Due to its front engine-rear drive design, light weight and low cost, the Chevrolet Vega is often modified. A small-block Chevrolet V8 engine fits in the engine compartment; and a big-block V8 will fit with minor chassis modifications. The Vega was not offered with a factory V8 option, although the Vega-based Chevy Monza, Pontiac Sunbird and Oldsmobile Starfire were.
Motion Performance and Scuncio Chevrolet sold new, converted small and big block V8 Vegas. Heavy duty engine mounts and front springs are fitted to support the increased engine weight, and a large radiator and modified driveshaft are required. For engines over 300 hp, or with a manual transmission, a narrowed 12-bolt differential is required, replacing the stock Vega unit.
In July 1972, Hot Rod tested a Chevrolet-built prototype Vega featuring an all-aluminum V8. The special 283 cu in (4.6 L) engines were used in a 1950s special lightweight Corvette program, installed in the Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle (CERV), an open-wheel rear engine prototype. The engines existed in limited quantity in '72, and were never offered on a production car or through a parts program. One of the last engines was bored out to 302 cu in (4.9 L) for the Vega application. With 11:1 compression pistons, a "097 Duntov" mechanical camshaft and cast-iron four-barrel intake manifold with a Quadrajet carburetor, the car recorded a stopwatch quarter-mile standing-start time of 13.97 seconds. The prototype had a stock Turbo Hydramatic, stock Vega rear differential and street tires. The one of a kind Vega's exterior was electric blue with white GT wheels and side stripes (similar to Yenko Turbo Stinger), white pinstripped hood bulge, spoilers (front and rear), body colored (blue) bumpers, black grill, and side decals similar to the Spirit of America edition from '74. This car was considered for production by Chevy executives for 1974, according to Hot Rod. GM probably killed the idea because of pending projects including the Cosworth Vega and Wankel (rotary) engine.
V8 Vega Reviews
Motor Trend March 1975 "The $850 V-8 Vega"—This could be the car GM should have built in the first place—Herb Adams said, "By 1970, after foreign manufacturers had won back all the customers Detroit had gained with cars like the original Falcon, Valiant and Corvair, the need was once again recognized to react to buyer demands. The car GM reacted with was the Vega, called a sub-compact. It has excellent handling, styling, and package size but for some reason the Vega's engine design did not match the rest of the car's excellence. Although it had an aluminum block and an overhead cam, the engine was larger, noisier and rougher than any other four-cylinder engine at the time. We wondered why GM couldn't just build a nice, small lightweight V-8 that would give the Vega the smoothness and power that Americans were accustomed to. Obviously, what the Vega needed was the old aluminum V-8 engine that was once used by Olds and Buick." "This engine had 215-cubic inches of displacement and weighed 300 pounds less than its cast iron brothers. The production engine had cast-iron sleeves but work was progressing on eliminating this type of expensive construction." "GM sold the aluminum 215 engine tooling to Rover." (in 1965)
"We visited a small company near Detroit that has done more than speculate on how well the GM aluminum V-8 engine would work in the Vega. The company, D&D Fabrications is in the business of selling conversion kits." "The basic kit ($245) is designed to install the GM ALUMINUM V-8 engine in a late-model, 4-speed Vega. Transmission alternatives and early model Vegas require additional parts." "Dan La Grou and Dutch Schepplemann (The D&D) told me that they could convert a a customer's late-model Vega for a total cost of $850." "Dan La Grou, who did most of the engineering on the conversion, let us test his personal Vega aluminum V-8. As we expected, it is a truly a delightful car to drive. The V-8 conversion added only 30 pounds to the front of the Vega so the handling, steering effort, and ride are unchanged. Since these are Vega strong points it is nice to know they were not compromised. The total weight of the car increased to only 2395 pounds, and its performance with the 215-cubic-inch V-8 engine is spectacular. Zero to sixty times are between 8 and 8.5 seconds and quarter-mile times are between 15.5 and 16 seconds. The performance is not like a super-muscle car, but by today's standards it is decidedly hot. Fuel economy is where the V-8 Vega really shines. Trip economy on the freeways is 30 mpg. Town and country driving gives 24 mpg. The test car we drove had a 2.53 axle ratio and a four-speed manual transmission. The aluminum engine is so much smoother and quieter than the Vega engine that it transforms the car into something pleasant and fun to drive. If there is any arguments about whether or not GM should have built the Vega with the aluminum V-8 engine they are settled when you drive the car."
Hot Rod May 2011, "1972 Chevy Vega - Guiding Light" This Chevy Vega Gets Back To Basics said, In point of fact, the Chevy Vega was a major move forward in mass-produced transportation, its ill-conceived aluminum block inline-four-cylinder engine (with supertall cast-iron cylinder head!) and only-a-mother-could-love styling notwithstanding. When it was introduced as a 1971 model, it easily garnered Motor Trend's Car Of The Year award, as well as Car & Driver's Best Economy Sedan honors.And while we might not think of the Vega as particularly ground breaking in 2011, it is the combination of a live four-link rear axle, near ideal weight distribution, low center of gravity, low curb weight, and neutral steering that made it the subject of high praise back in its day. Road & Track even called the Vega "the best-handling car ever sold in America. Jeff was lucky enough to obtain the mint Vega from an acquaintance, Ryan Gideon, for $1,500. "My original thought was to do something low-buck," Jeff says. "Throw something together from junk and do well against the big names at autocross events." Throughout the build process, Jeff has adhered to his original budget thesis, bringing his 2,650-pound hot rod to fruition for well under $5,000. Gone is the Vega's stock 140ci aluminum inline four-cylinder, and in its place resides a 5.3L LM4 Gen III from a '04 Buick Rainier SUV cribbed from the salvage yard for a mere $800. Jeff Schwartz bumped the stock power rating from 290 hp to 400 hp by swapping in a discarded LS7 camshaft and adding an LS1 Corvette intake manifold he got off Craigslist for $35.
Hot Rod News February 27, 2012 "Vintage Tech: V8 Vega Swap" Even though they only came with 4-cylinder engines, we still have a soft spot for the Chevy Vega. Their design starts off as a mini Camaro up front.. they are a lightweight platform that accepts a V8, as shown in an article from February 1972. The article notes that it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to imagine a factory V8 swap kit. Soon enough, the Vega platform would spin off the Monza (among others), which was powered by both 305 and 350 small-block Chevy V8s, although by that time they were saddled with early emissions controls that sapped power. Still, the formula of small, RWD car with a V8 is tough to beat.
Popular Hot Rodding on the Hot Rod Network June 19, 2013 "1971 Chevy Vega - The Jega"—Woody’s Hot Rodz builds a trend-busting ’71 Vega for an industry icon—"Historically, the Vega's compact dimensions and light weight made it a staple of race cars and street machines through the '70s and '80s. Built in an era where V-8 powerplants were ubiquitous even in lightweight domestic compacts, the '71-75 GM H-platform compact was never offered with one, although much to their credit, engineers left enough room for one. That made it perfect for going fast on the cheap. Nevertheless, the Vega and its H-platform stablemates have long since fallen out of favor with hot rodders due to their scarcity. The lack of interest in a classic rear-drive compact that could famously swallow a V-8 sounds odd in light of the fact that GM built nearly 1.9 million of them from 1971 to 1977 (Chevy and Pontiac combined), but these cars lived hard, short lives. Their unsleeved aluminum four-cylinder engines swilled more oil than gas, and their poorly treated steel bodywork turned to rust after precious few years. Most have already returned to the earth from whence they came. But we said most." "Putting all 620 hp and 590 lb-ft of twist through a unibody that was assembled by an indifferent union shop over 40 years ago was not in the cards. The Morrison Max G chassis would easily handle the punishment of both road and powertrain, but first it had to be mated to the body."The unibody was channeled over the Morrison frame, with 2.5-inch rocker panel extensions doing a nice job of subtly altering the Vega's proportions with a road-hugging profile. As work progressed, the artisans at Woody's built temporary scaffolding inside the body to hold the Vega skin to its factory dimensions while the work progressed. Sondles elaborates: "You have to build an internal cage that will be removed in order to keep the car square while you're working on it. Once you get all the stuff you don't need removed, then you need to start adding all the stuff you need for the full chassis, which consists of rebuilding the firewall and making an entirely new floor and tunnel from the firewall to the tail pan." One area that saved Sondles a bunch of time in the fabrication area was the availability of fiberglass body parts for the Vega. Sondles explains: "You can actually find bolt-on fiberglass parts that were made back in the day. They still make them new if you can believe it. We got the front valance, lower front grille area, rear valance, and the wing all off the Internet." These were subsequently modified to more closely match Shaw's rendering. Also of note is the front bumper, which was modified to resemble the split bumper of a '71 Camaro-another key design element of the original Hot Wheels car. Once all the critical fabrication was complete by Dane Heninger, the car was painted in-house by Woody's Hot Rodz and the steady hand of master painter Jamie Reedy. The color? PPG Jegs Yellow!
Car Craft on the Hot Rod Network April 17, 2015 said, Do you think the little Camaros are cool? This one runs 10s. "We shouldn’t like these, right? But we do. We think the primary reason is the Camaro-ishness of the front end. The single headlights and factory hood shape say 1970 F-body and the round parking lights and peaked egg crate grille say 1969, or even 1955 shoebox if you pull the bumpers off." "Introduced in 1971, the Vega was hustled as a sub-compact promising less weight and better gas mileage. Market forces and oil embargoes pushed initial sales to about triple the number of 1971 Camaros, providing plenty of raw materials for clever car guys to create small-block swapped street-sweepers with sleeper aesthetics on the cheap.Through the 1970s and into the 1980s, the V8 Vega told the world that you were in the know, the man, in the club of fast street guys who say, “Who me? It’s a Vega.” Never mind the glass-rattling camshaft and 3-inch Flowmasters. “It has a four, dude.” For these reasons we want to show you Paul Lawson’s stepped-on 1972 Vega he bought in 1988, at the height of its honor, and just never got rid of the thing." Engine: This is an ultra-basic 0.030 over 350 with a 1970-vintage steel crank, 11.1:1 compression, GM “pink” rods, and Brodix Track 1 heads. The cam is a Crower roller, and the intake is a Team G with a Holley 850-cfm carb. Paul estimates 1,800 passes are on the engine. He has performed two ring-and-bearing jobs since 1996. Transmission: The Powerglide has a 1.82:1 First gear ratio, an A-1 converter that stalls to about 4,500 with a transbrake, and a Hurst Quarterstick.
Drag racer Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins in the 1972 season, won six of eight National Pro-Stock division events with his Pro Stock, 331 cu in (5.4 L)-powered 1972 Vega, Grumpy's Toy X. In its first event, the untested Vega made 9.6 second passes and won the 1972 Winter nationals. Jenkins' 1974 Vega, Grumpy's Toy XI, was the first full-bodied Pro Stock drag racer with a full tube chassis, as well as the first with MacPherson strut suspension and dry sump oiling. Jenkins' 1974 Vega sold for $550,000 in 2007.
Super Chevy selected Grumpy's Vega one of the 100 Most Significant Chevys Of All Time. SC said, Bill Jenkins' "Grumpy's Toy IV" Vega was the first tube chassis vehicle to run the Pro Stock class. The first time the car ran was at the '72 Winternationals and after tweaking on the suspension a bit he was able to win the event. In '74 Jenkins built another Vega, "Grumpy's Toy XI," that featured several firsts like the use of a dry sump oiling system and a MacPherson strut front-suspension configuration.