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AMC Pacer vs Chevy Vega.

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

  1. BobbyZ

    BobbyZ Doctor of Teleocity

    Jan 12, 2011
    Snellman MN
    The which is worse thread got me thinking about these two fine examples of 1970s automotive technology.
    My dad had a knack for buying cars off the top ten worst cars list. Heck he almost bought an Audi Fox !
    However he did buy a 75 Pacer and a 74 Vega so I have personal experience with those and my opinions are largely based on that.
    First up the Pacer. Ours had the 258 six, automatic in over 100,000 miles they gave no problems. Which is a good thing when you look under the hood!
    Pacers were designed around a rotary engine. Mazda got the rights to that or something and at that point in the development, they just stuffed piston engines in.
    The only real problem I rember with it was broken door and window handles. Given the size of those, the hardware should've been beefed up.
    My older brother took it off to college and I don't recall what happened to it from there. But it had well over 100,000 miles on it at that point and had been driven by teenagers. A tough car really.
    The Vega? From the sleeveless aluminum engine to the water born paint that car was a POS. At 40,000 miles it burned an almost equal amount of oil and gasoline. It was rusted everywhere possible. It drove like a cheap car, stopped like a cheap car and took forever to get up to 60 mph. Just an all around horrible excuse for a car.
    It maybe had a bit over 50,000 miles when it went to the scrap yard.
    By the time I was doing mechanic work in Dallas Texas 1984/85 I tuned up exactly one Vega with its original engine. I did Pacers and even Gremlins all the time because they were still running.
    My contention is, as they rolled of the assembly line, the Pacer was far and away a better car than the Vega.

    I'm curious if someone can come up with an intelligent argument that a Vega, not capable of running 100,000 miles without an engine rebuilt or an external oil tank, was the better car. :)
  2. aerhed

    aerhed Tele-Afflicted

    Dec 24, 2016
    Boulder, WY
    Roommate in college had a Pacer. We called it the fishbowl. Wavy windows gave you a headache every time you were in it.
  3. Brad Pittiful

    Brad Pittiful Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Dec 22, 2008
    Philly Burbs
    cosworth vega was the sporty offering in the sure it was as bad as any vega with the exception of the engine since it was the only thing worth while in the car
    rz350, BobbyZ and dented like this.
  4. Hobs

    Hobs Tele-Meister

    Sep 16, 2011
    Nashville, TN
    Your observations match mine. I knew several people that had each. The drivetrain of the Pacer was probably more reliable than an average car of the day. They were just ugly. The Vegas often didn't make it even 50k miles without catastrophic failure.
    Cars in general were awful back then. They had lost the simplicity of the earlier models, but didn't have the better engine metallurgy and other improvements that came later. They wouldn't start in the cold. They overheated when it was hot. Transmission rebuilds at 30k miles were not rare. The body panels were crooked, and they leaked in the rain. They rusted into uselessness even in milder climates. Large rust holes right through the body on cars that were five years old. The 1974 to 1981 era was particularly bad.
  5. stratofortress

    stratofortress Tele-Afflicted

    Oct 25, 2011
    The only redeeming feature of the Vega were the front bucket seats.
    Three of the 4 alignment bolts fit right into a 69 Camaro.
    Just cut off the 4th one.

    Great seats..
    drlucky and BobbyZ like this.
  6. imwjl

    imwjl Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 21, 2007
    My mom's basement.
    My step-grandfather bought the Pacer wagon for his delivery vehicle. The wagon had a much better look, and was a car way ahead of its time. Friends had Vegas to also prove the Pacer's 6 cal engine was much more durable and reliable.

    Maybe it was the trim/model, but that Pacer wagon also handled very well compared to other small cars I drove in same era and compared to standard domestic cars of the day.

    Pacer was one of quite a few products in Nash/Rambler/AMC heritage that were innovative.


    That's what my step-grandfather got for his zipper repair, retail and wholesale business. In a shocking reminder of how the world changed, my immigrant grandparents made a fine middle to upper middle class living in essence mending clothes and selling zippers on a mostly local scale. The Pacer wagon had a bar with repairs or to be repairs coats or boxes or envelopes of zippers for tailors and seamstresses.

    I supposed something like a Forester or RAV4, CRV would be it today. I see the home their Pacer parked at is now a wealth neighborhood with everything $500,000 - $1,200,000.

    What a flashback.

    Last edited: Feb 11, 2018
  7. archetype

    archetype Fiend of Leo's Silver Supporter

    Jun 4, 2005
    Williamsville NY
    No experience with the Pacer, but back then I was told they were a safety problem in accidents. Put one on its head and the windows popped out.

    My girlfriend's father was the head of R&D at Allison in Indianapolis, IN, so he got a good GM discount. He bought my girlfriend's older sister a '71 or '72 Vega hatchback that I drove once. Going around corners, and even in a straight line, it felt like it had hinge in the middle of the chassis.

    I remember seeing what I estimated to be at least 100 used Vega short blocks in a huge pile behind a Chevy dealership. They had been doing factory authorized engine swaps after Chevy developed a Vega block with some kind of cylinder sleeves. A coworker had a Vega that was undrivable at 25,000 miles, burning as much oil as gas at that point.
    bender66, BobbyZ and RoscoeElegante like this.
  8. archetype

    archetype Fiend of Leo's Silver Supporter

    Jun 4, 2005
    Williamsville NY
    The Cosworth apparently suffered as much Vegaitis as the standard models. They sold extremely slowly, as the price to value ratio was terrible. Wikipedia claims 3,508 cars were made. They were priced $900 below the 1975 Chevy Corvette.

    People price used ones like they were gold, but they sell about as non-readily as they used to.
    drlucky, BobbyZ and RoscoeElegante like this.
  9. Censport

    Censport Tele-Holic

    Oct 1, 2010
    They both make great drag cars.
    awasson, drlucky, Kreepy and 4 others like this.
  10. kelnet

    kelnet Telefied Ad Free Member

    Apr 17, 2008
    Port Moody, BC
    I like the look of the Vega more than the look of the Pacer. It was a bit like a mini-Camaro.

  11. archetype

    archetype Fiend of Leo's Silver Supporter

    Jun 4, 2005
    Williamsville NY
    I'd guess that 99% of Vegas operating under their own power are Vega body shells on tube frames with V8 drag engines.

    Now that I think about it, last year I was stunned to see a stock Vega on the street. There's no way they should still exist.
  12. Boomhauer

    Boomhauer Friend of Leo's

    Aug 18, 2013
    [sarc]They don't build em like they used to! Cars these days are so cheap with plastic everywhere. Can't get a good metal car like you could back in the day![/sarc]
    Paul G. and RoscoeElegante like this.
  13. RoscoeElegante

    RoscoeElegante Friend of Leo's

    Feb 19, 2015
    +infinity on how bad the Vega was.
    Girlfriend/1st wife/ex #1 had one that became ours when we joined forces. A '74, bought second-hand.

    Her dad was an excellent mechanic. Worked at Massey-Ferguson, had worked on automotive assembly lines, could fix anything. Her brother and nearby brother-in-law were just as handy about engines and things automotive.

    Even with their skills at rebuilding the engine twice within a 20,000 span, and lots of trips to the shop when they weren't available, the damn thing didn't last to 60,000 miles.

    My favorite events:

    Both windows crashing to pieces inside the doors within a week, when the doors were just shut with average force. The rust had crept up and down into the doors, rotting out the frame mountings.

    Finding that, on a four-bolt mounting of something in the inner gizzards, one of the bolts was metric and just jammed in there at an angle. While three of four had been put on so badly, the threads were stripped.

    Back trunk seal finally and abruptly going, leaving us a foot-thick, stubbornly stuck pond of ice in the trunk after a heavy rain followed by a quick cold snap. Hammering into your trunk with a pickaxe was a new for me. Didn't help that the bottom of the trunk was so rusty that the trunk floor just broke away. Got the ice out, but should have just let it thaw when Spring came, and leak out the many rust holes below.

    A wheel--not a tire; a wheel--snapping off on a 25mph turn.

    The gear shift snapping off in my hand.

    Watching the road go by below when you lifted up either front floor mat.

    Gauging tire tread by looking down through the front fender's rot-through.

    Listening to the pretty, diminishing tinkle of cascading rust flakes when you shut either door.

    We had that thing in Buffalo through those fierce late-'70s/early-'80s winters. In the city, with the road salt. = Doom, compressed.

    Sold it down South, to which it barely limped, shrieking through oil all the way, to a guy who wanted a back-up car for his motorcycle for $200. Felt bad taking his money, and warned him, but he said he knew what he was getting into.

    I hope he survived, and forgave us.

    I've been tempted, but have not--cannot--buy a Chevy since.
  14. dented

    dented Poster Extraordinaire Platinum Supporter

    Apr 17, 2006
    Back at the Beach
    Yep, after seeing Grumpy Jenkins and Bill Blanding race V8 Vegas we all had to have one. My friend Kenny did get one. I have never been in a Pacer. Never knew anyone that owned one. If I was guessing I would say the Vega would last longer. But I know the original motors were left in pieces many times.
    RoscoeElegante likes this.
  15. RoscoeElegante

    RoscoeElegante Friend of Leo's

    Feb 19, 2015
    Yes, if you have strong sled dogs....
    drlucky, bender66 and BobbyZ like this.
  16. Censport

    Censport Tele-Holic

    Oct 1, 2010
    The remaining 1% are Cosworths. Except for that wagon that turns up at local cars & coffee events here. Very mint, orange with wood trim, has a Carter/Mondale bumper sticker on the back. A real time capsule.
  17. P Thought

    P Thought Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

    My first thought when I saw the thread title was, what do you have against the Pacer that's so bad you'd match it against a Vega in a question like this?
  18. boredguy6060

    boredguy6060 Friend of Leo's

    Mar 28, 2012
    Sou Cal
    Vega’s were all prone to overheating, and neither the Cosworth or the standard engine could survive much overheating.
    Aluminum heads warped very easily, the sleeveless piston caused a lot of wear if overheated.
    Horrible engine.
    But they looked nice, that was the only selling point, styling.
  19. Toronto Tele

    Toronto Tele Tele-Meister

    Mar 17, 2016
    Toronto, Canada
    My dad bought a '76 Pacer as his first new car. It was burgundy with the up level cloth / vinyl seats with AC. It had the 258 straight 6 cylinder and was a pretty reliable and tough (but ugly!) car. It had to be repainted after 2 years because the original paint would rub off when dad waxed it. He had to argue with the dealer for quite some time to get it covered under warrantee.

    I still remember the AMC television ads for the Pacer, to emphasize the full sized car width and spaciousness they had a "chef" in the back seat putting together a 4 foot long submarine sandwich as the driver took them to the customer! :)
  20. P Thought

    P Thought Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

    I bet that's $200 you wish you had back.
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