1973 Chevrolet Vega Kammback Wagon

1973 Chevrolet Vega Kammback Wagon

Today, Chevy Vegas are practically all gone except for a few – like this one – running with V8s on drag strips or a handful of highly prized limited-edition, twin-cam Cosworth models. This Vega began as a business delivery version without rear side windows – just steel panels. This version was very basic, and could be ordered with only the driver seat – the passenger seat was an option.

In the early 1970s there was growing pressure from import ”economy” cars selling into North America. The response was to rush some small cars into production to hold on to customers. The GM Vega, Ford Pinto, and AMC Gremlin were produced to battle the less expensive imports – most notably Volkswagen, Toyota, and Datsun.

Even though the market was shifting, there was still strong loyalty for North American cars and for a few years the customers hung in there.

Pushed to be competitive, design Engineers needed a light car for economy and the Vega’s thin metal bodywork makes it quite light. However, the thin steel and poor undercoating made the Vegas rust out prematurely – part of the reason why there are very few remaining as regular drivers.

The Vega sold in huge numbers. During its first model year, 1971, Chevrolet pushed 277,700 of them out through its dealerships. During 1972 they sold another 394,592 units, then 395,792 in 1973 and 452,886 for 1974.

There were some mechanical design issues with the stock 4 cylinder Vega engine also but eventually the light weight and good handling characteristics became attractive as a good platform in the hands of drag race car builders.

Norm Ribey is a General Motors car guy. He has a number of GMs from the Vega to a Corvette and some in between. GM cars are his passion. He located this Vega in 2002 with 6400 miles behind it. The car had been constructed for drag racing by Robert Nagey Racing in Welland, Ontario and the engine was built by Jim Oddy in Buffalo, New York. The engine is a 400 cu. In. small block Chevy, and the build was originally equipped with a supercharger. It currently has about 600 horsepower.


Now Norm runs a 4 barrel Holley carburetor (and no blower) and uses the Dana 60 rear end which can easily handle 600 horsepower, and is commonly accepted as the strongest passenger car axle you can find.

Norm regularly runs the quarter mile in 11.7 seconds and reaches 110 mph.


Norm keeps a close eye on engine temperatures on hot days. It runs best at coolant temperatures between 170 and 180 Degrees (F) and if he has to wait in line for the race start, the temperature can begin to creep up – due to tight engine tolerances. If it gets to around 200 Degrees, his times drop off. With temperatures over that, he begins to worry.

Here we see the “sprung” wheelie bars.

The main goal of wheelie bars is to control how high the nose of the car comes off the ground when the driver hits the accelerator. With all that power and rear wheel drive, if the nose gets too high, the driver not only loses the ability to steer the car, but eventually the back bumper can drag the ground followed by the car slamming back to earth and likely breaking parts.  Even worse, drag cars can flip over backwards. Wheelie bars keep that from happening, but they also do more than that.

They act as a lever when they hit the ground and lift the rear tires slightly. This allows the rear tires to slip in a controlled manner without fully losing traction and going up in smoke.

If you see a slow-motion video of the rear tires, you can watch the “slingshot” effect of the back tires – which hold about 12 lbs pressure; you can see how the cars squat down in the rear when the green light goes on.

Norm added the shift warning light next to the tachometer to make doubly sure he shifts gears at the right time. Things happen pretty fast in a quarter mile run and mistakes can be costly.

Brand Loyalty

At cruise events and car shows I have observed what I call brand polarization.

I think it is partly brand loyalty – something marketers try very hard to master.

Car owners like to join clubs with others who own the same brand – it is natural to gather with others who have similar interests. I think it must be a human condition. There are Directories of Directories of Organizations – all manner of groups cluster for all manner if reasons.

I think this is quite interesting – not that people with similar interests gather together – rather that their brand loyalties are so strong.

I’m wondering if part of the loyalty is just as simple as familiarity. Each brand has its own way of doing some things and perhaps that is why the owner bought that variety in the first place. Of course style and colour, features – all play a part. It’s why Industrial Designers are an important part of the design teams.

So there is no denying brand loyalty exists and manufacturers work really hard to establish this bond with owners.

One description I read pointed out that currently, manufacturers know that if a car owner is going to purchase a new car within 3 or 4 years, they are most likely to stick with the brand they have. This might have had a lot to do with the terms and conditions of most car leases. It is also known that a buyer who waits longer to purchase a new car will likely have experienced lifestyle changes and is more likely to shop other brands.

When it comes to our special cars however, even though brand loyalty is almost always present, it seems to me it could be a counter-productive trait.

What I mean is, just because I favour a particular brand of car, or a particular model or colour, I try to appreciate that the owners next to me (at a cruise event, for example) are just as proud, worked just as hard and needed as much ingenuity and dedication as me – probably more.

Can we just try to look at our special cars through a different lens? Maybe a wide angle and not narrow?

For example, if you meet someone who has a hotrod but you have always liked the original, the bottom line is, we all have an interest in cars and we are all in this together.

Youth and Old Cars

I am not alone in my concern for the future for older vehicles when this generation of owners and mechanics fades away.

If you notice, many publications have obituaries of long standing car friends. I wonder what happens to their historic vehicles. Not enough of the children or grandchildren care – or seem to have the “connection” or want to be bothered. You see, it is our hobby not theirs.

I see Hagerty Insurance has identified this issue. Their website says:

“Hagerty is dedicated to helping ensure the future of the classic car hobby by Driving the Passion for Classics and providing young people unique access to classic car related experiences through various youth services with our Youth Advocacy Program.

Since 2007, more than 3,000 people age 25 and under have participated in the Hagerty Youth Advocacy Program to gain insider access to the classic car and boat hobby. Hagerty provides these youth services as a way of ‘giving back’ to the classic car industry to support and encourage the next generation of car enthusiasts and collectors.” (https://www.hagerty.ca/corporate/hobby-support/youth-programs)

I see a very few young people at cars shows and cruise events. Every once-in-a-while I do talk to a young person who is actively restoring a car/truck but how many will take over the special vehicle and give it the care it needs so it will be around 50 years from now? My guess is not too many.

I have looked for places where restoration training might be available – but the trade schools seem to be pointed mostly at careers in industry and that involves Information Technology mostly.

I went to a dealer the other day in my old car to buy some oil filters. Some of the mechanics wanted to see the engine. When I lifted the hood one pointed at the generator and asked if that was the air conditioning pump. So the gap is really wide these days and getting wider.

It isn’t all that bad of course – today’s cars are amazingly reliable – unless you think about 50 or even 20 years from now and try to visualize today’s mechanics working on yesterday’s cars. Or today’s young owners and the rapidly evolving technology world they enjoy – very few will develop the bond our generation developed learning how to repair and maintain these vehicles when we were young.

I think the restoration and preservation of these older vehicles can provide a significant number of careers – Hagerty must think so too.

Where will the training come from? When I was a teenager, the corner garage usually had a mechanic and an apprentice. That training ground – the conduit for future mechanics – is all but gone now too.

Many of today’s older car owners – who know a lot about older cars – have an opportunity here, they could become mentors somehow. Maybe the car clubs can offer an enticing opportunity to get young people involved.

I wouldn’t be surprised that if more young people knew there were career opportunities and training was available, they would step up.

In the big picture, we are not so much the owners as we are the custodians of this part of our transportation history – for that we have a responsibility.

My Favourite Publications

I enjoy reading Old Autos (www.oldautos.ca). This is a Canadian news print style publication that is published twice a month and is full of personal stories of cars, lots of photos and some terrific historical reports.

I like Old Autos because the people next door or down the road are featured in their stories. This is stuff I can relate to and it is the same approach I use at Car Stories North.

I also enjoy Hemmings Motor News and Hemmings Classic Cars (www.hemmings.com). These are magazines you can find  in many book outlets. It is very informative with in-depth historical notes of pioneers of motorized vehicles – mostly North American. Sometimes the stories show the development over the last century into this one and often highlight names from the past. The photos are excellent.

Another favourite of mine is Practical Classics (www.practicalclassics.co.uk). This is a British magazine and has a “cast of characters” who engage in repair and restoration projects and often compete against each other with their repaired vehicles. Even though they feature mostly British cars, there are interesting articles that are well photographed, that show how to make repairs to older cars. You find words like wings (fenders), bodge (repaired badly) and other British expressions that make you scratch your head – wondering at the translation. Some of their repair projects don’t work out as well as they’d like. I particularly like the overarching philosophy of the magazine’s approach which encourages us to use our older vehicles – regularly – even in place of a second daily driver.

1964 Volvo

www.carstoriesnorth.com is a site that I created as a business idea to take me into retirement and to have some fun.

One day at work, I was talking about retirement and wondering what my next career would be like. I was thinking seriously about continuing in my field as a business advisor with a focus on financing and business succession – things I had spent a number of years doing. Misgivings about the endless routine brought me to the conclusion it was time to do something different. Something I loved.

I liked cars – always had – ever since my first 1950 Pontiac Silver Streak my best friend Jack and I bought for our summer job in a warehouse. I was always fixing and cleaning my cars, my father’s cars, and learned rudimentary driveway bodywork, learned how to dismantle, repair and reassemble a couple of engines in my cars so they actually ran better than before, brake jobs – and lots of things a teenager needed to know if they had a car and not much money. My father guided me along – mostly by encouragement and by lending his tools (he was not a mechanic).

A few years back, 2009 to be exact, I decided it was time to get a hobby. One night on my way home from work I stopped at a cruise night and it was like I became infected by some kind of bug. I saw a number of cars I wanted but driving home from there I dismissed them all. That night I hopped on the internet to find the one I wanted and by next morning the deal was almost complete – the first time I had bought anything on the internet!

It took about three weeks for the car to actually arrive from “Out West” where salt is less of a problem for old cars – and when it did arrive, it passed the safety check right off the truck. I was on my way to new experiences and new challenges and directions. 

It started with my hobby!!