and primary coating was hard iron, 0.0007-inch thick. The final layer was a flash of tin. The zinc and copper were necessary to adhere the iron while the tin prevented corrosion before assembly of the piston into the engine. Piston plating was done on a 46 operation automatic line. From Tonawanda, the engines went to the Chevrolet assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio.
Car and Driver, August 1973 said: "Cosworth Vega-16 Valve. More than an engine. A taut muscled GT coupe to devastate the smugness of BMW 2002tii's and 5-speed Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTs, A limited run of 4000 machines, each one built away from the tumult of the assembly line to precision tolerances, as a show of technical force by Chevrolet. All of them will be collector's items."
Car and Driver in its "History of 0-60" feature included the 1974 pre-production Cosworth Vega with the quickest time of 1974 at 7.7 seconds.
Car and Driver in a 1975 Cosworth Vega test said: "The outstanding feature of the Cosworth Vega is its excellent balance..Roll-stiffness distribution is ideal, with little understeer entering a turn, and just the right amount of drift from the tail as you put your foot down to exit ...Through the woods or down a mountain, the Cosworth is a feisty aggressor willing, if not altogether able to take on the world's best GT cars."
Motor Trend in a 1975 Cosworth Vega test said: "The Cosworth Vega goes like the proverbial bat out of Carlsburg Caverns" "At moderate speeds, the car is as close to neutral handling as any American car I have ever driven..."
Road & Track in a 1976 Cosworth Vega road test said: "The reduction in displacement adds an important degree of smoothness, a result of the shorter stroke." "The Cosworth Vega's handling is very good... All the drivers agreed that it is a far better handling car than those Vega derivatives that have been fitted out with V6 or V8 engines." "We can't resist saying that with the Cosworth Vega engine, the Vega now runs the way it should have run all the time-easy, smooth, good response, good handling: a nice balance between performance and economy. Sweet as it is however, the Cosworth Vega is still way down the excitement ladder from what it would be with another 30 or 40 bhp. Then it would really be something."
Road Test magazine in a 1976 Supercoupe Shootout — Alfa vs. Mazda vs. Lancia vs. Saab vs. Cosworth Vega, said: "The results are in Figure 2. Reed 'em and weep, all you foreign-is-better nuts, because right there at the top, and by a long way at that, is the Cosworth Vega. It had the fastest 0-60 time, the fastest quarter-mile time, and tied with the Saab for the shortest braking distance". "The Cosworth is American, and a collector's item, and it came close, damn close to winning the whole thing."
Car and Driver chose the Cosworth Vega as one of the "10 Best Collectible Cars" in its fourth annual Ten Best issue, saying: "We're talking about historical significance here."
Super Chevy magazine included the 1975-'76 Cosworth Vega in their 2011 list of the "100 Most Significant Chevys Of All Time."
Motor Trend Classic magazine in the Spring 2013 iisue's "Toxic Throwdown" comparison — 1976 Cosworth Vega and 1976 Capri II said, "Motor Trend's October 1975 article pitted the Cosworth against the Capri II 2.8 with each trimmed in matching black paint with gold wheels and pinstripping. For this test, we were fortunate enough to find two superb cars, each owned by a marque expert."
Overblown - "The China Syndrome might have overhyped the TMI (Three-Mile Island) incident as bad press might have exaggerated the Vega's woes." "I can definitely sense some of the Vega's raw, untamed nature that my predecessors described." "Stylish and historically significant but ridiculously overpriced in its day and ultimately a bit unfinished, the ultimate Vega now represents a serious collector bargain."
- Motor Trend Classic Spring 2013 - Chevrolet Cosworth Vega vs Mercury Capri II
- Cosworth Vega Owner's Association