Open Menu
Open Menu

The Difference in a Decade: Chevrolet’s 1972 Vega and 1982 Cavalier brochures

Published in

Images are from the brochure collection of Hemmings Motor News, courtesy of Bruce Zahor

Chevrolet’s innovative Corvair never caught on as a best-selling, economy-minded import fighter, and the last ones rolled off the assembly line in 1969. This automaker would re-enter the small car segment in 1971 with the fresh Vega. This rear-wheel-drive GM H-body two-door, whose sister twin was Pontiac’s Astre, would get off to a strong start (277,700 sold that year), and would be available in hatchback Coupe, notchback Sedan, Wagon and the panel-side wagon Truck.

The volume-line Vega was a genuinely attractive small car with a 1970 Camaro-inspired nose and, in Coupe form, something of a Ferrari 365 GT 2+2 look in profile, and from the rear quarter. Even the sporty Vega Wagon — and the oddly-named Truck — had vaguely Volkswagen Type 3 Squareback lines about it, right down to the rear fender vents.

The 1972 Vega line ranged from $2,060 to $2,285, the rough equivalent of $12,275-$13,617 today. Although hindsight tells us these cars would soon develop an unfortunate reputation for body rust and engine issues, that year’s brochure was filled with first-year owner superlatives. (And with photos that included assembly line workers painting a car with no breathing protection!) Americans bought up an even more impressive 394,614 units, all having emerged from the assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, and some having traveled to dealerships via the innovative Vert-A-Pac rail car system.


Sales continued to boom, and Chevrolet would build the one-millionth Vega in 1973, on May 20, to be precise. The H-body platform would also spawn Chevrolet’s Monza, a car that would outlast the Vega, which ended production in 1977.

The subcompact Chevette hatchback would be Chevrolet’s entry-level car from 1976, but the Vega’s many-things-to-many-people niche would be filled in 1982 by the new Cavalier family.


Built off GM’s new J-body platform -noted for its transverse-mounted engine and front-wheel drive- the Cavalier’s siblings included the Pontiac J2000, Oldsmobile Firenza, Buick Skyhawk and the infamous Cadillac Cimarron. Chevy’s versions were plainly styled in GM’s typical early-1980s mold, and even the sportiest fastback “Type-10” hatch had simple, pizzazz-free lines (and would never be compared to a Ferrari). The availability of four doors in the Sedan and Station Wagon variants made the Cavalier even more family-friendly, and compared to the Vega — which noted the addition of a glovebox as a major improvement for 1972! — it was fairly well equipped from the start, with a standard radio, rear defroster, remote trunk/hatch release, and power front disc/rear drum brakes. Illustrating how far inflation had moved car prices in 10 years, Cavalier MSRPs ranged from $6,278 to $8,452, the rough equivalent of today’s $15,702-$21,140.

The 1982 Cavalier brochure attempted to underline the upscale intent of the new car with some pretty snazzy settings and models, including a yacht club and private airfield, plus the “I wear my sunglasses at night” dude on page 11, a tuxedo-clad gent on page 16 and the high-flying executive lady on page 17.  Fun stuff!

The Cavalier would soldier on through 1994 (albeit with a couple of minor facelifts and the addition of sportier coupe and convertible body styles) in this basic iteration, and live through a second generation (1995-2005). Do you have any Vega or Cavalier memories?

Click on the images below to enlarge.