Rare 1976 Chevy Cosworth Vega Twin Cam Gets Salty
Bonneville Salt Flats Race Car:
While at World Finals at Bonneville on Friday, I was cruisin’ the pits looking for cool cars. I spotted the little red Vega with its hood up and the small crew busy working. I walked over and just started watching and listening to the sweet Cosworth powered twin cam engine. I did not know anything about the rare Cosworth Vega (only about 3500 total built during 2 years of production), but I left with the interesting basics. The owner/driver Frank Sloan from California answered all my noobie questions and left me wanting more. Luckily, his “Cosworth Vega Owners Association” decal had a website that can give you the history of the Chevy. The concept actually started out as early as like 1970 or so. The Chevy Special Projects group (Chevy Racing Dept.) wanted a hot little econo-rod to compete with BMW’s 2002ti and Datsun’s 510. Original designs called for a 2.0L twin cam, 16 valve aluminum head and block built by the Indy car engine builder Cosworth to make around 185hp. After having smog certification test failures, the car was late to the market and only showing 110hp.
Back to Frank Sloan’s Bonneville racer shall we. Frank’s Vega used to race in SCCA road races in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Frank picked it up and with his hot rod tricks, the car is making somewhere around 260hp naturally aspirated. He has to keep it that way, because he runs in the G/PRO class (G = 1.51-2.0 Liter engine, PRO = Production car). Oh, and Frank just set a new class record on Saturday during World Finals, at a 2 run top speed average of 156.818 MPH, raising the record about 3 MPH, which was set back in 2001. And get this, the little 4 pot of fury shifts at 9500 RPM. Oh ya!!! You can see from the pics, it runs a wicked tubular header that exits in front of the front tire, has a very big throttle body/intake manifold setup built by “BJ’s Racing Manifolds” and is using SDS (Simple Digital Systems) tuning equipment. Its running Crane Cams camshafts recently reground to about 256 degrees when the engine suffered some internal damage, and some where around 13.5-14.0 compression.
I tried to snap some interesting photos of Frank and his “crew chief” who I failed to get a name for. Sorry man! You can see in the pics below that his crew man is checking valve lash under the cam lobes with feeler guages, and removing and replacing the valve cover. It’s weird to see all the valvetrain (springs/retainers/followers) underneath the cams instead of on top like modern DOHC engines. Remember, this design is over 30 years old and with modern tuning, Frank and crew more than doubled its factory power rating. If I remember correctly, the factory top speed was 112 MPH. Frank has added about 44 MPH without touching aerodynamics, besides a lower ride height. He can only change gear, tire diameter, ride height, tranny and engine. Nice work!
Doesn’t the little Vega look like a smaller Chevelle? The bummer of this car is it sold for only $600 less than a brand new Corvette in its day. Way to go Chevy Marketing. It touted up the Cosworth Vega by saying “Buy one Vega for the price of two!” What? Dude, what were those Marketing guys smoking back in ’75, “man”! ha ha It’s too bad. Small 4 cylinder lightweight sporty cars went the way of front wheel drive by the mid to late 1980’s. Chevy should bring back the Cosworth Vega by changing the Cobalt from front wheel drive to rear, keep the SS’s turbocharged 260hp 4 cylinder and call it the Vega SS. Now you’re talking.! Then, the Marketing department can say “Get a Corvette for half the price!”. Sign me up!
Frank, thanks for sharing your passion with me. Also, thanks for racing this rare piece of Chevy history instead of letting it sit in a Museum! Oh, and p.s. thanks for the Chocolate cookie! Another example of the fine people you’ll meet on the Bonneville Salt Flats, they’ll even share their cookies!