When the compact Chevrolet Vega was launched in 1971, Chevrolet General Manager John Z DeLorean directed his staff to develop a high-performance variant, much as he had created the Pontiac GTO out of the Le Mans in 1964. Meanwhile, Cosworth Engineering in England designed a full-race version of the Vega's new aluminum four-cylinder motor, and Chevrolet started work on the new hot Vega.
Meanwhile, the production Chevy Vega was tanking. The "sporty" Vega GT was just trim and decals, and it was up against more genuinely sporty cars in the market. What’s more, the aluminum engine developed by GM engineers and Reynolds Metals for the Vega, developed a reputation for premature wear and reliability problems.
Cosworth was under the gun to come up with a hot motor for the Vega. The English engine wizards coaxed well over 200 horsepower out of the Vega-based units in race trim, but there were issues with the block and the racing engine was eventually abandoned. GM nevertheless gave the greenlight for the Vega TC (its code-name) and development work continued on making this hottest of all Vegas roadworthy. Based on computer models, the Vega TC should have had a slight edge on the BMW 2002 and the Alfa Romeo GTA against which it could compete on track.
Unfortunately, though, the best setup with Weber side-draft carburetors was unavailable, as the Weber-fed version could not pass emissions. Fuel injection was considered, but GM's Rochester Products division was only interested in developing a complete system, so Bendix got the job. The engineers improved the engine blocks, and the twin-cam program was targeted for the 1974 model year. But tighter emission regulations meant the motor had to be detuned, and 110 bhp was all that was available. Even so, the hot Vega was finally ready for 1975, and many contemporary tests praised its overall performance, particularly its balance and handling.
Originally intended to be silver with black trim, all 1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Vegas were black with gold trim, which was unavailable on any other Vega and gave the Cosworth a unique look. The Cosworth Vega package made it the second most expensive car in the entire Chevy line and the $5916 price was double that of a standard Vega.
What a Cosworth buyer got for the money was a fancy cylinder head with electronic fuel injection, a four-speed manual transmission, stiffer springs, sway bars front and rear, unique alloy wheels shod with radial tires, full instrumentation with a gold-toned, engine-turned dashboard, and a dash plaque with a number on it.
For 1976, the Vega line saw a few cosmetic changes like a three-slat grille plus larger taillights. The Cosworths were now offered in seven other paint colors (Antique White, Dark Blue Metallic, Firethorn Metallic, Mahogany Metallic, Dark Green Metallic, Buckskin, Medium Orange, and Medium Saddle Metallic), and a 5-speed manual transmission was optional.
The $6000 price tag all but guaranteed that Chevy would miss its target 5000 units. Only 2061 cars were built in 1975 and 1447 the following year. Today, it’s easy to find a low-mileage Cosworth Vegas. They attracted a modest cult following and the best buy would be from a club member. If the Cosworth Vega was a Vega for the price of two when it was new, now it's about the price of ten.