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.
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.
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 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.
Super Chevy April 26, 2016 "Could This Be The World’s Coolest Vega?—Viva Las Vega: The Radical “Fusion Bomb” Explodes on the Circuit!— "It was going to be a ride that would blur the line between Pro Street and show car...to build the best Vega in the country - An updated chromoly chassis, a Chris Alston’s Chassisworks front end was mounted, as was a Ford 9-inch rear. A Moser centersection is stuffed with a healthy set of 3.73 Motive gears, and a 32-inch ladder bar suspension with Koni coilover shocks handles suspension duty under this ride. Lastly, a set of Wilwood brakes helps this Vega stop on a dime. The body has loads of upgrades, and the exterior sheetmetal was massaged to perfection. In the engine bay, welds were ground and seams smoothed. A custom firewall was also installed. The front wheelhouses were removed to give an open look under the hood. Doorjambs were molded, smoothed out, and cleaned up. The split front bumpers were made from two original bumpers, cut and welded together, and the rear wheelwells were stretched... To top it off, a custom cowl-induction, fiberglass hood was built by the shop. Overall, the car has a modified look without losing any of the factory Vega styling. The engine build started off with a Chevy small-block punched out to 355 ci...10.5:1 pistons. Dart 225cc aluminum heads along with a Dart intake...A Lunati cam with 0.552/0.570-inch lift...To further clean up the look of the car, all wiring to the engine is hidden through framerails and under the dash. A handmade velocity stack, with over 25 hours of metalwork, covers a 750-cfm Holley Dominator carb. A custom engine plate holds this motorized piece of art all together. Sanderson Street Rod Shorty headers and an ATCO radiator... An MSD box handles the spark. All brackets, even the hood hinges, are custom-made from scratch! The engine set back is 12 inches for better weight distribution. To top it off, over $3,500 worth of ARP fasteners adorn this ride; from the engine bay to the wheels. Believe it or not, all the screw heads are indexed for conformity! The interior is a work of art, being custom-made from fabricated sheetmetal. The only fabric in the interior is on the seats. Floors, door panels, and dash are all handmade from aluminum. Even the shifter case is a custom piece. The gauges are Auto Meter, the steering wheel is a removable Mark Williams piece, and the shifter is a Hurst Pistol Grip Quarter Stick. The Kirkey seats, laced with Deist belts, are backed by headrests made from driveshaft loops. The chromoly rollcage is another work as stylish as it is safe, and is finished off in gloss black. All interior tinwork was done by East Coast Muscle Cars in Craley, Pennsylvania. An ATI Turbo 400 trans and 10-inch 3,500-stall converter get this ride into gear. At the corners, Weld V-series wheels shod with 155/R15 Firestone rubber up front and 33x19.5x15 Mickey Thompson Sportsman Pro rubber out back get the power to the pavement. Last but not least, the paint is PPG Fusion Orange, which was a factory color on Avalanches, Cavaliers, and Hummers. Dave decided to add more pearl so this Vega’s skin tone would “explode” out in the sun. After a rough start, the Fusion Bomb is now hitting the show circuit and racking up points wherever it goes. It was up for the Ridler Award at the 2015 Detroit Autorama and has already won too many trophies to list..."
Car Craft History on the Hot Rod Network June 20, 2016 "MIMI, Bill Blanding’s Chevrolet Vega, at the 1973 NHRA Gatornationals" by Thomas Voehringer said, "The Chevrolet Vega capitalized on the Camaro’s stylish lines and the public’s growing interest in smaller cars. It was named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year upon it introduction in 1971. That was the second best thing to happen to it. First, of course, would be its abundant use in the door-slammer competitive ranks. Grumpy Jenkins, Wally Booth, Jeg Coughlin, Bruce Larson, and more campaigned these tiny terrors through the quarter-mile. MIMI, Bill Blanding’s Vega—one of Fred Forkner’s cars with (Wally)Booth-Arons powerplant—is launching against Steve Bagwell’s Dodge Challenger at the 1973 NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida. Mark Harrington is at the wheel. He later campaigned the car himself in a white/blue paint scheme. MIMI was also the name of Blanding’s 1969 427 Camaro Pro Stocker. While Motor Trend was later humbled by an all-too-quick-to-rust Vega as its COTY choice, the spectators at the local dragstrip loved watching them do their thing."
On All Cylinders February 5 2016 "Superstar: Charley Denny’s 1976 Chevy Vega Station Wagon" by James Millar said, "Vega—one of the brightest stars in the nighttime sky—is located in the constellation Lyra, trillions of miles from planet Earth. Like that distant star, Charley Denny’s spectacular Chevrolet Vega station wagon is light years away from the compact Chevy grocery-getter that rolled off of a Lordstown, OH assembly line back in 1976. The rebirth of this shining star took 2½ years, two donor cars, and plenty of help from Denny’s father; some pals; and his best friend, Ted Wright." “Except for the door seals, they don’t make parts for this car anymore. You just have to find parts where you can, and then you have to make them fit. Nestled under the Vega’s hood is a Chevy mouse motor built to last. After countless hours of hand sanding and blocking, they laid out a splendid Synergy Green finish over the wagon’s dead-straight exterior. To accent the sparkling emerald hue, Brandon Bowling added a matte-black stripe to the hood along with Denny’s fiery take on classic Yenko Stinger stripes on each side. Upholstery expert James Jacobs brought the flame motif into the Vega’s jet-black interior, adding embroidered and embossed details to the supple leather seats and wheel-tub covers. A custom roll cage adds necessary protection and some extra rigidity to the vintage Chevy wagon, while a B&M Pro Stick shifter, MSD digital delay box, and a Dakota Digital electronic dashboard complete the race-ready cabin. “That engine is over 10 years old, and it’s been in 16 different cars,” Denny said. “I think it may be time to freshen it up.” The .030”-over 350 makes about 480 horsepower, and features GM camel-hump heads, a World Products Motown intake, a Holley Double-Pumper Carburetor, and even more go-fast goodies. It all worked out in the end, as Denny is more than happy to pilot the Vega wagon at his local dragstrip, where they call him “Pro Stock Charley.” Always a crowd favorite, the little Vega wagon is a sure bet to turn heads and trip the win light just about every time it hits the track. That’s what we call star power.