David Cartwright's 383-powered V-8 Vega
"I had just sold my '73 RS Camaro and I didn't want to build another Camaro. There are '69 Camaros and blown Willys ad nauseum, so I wanted something a little different." That's the kind of statement usually uttered by some guy in a yellow or blue Camaro about red '69 Camaros. But when David Cartwright is talking about his '73 Vega, the words hold a little more truth. There was a time when V-8 Vegas were as numerous as Britney Spears' tabloid escapades. Two decades later, though, this mini-musclecar conversion is a rarity.
David really wasn't looking for a Vega. He saw an ad for the econocar in the local newspaper and decided to check it out. It turned out to be a grandpa-fresh '73 Vega hatchback owned by a lady in her 70s, with barely 60,000 miles on the clock. The Vega was in El Cajon, California, east of San Diego, where cars never rust (or so the song says), and even at $3,000, David thought it was a deal and drove it home.
He didn't waste any time. The rehabilitation from the Geritol-powered four-cylinder automatic to the unibody-twisting 383 four-speed took only 13 months, "and I had to wait six months for the motor," David says. David owns a body shop in Encinitas, California, so he knew the Vega was in great shape, which would save him some time. While the bodywork began, David went hunting for an engine. "I did a lot of research on the Internet and found this place in North Carolina that does NASCAR engines. I figure anybody that can build a NASCAR-style engine that will last for two or three hours at wide-open throttle is good enough for me." That place was T&L Engine Development in Stanfield, North Carolina, which wrangled up a 383ci small-block stroker that not only was streetable, but also cranked out 427 hp at a very reliable 5,200 rpm. The motor fit better with a set of Sanderson V-8 Vega swap headers that according to David offered a bunch more ground clearance. Even so, it still took David eight hours working alone to get that engine and trans nestled in place. "It's a tight squeeze."