January 30, 2023

Classic Wheels Spotlight: 1974 Vega Panel Express

Brad Stevens and his 1974 Vega Panel Express

Photos by Steve Rubens - 1974 Vega Panel Express Front

Terms like collectible and rare are often used to describe cars. Brad Stevens, the second owner of a 1974 Vega he has owned for 45 years, says his – is neither. If anything, he describes it as an ‘oddity.’

Huge displacement and multi-carbureted muscle cars of the sixties gave way to fuel efficiency and catalytic converters in the seventies. C’mon, if we hadn’t started conserving fuel back then gas prices would be skyrocketing now! Hot-Rodders still wanted to go fast, but they didn’t want to stop for gas twice a day.

Small block V8 engines infested with horsepower in lightweight packages would still give the thrill of acceleration. The Pintos, Datsun 240 Z’s, and even Vega’s became Frankenstein monsters for these transplanted V8 engines.

Photos by Steve Rubens - 1974 Vega Panel Express Rear

Brad Stevens’ unusual Vega started life as a Panel Express truck. It was produced with sheet metal side panels instead of station wagon windows. It was originally delivered with only a driver’s seat, a four-cylinder engine, and three-speed manual transmission. Plus, those metal sides weigh a lot less than glass! This car, somewhat pampered but always driven hard, has had seven engines (not including the four-banger) with only 42,000 miles on its wheels.

Currently powered by a custom-built 420 c.i. small block race engine, it produces 600 horsepower. Brad thought that was a bit wimpy so he added a 150-hp nitrous oxide system, bringing horsepower to 750 and 700 pounds of torque.

Although the car was a four-speed for many years, it was converted to an automatic in a quest for quarter-mile performance. At the dragstrip, however, officials frowned upon how fast the car was. Timing equipment indicated a roll cage was required. At the risk of turning a fun streetcar into an all-out race car, a four-speed is once again in place.

Photos by Steve Rubens - 1974 Vega Panel Express Interior

There are also many custom touches to the car. Stevens installed a front fascia integrating two Vega grills for a unique second-generation Camaro look, also aiding cooling.

If wondering, plenty of safety equipment is built into the car. Four-wheel disc brakes, a driveshaft loop, a beefy Ford rear end, chassis strengthening, two fire extinguishers, and upgraded steering.

However, it’s still a Vega. Leave it out in the rain on Thursday and the recyclers will pick it up for scrap next Monday. Brad could have bought a house with the value of the muscle car he sold in 1974 – but everyone has one of those stories. He says it may not be a classic but he would not trade his Rolodex of memories from this Vega, which puts it in the real wheel spotlight.

Photos by Steve Rubens - 1974 Vega Panel Express Engine