Mad Men, aside from being a fascinating look at how booze-soaked office jobs used to be, also frequently provides some compelling views into automotive history, as seen through the lens of advertising. This week's episode referenced a new Chevy project called the XP-887 project. We know it as the Vega.
This is one of those cases where we get to laugh at the chumps in the past because we know better by virtue of being born more recently. But it's interesting to think about the unnamed-Vega as it was not-known then: a technological leap for GM, incorporating GM's first all cast-aluminum engine.
This was big news for GM at the time, and everything about the project was out of the ordinary for the General. It was a small team, headed by the vehicle's chief engineer, with the goal of developing the car in a rapid two years. The end result was a car that, on paper, still seems pretty exciting today: a small RWD two-door sedan, or, even better, a two-door wagon they called the Kammback. It had an OHV aluminum engine block, was cheap, and looked, at least in the first generation, great. I'm a sucker for that fish-mouth grille bisected by the thin bumper blade.
Off paper and onto metal, however, things changed a lot. The Vega has one of the worst reputations of any American car, something that it earned by its uncanny ability to rust into orange powder if you so much as looked at it with a moist eyeball. There were several causes of this, including Fisher Body's rustproofing being inadequate for Earth-bound use (their method left the crucial inside front fender tops unprotected), and the bean-counters' desire to save $2.28/car left the Vega without any protective lining inside of the fenders. As a result, they rusted incredibly quickly and GM had to spend millions fixing customer cars.
So, as you watch upcoming Mad Men episodes, be sure to enjoy the schadenfreude of knowing that this absolutely crucial account is ultimately doomed.
But, damn, that rusty shitbox was pretty.
UPDATE: It was late, and I typed the wrong project number. But the show did use the Vega's number. I checked, and it's fixed in here. Thanks for catching that!