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The Chevrolet Vega plot follows a trajectory very similar to that of some other 1960s-1980s GM machines that seemed like serious engineering breakthroughs at first but then caused many headaches for the company, e.g., the Chevrolet Corvair, Chevrolet Citation, and Pontiac Fiero. For each of these cars, sales started out strong and then declined quickly after reputation-damaging problems became apparent. In the case of the Vega, though, fast depreciation and a rear-wheel-drive platform meant that GM’s innovative subcompact made a great recipient for the dime-a-dozen Chevrolet small-block V8 engine. For decades, V8 Vegas could be found all over American roads and screaming down American dragstrips; you’ll still find some at the strip these days, but the street version has all but disappeared. Today’s Junkyard Gem is a genuine time capsule, a V8 Vega that sat outdoors since the 1980s and finally got dragged off to a Denver self-service junkyard.

The Vega never came with a V8 engine from the factory (all Vegas had 2.3- or 2.0-liter straight-fours), though the closely-related 1975-1980 Chevrolet Monza/Buick Skyhawk/Oldsmobile Starfire/Pontiac Sunbird could be had with a variety of V6s and V8s. Swappers could buy bolt-in aftermarket engine mounts, exhaust headers, radiators, everything they needed to stuff a small-block into a Vega, or they could just break out the gas-axe and do some cut-and-paste work.

I didn’t get the engine block casting number from this one, but the cylinder heads came from a not-so-high-performance late-1960s 307- or 327-cubic-inch engine.

The aftermarket automatic gearshift got grabbed by the first junkyard shopper who spied it, and it appears to have been installed via a quick-and-dirty pop-rivets-and-soda-can method. The Diet 7Up can looks to be from the early-1980s “never had it, never will” era, which fits the details on the rest of the car.

Milodon has been selling V8 Vega swap oil pans for many years. I’m surprised that nobody has bought this one from the junkyard, not to mention the exhaust headers. Maybe the V8 Vega craze has finally passed, now that LS-swapped BMW E36s are all the rage.

These bias-ply Super Cat tires look intensely 1970s, especially with the old-time letter-based sizing. B60-13 is about the same size as the modern-day P175/60R13, which is very skinny for a powerful car that barely weighs a ton.

Always insist on genuine Super Cats!

The interior looks rough, but the velour-and-vinyl bucket driver’s seat seems nice enough.

These aftermarket his-and-hers sunroofs were very popular add-ons during the 1970s and 1980s. Sure, they leaked, but so stylish!

Some sort of decklid spoiler once lived here.

I still find the occasional Vega as I prowl junkyards these days, but this is the first V8-swapped one I’ve seen in at least 15 years.

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