The Vega. Debuted in the fall of 1970 as Chevrolet's next entry into the small car market, it was plagued with major quality issues, and after seven model years was killed by Chevrolet. But while the Vega failed with mainstream customers, it excelled at the dragstrip. In the new Pro Stock categories, the Vega found its niche with racers like Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins, who stuffed big motors between the little car's fenders and wide tires out back, to come up with 97-inch wheelbase quarter-mile missiles that ruled during the '70s. Hot rodders loved it, too.
Ed Bruce was one of many who watched from the stands as hot shoes like Jenkins, Bruce Larson, Paul Blevins, Scott Shafiroff, Malcolm Durham, and others duked it out on dragstrips across America at major meets and match races. The idea of a small car with big engine and tires stuffed into it firmly planted itself in Ed's brain, and when the opportunity came up in 2003 to buy a local '74 Vega race car, he just couldn't say no. After selling his '70 Nova race car and some other stuff, Ed brought the Vega home, and began a massive teardown and rebuild.
The entire car was stripped down-every nut and bolt. Anything that needed replacing or fixing was taken care of. The four-link suspension the car already had was rebuilt with new Heim joints and coilovers, and the Dana 60 rear overhauled with more "street-friendly" gears, Moser axles, and its spool replaced with a Posi-equipped differential. Up front, new tubular control arms were installed along with coilover shocks. Aerospace disc brakes were hung on all four corners to give the little Bow Tie plenty of stopping power.
On the body, Ed completely cut out the floor and existing wheel tubs and redid everything from scratch for a nice, clean look along with a tube chassis for extra strength. When the car was purchased, it had a fiberglass front clip, along with a 'glass decklid. Ed swapped them with a racer who had the factory sheetmetal he desired. Throughout the hunt for body parts and interior pieces, eBay became Ed's best friend for locating hard to find pieces. A seller in Washington state had all the door mechanicals necessary to make the side windows functional again, and a friend helped track down some replacement door windows that were hiding on a shelf in another state.
For power, Ed bought a 454 block from a friend, then hit an eBay sale for an Eagle rotating assembly with SRP 10:1 pistons to stuff in it. Now measuring 489 cubes, the short-block was topped with Edelbrock RPM heads attached with ARP head studs, a Weiand Team G intake and Quick Fuel 850-cfm carb. A COMP Cams hydraulic roller keeps the valvetrain in sync with the crankshaft. The air/fuel mixture is lit off by an MSD 6AL ignition, while custom 2-inch diameter headers dispose of exhaust gas through a set of Spintech mufflers. A C&R Racing aluminum radiator keeps the Rat cool. Assembled by Michael Chavis and Willie Rozier, the engine puts out an estimated 600 hp. Jimmy Jackson put together a bulletproof Powerglide trans with TCI 4200 stall converter to handle all the torque.
With the car all put together, Ed's friend Mark Tyner did the finishing bodywork, then sprayed the Vega in two-stage PPG black. It rolls on Weld Aluma Star 15-inch wheels all around, with Mickey Thompson Sportsman rubber out back to help the car hook. Inside, Kirkey race seats covered in tweed keep driver and passenger comfortable, and the only music option available in the Vega is from the thumpin' porcupine motor between the fenders.
Since its completion, Ed has loved every minute of driving and showing the car, and appreciates all the help Mark Tyner, his son Richard, nephew Willie, and others gave him to build such a great street machine. The fact that Ed can cruise to the track, fire off a 9-second pass, then cruise on home makes the Vega that much more fun.