Home » Malaise-Era Manuals, And Yes, They Both Run: 1975 Chevy Vega vs 1977 Ford Mustang II

Malaise-Era Manuals, And Yes, They Both Run: 1975 Chevy Vega vs 1977 Ford Mustang II

Sbsd 3 7 2023

Good morning! On today’s Shitbox Showdown, we’re taking a look at two cars from Detroit’s darkest days that have somehow survived. But before we do that, let’s finish up with yesterday’s all-wheel-drive oddities:

Screen Shot 2023 03 06 At 4.57.01 Pm

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Looks like it’s the Previa. Good choice, I think; those things seem to run forever, and everyone who has them loves them. All-wheel-drive is just the icing on the cake. Shame it’s not one of the supercharged ones, though.

Today’s choices are decidedly not known for running forever, and nobody loves them. American cars from the mid-70s through about 1983 or so are basically useless: they were badly made, and their smog-strangled engines ran like crap and made essentially no power. Why would anyone want one? Well, they are a rare sight, which makes them conversation starters, and at least one of these is actually really cool-looking. Inspired by that complete unicorn of a Buick Century that Jason posted yesterday morning, I specifically chose two standard transmissions. Neither of these was exactly uncommon with a stickshift, but as rare as they are these days, it’s still cool to see “ordinary” cars with three pedals on the floor.

1975 Chevrolet Vega hatchback – $4,000

00k0k Ioaems8tehf 0ci0t2 1200x900


Engine/drivetrain: 2.3 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, RWD

Location: Mulino, OR

Odometer reading: unknown

Runs/drives? Damn right it does

Yep. A Vega. General Motors’s biggest mistake of the 1970s, an import-fighter that gained notoriety for rust, overheating, and shoddy construction. As it turns out, rushing an all-new car into production and letting the accounting department make engineering decisions was a bad idea. Cost-cutting measures on rustproofing made the front fenders trap water and rust out, and the sophisticated aluminum engine topped by a cheaper cast-iron cylinder head was a recipe for blown head gaskets. Chevy built two million Vegas, and this is one of probably, what, seventeen left?


00202 Copnxsdaepe 0ci0t2 1200x900

The worst part is that the Vega is actually a really good-looking little car. It’s got sharp lines and good proportions, and made a good counterpart to its big brother the Camaro. And somehow, the aftermarket turbine wheels and fiberglass J.C. Whitney rear spoiler on this one make it even better.

00101 55jes1jtazc 0ci0t2 1200x900

The orange-red paint and black-and-white interior scream Seventies, and in a good way, in my opinion. The vinyl upholstery is trashed, but that can be remedied, and somehow this Vega mostly dodged the rust bullet. What rust there was has been patched. And it’s a hatchback, which is even better; Vegas were also available as a two-door sedan or wagon, but the hatchback is the one to have.

00g0g Fqzwqmr1wak 0t20ci 1200x900


Under the hood, this car still has a 2.3 liter “Dura-Built” (what a name) engine, though apparently it’s not the original. This one has been breathed on a little with an Offenhauser intake and a big Holley carb, and sends power to the rear axle through a five-speed manual. The car’s original 2.3, connected to a two-speed Powerglide automatic, are included in the sale. The seller says this car runs and drives fine, and just needs some fine-tuning yet.

1977 Ford Mustang II – $2,000

00v0v Kovj7svk7mm 0ci0t2 1200x900

Engine/drivetrain: 2.3 liter overhead cam inline 4, four-speed manual, RWD

Location: Sacramento, CA

Odometer reading: 169,000 miles


Runs/drives? Hell yes

While Chevy was busy re-engineering the Vega on their customers’ dime, Ford put their Mustang on a much-needed diet, and in the process created a sales success and a pariah at the same time. It’s common knowledge that everybody hated the Mustang II. It’s the butt of a million jokes, its very existence is all but denied by Mustang fans, and its introduction in 1974 is commonly cited these days as kicking off the malaise era in the first place. So why did everybody buy one?

00z0z 8xy0jdkw1z0 0by0dx 1200x900

This particular Mustang II is powered by the base 2.3 liter four, an engine that outlived this car by decades, and went on to power zillions of Ranger pickups. With only 88 horses on tap, it doesn’t exactly measure up to the performance benchmark of the Mustangs of yore, or today, for that matter. At least this one is backed by a four-speed stick; this engine with an automatic can’t punch its way through a wet paper towel. This car runs well, and has current registration, so it has that going for it.

00n0n L1kk6yv1c4i 0gi0c9 1200x900


It’s pretty scruffy inside, and has surface rust where its paint used to be outside, but it seems solid. A few shiny parts here and there show that someone has been fixing it up, but it also has badly cracked and dry-rotted tires. “Drive it home today,” the ad says, but not on those, unless you’re headed straight to Discount Tire.

00101 4lyxbrzuydu 09b06i 1200x900

Sadly, it’s the ugliest possible Mustang II: not only is it a notchback, but it has that ridiculous landau roof. Personal luxury coupes were all the rage in the late ’70s, and apparently someone at Ford thought a pint-sized one was a good idea. There are good-looking Mustang IIs, but this isn’t one of them. But it’s an endangered species, so maybe you can’t be too picky. And at least it’s a stick.

Okay, yes; these cars are awful. No one in their right mind would buy them, then or now. And yet… either one of these would be an instant conversation-starter at any car gathering. And stuffing their respective corporate small V8s into either one is a time-honored hot rodding tradition. “Good” muscle cars and classics are getting expensive, so why not look at some cheaper options? But which one?


(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

Share on facebook
Share on whatsapp
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

I am proud to say my first car was a Mustang Cobra. I just leave out the part about it being a ‘77 Mustang II “Cobra”. By the time I bought it there was more Bondo than sheet metal.

Shooting Brake Advocate
Shooting Brake Advocate
1 year ago

The Vega’s hood opens in the correct direction, but the Mustang II had the trunk lid rack, so I gotta go with the Mustang on this one.

Full disclosure, I have an absolute nasty crush on these ’70s, low-power, barebones, RWD econo-cars – both domestic and the imports they were built to compete with.

Hell, I’d even drive a Pinto, especially if it were the 2 door wagon model.

Drunken Master Paul
Drunken Master Paul
1 year ago

I wince at the price, but Vega. I drove one when I was made of rubber and magic that had a 350 dropped in it and it was terrifying/orgasmic. Relatively easy swap, lots of adapter kits available for it, boneyard or crate, notarize your will, and go have fun

Brau Beaton
Brau Beaton
1 year ago

Owned a 72 Vega. Short wheel base, wide stance, well planted, light. The original aluminium engine was lively and wonderful, until it wasn’t. Loved driving it. Yup, it began smoking badly at 50,000. Sold it. Despite all the flak I got, I still feel the urge to own another one … with an upgraded engine of course.

Team Ipschminkey
Team Ipschminkey
1 year ago

Vega…..it’s the turbine wheels! Add a header and a glass pack and it’s mood rings and bell bottoms baby!

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
1 year ago

All things being equal, I would go with the Mustang.

But in this case, all things are NOT equal.

So the Vega for me in this particular case.

Phillip Block
Phillip Block
1 year ago

I have a mild respect for both of those cars, although my immediate preference would be for the Vega. Our family has owned both, way-back-when, and both were capable of delivering the goods for the time period, albeit with more frequent repairs and tuning. It has to be remembered that nearly all American cars were afflicted with an unpredictable range of quality and reliability issues. Younger people at the time tended to beat the daylights out of their cars and not maintain them as recommended by the manuals. This was ’70’s technology and engineering and can’t fairly be compared to the standards of cars from 20 years later. In terms of how people feel about them now, I’d encourage anyone to visit a Vega tribute page on facebook. The number of subscribers are growing exponentially, and their stories range all over the place, both good and bad. But nearly all wish they had their original Vegas back.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x