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Behold the Cosworth Vega: A Chevy Subcompact with a Formula 1 Pedigree

While the black/gold combo was the most common, Chevy later added white, red, blue, green, brown, and orange to the Cosworth Vega color palette. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

For years, we thought the Cosworth Vega was a mythical creature that existed only in automotive history books.

Until we saw one at the 2021 Goodguys Summit Racing Nationals.

“It does exist!” we exclaimed as we spotted the car alone in the parking lot outside the event—which makes us believe that, if we hadn’t decided to head to our hotel to write a Honda Z600 story at that very moment, we could’ve missed this unicorn forever.

Luckily fates aligned, and there we were, staring at the Vega’s John Player Special-inspired paint job.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the Vega’s owner to get the inside scoop on this particular car, so we’ll just talk about the Cosworth Vega in general terms, because it’s way more than just a stripe and decal package.

Cosworth Vegas wore exclusive gold-painted cast aluminum wheels. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

Like a lot of GM performance origin stories, the Cosworth Vega begins with John DeLorean. In 1969, he’d been tapped as Chevy’s new GM, which meant that it was his job to market the Vega—an all-new subcompact import fighter debuting in 1971.

Thanks to its success building GM-derived powerplants for Formula 1 race teams, DeLorean sought the help of Britain’s Cosworth engineering company to give the Vega a bit more oomph. After a few years of development, the Cosworth Vega entered the scene in 1975.

Under its hood was a unique 2.0L aluminum four-cylinder engine making 110 horsepower—for perspective, a base 1975 Corvette’s 5.7L V8 was only making 165 hp. Much of the engine’s performance can be credited to Cosworth’s cylinder head design, which featured 16 valves and dual overhead camshafts.

In another innovation, the Cosworth Vega was the first time Chevy offered electronic fuel injection.

The Cosworth Vega’s innovative engine also boasted a stainless steel header and dual fuel pumps. (Image/Vegavairbob, Creative Commons)

But the engine was only part of the Cosworth Vega’s magic. It had upgraded springs, shocks, and sway bars poached from the Vega GT, and could be optioned with a limited slip differential. Power was sent through a four-speed (and later five-speed) manual transmission.

Reviews at the time were positive, with many publications favorably comparing the Cosworth Vega to some well-regarded European imports.

Designed with plenty of European influence, the Vega was originally developed to confront rising import sales. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

But alas, Cosworth’s provenance and performance were not enough to overcome the Vega’s souring reputation stemming from early manufacturing missteps. After just two years, Cosworth Vega production ended in 1976, and Chevy halted the entire Vega line a year later.

In addition to the gold striping, Cosworth Vegas also got “Cosworth Twin Cam” decals on the fenders and rear. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

With Cosworth Vegas making up a tiny sliver of overall Vega production, they’re certainly a rare find. So, we’re glad that we were able to catch this one before it vanished back into the ether.

Are you the owner of this Vega? Do you have a similar Cosworth Vega (or frankly, any Vega) in your garage? Tell us about it in the comments below!

And if you’re a big Vega fan, you may dig this article we ran earlier on Chevy’s Spirit of America special editions.

Though it initially wore an attractive chrome front end that mimicked the early 1970s Camaro, 1973+ Vegas got a facelift to conform to federal crash regulations. That meant that all Cosworth Vegas got the big front bumper treatment. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

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15 Comments

  1. Michael Ford says:

    I’m restoring Cosworth #3088

  2. Timothy R Seman says:

    I currently own #0755. Bought it off the showroom floor in 1975. Most recent shows where the Iola Auto Feast and the GM Nationals.
    Love the car and I plan on keeping it till I die.

  3. John Cowall says:

    Love of the Cosworth Vega lives on with the almost 300 member Cosworth Vega Owners Association. Go to http://www.cosworthvega.com to see!

    • Thanks for the link! Glad to hear that these cars are getting cared for. I goofed and should’ve got a better picture of the dash plaque on this one (had to take it through a closed window). I can’t decipher it here, but maybe its owner will see this article and chime in? Cosworth Vega Dash Plaque

  4. Brian F Pecenco says:

    I am the original owner of # 0953. Bought it in July 1975 from Ron Prince Chevy in Red Hook , New York.

  5. Mike+Brown says:

    A friend of mine used to own a genuine Cosworth Vega. However, it was totaled a few years ago when an inattentive driver rear ended him as he was turning into his driveway. Now, the Cosworth engine and 5 speed transmission are in a Vega wagon. While it’s not technically a Cosworth, it’s still a fun car.

  6. Joe Heffernan says:

    Fool around with the advance cure, there was no vacuum advance on those engines, they were choked with late advance for emissions. Uncork the exhaust and a little rework of the air filter, let that little monster breathe and then let it scream!

  7. Pingback: Pontiac's Innovative OHC Sprint Inline 6 Proved That You Didn't Need to Bring a V8 to the Musclecar Party

  8. I owned four Vegas over a period of several years back in the day. A Kammback and three hatchbacks. Three were GTs and the last received a transplant. A warmed over V8 from a Monzas. It put up similar numbers to 5.0 Mustangs at the strip. One of the most fun cars I have owned.

  9. Dennis Nunes says:

    A brand new Pontiac Astra was in my garage, there version of the Vega, I was out to prove the engines could not be that bad and were getting a bad rap, well I changed oil every 5000 miles and drove it easy, The Aluminum engine proved me wrong it was a real peace of crap at 28000 miles it was done, my neighbors Vega kept ripping the rear end from its sheet metal mounts and his engine was done at 26000 miles, I still think for a small car it had a good look.

  10. Mark Ignomirello says:

    I know a guy with a 1975 with 7 miles on it and never titled. Brought it from the dealer and it’s been sitting in his garage since. What’s it worth?

  11. Taylor Hudson says:

    Loved these cars with a string attraction. Lack of an air conditioning option was a sales killer in the South, particularly with the great black paint finish. Why does GM develop some great cars but stops at the 5 yard line for an eventual turnover? The Fiero GT was another.

  12. Old man has two black white interior

  13. Ken Williams says:

    cosworth vegas are just mid 70’s coolness, I happen to know that dan’s garage in the Tri-Cities in Washington state happens to have a 76 vega gt wagon, and a 76 cosworth for sale!

  14. https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=4776330112393868&set=p.4776330112393868
    both 10k miles all original
    Cosworth Vega 5-speed (#3466 of 3508 75-76s built)
    1973 Vega GT 4-speed Millionth edition 6500 built

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