Open Menu
Open Menu

Reminiscing – The Chevrolet Vega engine line

Published in

1971 Chevrolet Vega 2300 Hatchback Coupe. Photo courtesy GM Media.

[Editor’s note: This “Reminiscing” story, edited by Richard Lentinello, comes to us from Hemmings Classic Car reader Ricky Rupp.]

When I was 20 years old I was employed as an assembler at the Chevrolet Engine Plant in Tonawanda, New York.  I started out working in Plant 1 on the Mark IV assembly line putting in crankshafts in 454-cubic inch V-8 engines. This was in late 1973.

I had been bumped by a higher seniority worker to Plant 4, which built the Chevrolet Vega engine. My first job there was as an inspector on the assembly line just before “hook-up”, which was the job where the pistons were put in the engine block. My second job on the Vega assembly was placing the small Vega engine blocks onto the assembly line. The aluminum blocks weighed only 37 pounds each, and were just picked up by hand off plastic liners on pallets and bolted to the assembly line with a 3/8-inch bolt that was about two inches long.  I also learned a few other jobs there as well.

One such job was at the final end of the Vega assembly line where the engines were taken off the line and had to be hung onto an overhead chain line; this line then took the engines to the test area where they were fired up, the timing set and sound bars put against the blocks to listen for any knocks, etc. This end of the line job included screwing a quick disconnect pipe fitting into the block which filled the engines with oil in a very short amount of time – perhaps 15 to 20 seconds each.

As for the Cosworth twin-cam, those engines were assembled in a room which had a constant cool temperature setting. I had an inspector chum that worked in that room on 2nd shift and assembled the Cosworth engines by hand. I would go into that engine room during the hot summer days on my 23 minute breaks to cool off.

I continually got laid off during my time working there due to the gas crisis of the 1970s. I never went back there after my final layoff as I moved out of New York and missed my recall rights. I finished up my working days as a school bus ASE Certified Master technician which was a rewarding job as I helped get children to school safely. I am now retired and enjoy working on my 1964 Plymouth Fury and am currently restoring a 1984 Dodge Rampage pickup slowly but surely.