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AMC Pacer vs Chevy Vega.

Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by BobbyZ, Feb 11, 2018.

  1. RoscoeElegante

    RoscoeElegante Friend of Leo's

    Feb 19, 2015
    TooFarFromCanada
    Lovin' these stories--as a former Gremlin as well as Vega owner, whose friend had a Pinto, and whose friend's sister had a Maverick. (Winner: the Gremlin, but barely.)

    But I'm wondering: Why didn't GM stick with and just downsize a bit the compact Chevy II, Plymouth/Dodge ditto the Valiant/Dart, Ford/Mercury the Falcon/Comet, etc., when the Japanese compacts challenged them? American automakers already had a very successful line of relatively small cars. Did they develop the Vega, et al., just to make it seem like they were matching Japanese quality with nifty all-new-ness?
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2018

  2. dogmeat

    dogmeat Tele-Holic

    Age:
    67
    589
    Oct 12, 2017
    Alaska
    Pacer wasn't a bad car.... just uglier than dogs humping. the Vega was more the level of the Pinto. those two were really pretty sorry lumps for various reasons.... part of the manufacturing learning curve I guess
     

  3. RoscoeElegante

    RoscoeElegante Friend of Leo's

    Feb 19, 2015
    TooFarFromCanada
    Also curious about exactly why American makers made such serial junk after making such bullet-proof things as Chrysler's great slant-six and won't-die 318, Chevy's fine "Blue Flame" 6's and 327 V8, reliable automatic transmissions, morphing the mundane Falcon into the nifty (and pretty reliable) first generations of the Mustang, developing assembly and distribution lines that could cook up just about any option set imaginable, etc.

    What was it about making a new line of small cars that the titans bungled so badly? Simple lack of QC, new ideas they hadn't thought out fully, ill-trained workers, vodka-dipped wrenches...?
     
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  4. David Barnett

    David Barnett Poster Extraordinaire

    When they were both working up to spec, the Vega would be preferred. At least the Vega could corner a bit and had some moderate entertainment value. The Pacer may have been more sturdy, but it had nothing to offer for people who actually like driving.
     

  5. soulgeezer

    soulgeezer Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 5, 2006
    Sinatra's World
    Had a Pacer in the early '80s -- It was missing two quarter panels (to rust) and had no exhaust back from the manifold (yeah, it was FREAKIN' LOUD!). One day, driving down Route 287 South to a gig in Somerville, the engine started racing; the car wasn't speeding up, mind you, but the RPMs were through the roof.

    I pulled it over and lifted the hood. There was a nice, low, orange flame covering the entire top of the engine. I turned on the headlights, got in front of the car, put out my thumb, got a ride to the gig, and never looked back. I assume the car was eventually towed away and turned into soda cans.

    My mom had a Vega in the '70s. She had it less than one day and brought it back to the dealer. She couldn't even turn the wheel or make it stop, due to the fully manual steering and brakes. She traded it for a Plymouth Volare the same very same day she got it!

    I used to decorate my Pacer for the holidays. Ah, good times, good times...
     

  6. Obsessed

    Obsessed Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Nov 21, 2012
    Montana
    Part of the issue competing with the Japanese cars was not only fuel mileage, but price. The old Novas, Darts and Falcons were based on a separate chassis and the cost of assembly was too high to continue. Another issue that didn't catch on for awhile was front wheel drive. When you can place the entire assembled driveline in one shot, you are saving huge production time.
     

  7. Bob M

    Bob M Tele-Afflicted Silver Supporter

    May 11, 2011
    North of Boston
    The Gremlin was one of AMCs poorest efforts to be sure. The cars made through the 50s and 60s were great running solid cars. Your experience became common in the ownership of way too many American car models. A Gremlin-Vega comparison is a little more like it.
     
    boris bubbanov likes this.

  8. kelnet

    kelnet Telefied Ad Free Member

    Apr 17, 2008
    Port Moody, BC
    They probably had to redesign the entire car, rather than just shrink the existing platform. The focus on 4-cylinder cars probably forced them to come up with whole new platform to accommodate the smaller engines.
     

  9. kelnet

    kelnet Telefied Ad Free Member

    Apr 17, 2008
    Port Moody, BC
    Yeah, Chevy's first FWD car was the Citation, in 1980. They were a bit behind the times. The VW Rabbit and Honda Civic and Accord should have told them what was coming.
     
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  10. BobbyZ

    BobbyZ Doctor of Teleocity

    Jan 12, 2011
    Snellman MN
    The only thing I really know about the Fox was dad tried one out from a dealer over a weekend, liked it but didn't buy it.
    Sometime later I saw a "top ten worst cars" list and the Fox was on it along with the Pacer and Vega. I just remember giving him crap about it.
    My beef with the second gen Camaro was the lack of roll down windows in the back seat. I liked the older hardtops.
    That was actually a design change made mandatory in 73 to allow shoulder belts in the rear seats. Of course they didn't actually make those mandatory until 1988. . . . .
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2018

  11. boris bubbanov

    boris bubbanov Telefied Ad Free Member

    You're overlooking that many, possibly most, of the successful Japanese compacts were not FWD but were real wheel driven and in many instances used miniaturized copies of existing USA designs, boiled down to their essence and cooked very, very slowly and carefully.

    The earliest efforts by the Japanese, the FWD minicars, were often terrible. Thing about those early Subaru 360 thingies and little Hondas that weighed less than a Harley. With pathetic brakes. But the "real" car companies like Toyota and Datsun tended to import to the USA just 1-2 models and back home, the lineup was still pretty simple.

    I don't know if it mattered that the Japanese makers dumped their cars the first decade. Their advantage was, they weren't distracted trying to make a vehicle for each and every possible USA customer. T & D focused sharply and they tended not to ship anything that wouldn't pass muster. Their labor costs were lower, and they harbored no illusions that "Well, the Gov't can't tell us what to do - we intend to do things our own way!" It was a blessing, in a way, that Toyota and Datsun knew from the outset that if their cars were not "just right" for the customer, they could put their cars back on the ships and take them back to Japan. The USA makers kept thinking "We're Indispensable" and made decisions accordingly and the corporate leadership of these companies could not have been worse at this point. Like Iacocca.

    You know, many people still have a copy of Lee Iacocca's auto-biography and still think he was a visionary and an honorable man. He was a bum - but he said the things people wanted to hear and they adopted him and protected his legacy and his standing in society. They wanted to "like" him for reasons I can't place a finger on. Just garden variety collective stupidity, to embrace someone who made mostly all bad decisions and was essentially just in it for himself.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2018
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  12. Obsessed

    Obsessed Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Nov 21, 2012
    Montana
    Good point. It is true that Toyota pretty much stayed with rear wheel drive in the early 70s, but apparently they were selling their cars at below cost to establish their market in the states (illegal, but a common practice). I was in high school in 1971, when my friend's dad bought a new Toyo Celica GT. Nothing was made that well in the states, but one thing we noticed was the super thin sheet metal and one of my friends with his stubby pinky finger could flex the end of the all metal bumper (pre 5 MPH years) with it. Yup, us high school muscle car nuts were trying to find something wrong with it.
     

  13. kelnet

    kelnet Telefied Ad Free Member

    Apr 17, 2008
    Port Moody, BC
    A good friend of mine drove a 1972 Corolla while he was in college between 1979 and 1983. All kinds of things didn't work properly: the heater, the window winders, the speedometer, the trunk latch. It also had some major rust issues, but that thing kept on running. He always had to have towels in the car in the winter, though, to keep the windshield clear.
     

  14. BobbyZ

    BobbyZ Doctor of Teleocity

    Jan 12, 2011
    Snellman MN
    First Japanese car I had any experience with was a 74 Toyota, Corolla I think. My sister bought it while in college about 1981 for $100 and brought it home for me to "tune up". Needless to say it was pretty rusty! After the 74 Vega I didn't much care for little cars with 4 cylinders.
    First up I pulled the plugs and was amazed it still ran. The points were just as bad. Then I drained the oil and it looked like dirty roofing tar. The extremely dirty air filter was replaced.
    After that it ran pretty well so I took it for a spin, it lacked power and the gas pedal didn't feel like it went down very far. That turned out to be a rusted up choke gizmo. The carburetor was a two barrel progressive thing and it looked like the second throttle had been open in years, from the dirt on top of the throttle plate.
    So after a few garage hours, with a 16 year old mechanic. The darn with 100K plus miles, neglected, abused, rusted, and generally beat to hell ran really good. She sold it to my brother a year or two later for $100 and it went to Indiana where it eventually wound up in a junk yard.
    My sister's been a loyal Toyota owner ever since.
     

  15. BobbyZ

    BobbyZ Doctor of Teleocity

    Jan 12, 2011
    Snellman MN
    Something worth pointing out, or remembering for us old guys, is how long cars lasted in the 70's vs now.
    We all like to wax nostalgic about how great the cars were "back in the day". But the truth of the matter is 100,000 miles was about it for any of them. If you got that far a valve job, complete engine rebuilt, or engine swap, wasn't too far off. Oil consumption at "a quart to a thousand" was considered pretty good.
    A few things really changed that.
    Better oils for one, and I don't mean synthetic, all oil today is better than then. (please don't mention zink because if you know anything you'll know that was added because Ford found it necessary during development of the 2.3 Pinto engine, it become a Ford spec and oil companies just incorporated what the big three specified)
    Getting rid of carburetors in favor of electronic fuel injection. That significantly reduced unburned petrol going past the rings on cold start up.
    Oh yeah and getting lead out of the gasoline. (shocking isn't it) For one thing it forced the manufacturers to use better valve seats. The other thing is way less carbon, that built up in the combustion chamber. Or found its way into the oil.
    These days we think nothing of driving cars in excess of 200,000 miles, without even taking off the valve cover!
    Automotive machine shops are now few and far between and mostly specializing in the classic car market. Gas stations with mechanics on duty are no longer on every corner.
    But we talk about the old cars like they ran for ever. But the truth is they're still running because they're just really easy to work on.
    In reality they were all junk. :)
     
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  16. Obsessed

    Obsessed Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Nov 21, 2012
    Montana
    It is amazing what computers can do today to keep modern era cars running longer and more efficiently, but at the end of the day, newer vehicles are throwaways. Yup, too expensive to repair, just toss it in some landfill and bury our consumeristic first world waste from eyesight. A travesty. The old cars can run forever and are easy to work on, but no one wants to do that anymore. Inconvenient.:rolleyes:
     
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  17. william tele

    william tele Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Nov 7, 2009
    Kansas City, MO
    The cool thing about those first little tiny Hondas was that you didn't need a jack. If you had a flat you just needed a buddy...
     
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  18. Boomhauer

    Boomhauer Friend of Leo's

    Aug 18, 2013
    Michigan
    Rose colored glasses, dude. This entire thread is about classic vehicles that broke down after 60,000 miles. My wife's "throwaway" car is over 200,000 on the odometer, with the original engine, transmission, and drivetrain. Maintenance is easy enough... I can't sit on the fender and rebuild the engine, but I'm happy with the crumple zones and added safety that a modern front end offers.

    Hell, the tires on my old car had more miles than some of your "classics" did when you had to rebuild em. But, I rebuilt the engine on that throwaway car, and got 30,000 more miles before it totally crapped the bed at 170k.
     
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  19. mexicanyella

    mexicanyella Tele-Holic

    737
    Jan 26, 2012
    Troy, MO
    I have heard a lot of people say things like this about Cavaliers, but I had a good Cavalier experience. I was driving a '78 CJ-5 in the late 90s, and its frame was about to rust in half just ahead of the rear axle. I was in college still and needed something cheap, quickly. A co-worker had a '87 Cavalier with rusty rocker panels, a falling headliner and a fetching paint scheme that I'll call "Shoreline Turd Metallic," complete with bubbling tan accent stripes. I had to put a scrapyard transaxle in it because it came to me with a grenaded pressure plate, but that was cheap and not too hard. I ripped out the headliner, found a set of the wider alloy Z24 wheels and put those on it for a little more rubber, did a little exhaust work, replaced a CV shaft and some brake pads and with maybe $1200 total in the car proceded to drive it for about 70-80K.

    It was not pretty and my good experience with it went hand-in-hand with liking to work on cars and having a ready supply of cheap spares at the local salvage yard. But with the Z24 wheels and new struts it handled pretty well, the alumium-head 2.0L was a steady, reliable, adequate runner and overall the car served me well, with guitars and amps crammed in the back seat coming and going to practices and gigs.

    It warped the head and started sucking coolant and running on 3 cylinders at about 180K, and by that time the front end was squirrely and the rust was BAD. So I retired it, but not without some regrets.
     
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  20. BobbyZ

    BobbyZ Doctor of Teleocity

    Jan 12, 2011
    Snellman MN
    It works out though, at least here in the "rust belt". Because by the time you have major problems the car is rusted to the point that it's not worth fixing anyway.
    My 01 BMW 525i wagon is at that point, I absolutely love the car and it's the best handling car I've ever had on ice. But it's starting to rust after 17 years in Minnesota, only shows on one rocker panel but there's always more. At 212,000 miles if anything expensive goes wrong it's hitting the road.
    If I lived in the southwest I'd be more inclined to spend more in repairs. But up here rust never sleeps. :)
     

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