Hammer Time! A 1974 Chevrolet Vega GT Gets an Overhaul

Ray and Anne Davis in front of the Vega.
Ray and Anne Davis in front of the Vega.

This beautiful 1974 Chevrolet  Vega GT belongs to Anne and Ray Davis of Ormond Beach, Fl. Purchased in 2004 from a classified listing, the Vega was Ray’s answer to lifelong dreams of building a hot rod.  It also became a true family affair, both during its restoration and afterwards.

While acquiring the Vega merely required a trip to Alabama, restoring the Vega to its former glory turned into a four year saga just to get the motor replaced. For the first five years of ownership, Ray ran the original four cylinder aluminum block engine native to the Vega, but after attending the Daytona Turkey Run in 2008, a decision had to be made: rebuild the 4-cylinder, install a Cosworth Vega motor, or swap to a Chevy V-8.  The small block won out.

For the next four years, Ray’s brother Norton traveled down to Florida from New Jersey twice a year to help add almost 400+hp to the original 95hp, 350 cu inches (stroked to 383) and a 4 speed Saginaw which was meticulously fitted and refitted and refitted. Ray was so determined to keep the body and the spirit of the Vega the same while adding this new engine, that he “mock” fitted it time and again, to everyone’s growing frustration. The transition to the V-8 was a pain-staking slow process that required much metal fabrication to mate the engine to the chassis and make all the changes to the existing systems while trying to keep the car unmolested.

Ray installed a hooker V-8 Conversion kit along with Sanderson “shorty” headers. While these ready-made parts were helpful, Ray ended up fabricating most of the brackets himself (thanks to Snakes Welding shop nearby), setting the engine back about 2” and modifying the trans tunnel. Monza parts became the items of choice: a bell housing, Monza V-8 oil pan, pedals, clutch fork, center counsel and anything else Ray could get to fit. A Dodge emergency brake cable became the clutch cable via trial and error. An S-10 rear-end was used and the axle tubes were welded along with the Vega brackets to add 3:73 gears.

A Mister Gasket V-gate shifter was modified and fitted, and Ray added a 1.5 x 3 in boxed steel from the rear end all the way to the trans cross member for additional strength. New front coils were added, then one was removed for more room. And all of this was done in Ray’s two-car garage! Anne was supportive of the project, but also a little shocked by the amount of time and effort, but she knew Ray was pursuing his dream.

When everything was put together, Ray and Norton knew it was time for a test drive. So they fired it up, all the power of the 469hp (flywheel) in a lightweight Vega, and it was truly like bringing a hammer down. The radio flew out of the dash, various pieces of insulation and seam sealer came exploding out, the neighbors were awoken and Ray’s long-suffering brother and automotive partner in crime screamed “SHUT this thing off – I HATE being out of control!”

Fortunately, the rest of the Vega held together, so all Ray had to do was modify the front cross member more for strength, adding air shocks from an S-10. Now it truly is Hammer time with this sweet ride. Most importantly, the time spent with his brother brought them closer together.  Once the Vega was ready to return to the show circuit, Norton and his wife brought their own ’55 T-Bird down to Florida and the families attended that years Turkey Run together.



Engine: 383 SBC, pump gas @ 10.5 compression, fully forged bottom end, crank, Eagle H-beam rods, Probe flat top pistons, hydraulic roller comp cam (lift 600, duration 304), double roller timing chain, Wheeler Performance aluminum heads, steel full roller rockers, stud girdles, aluminum water pump, mini alternator. Additional engine building data includes; oil galley soft plugs removed, tapped and plugged, engine dynamometer tuned; max numbers 469 hp @ 6200rpm, torque 468 @ 4500 rpm.

Induction:  Port matched Victor Jr. single plane intake, AED built 750HP, ½ wood spacer, heat shield, dual snorkel air cleaner, outside mount gravity feed high volume electric fuel pump  set @ 6 lbs. pressure

Ignition:  MSD (ready-to-run) distributor, MSD high vibration coil, MSD copper core wires.

Exhaust: Sanderson shorty headers into 3’’ pipes using rear mounted single baffle shorty uninsulated mufflers into dumps.

Transmission: Saginaw 4 speed with Mr. Gasket V-Gate shifter, Monza bell-housing and fork, lightweight flywheel, Hayes street clutch assembly, Chevy Blazer driveshaft, modified/fabricated clutch cable.

Cooling:  24 by 19 inch aluminum radiator with hand fabricated supports, twin 10’’pusher fans, supplemented by an additional 8 by 16 inch aluminum radiator mounted behind front grill for extra cooling support.


Frame: Factory unibody construction with custom fabricated rail supports from rear to transmission.

Rear End: GM 10 Bolt Positraction, 373 gears, Moser forged steel axles, girdle plate, boxed steel trailing arms, tubular upper adjustable arms, axle tubes fully bead welded to housing, sway bar, pinion angle 1 degree at rest.

Suspension: Factory GT handling package, lowered front coils, front gas shocks, rear air bags.

Brakes: Factory front disc, S-10 rear drum

Wheels and Tires: 5 Lug GM first generation Rally, (front rotors re-drilled to accommodate 5 lug GM bolt pattern) BF Goodrich tires, 245/60/15 rear, 205/70/14 front. Addition off road set up (Rear M/T Drag slicks mounted on old school aluminum centered Cragars. Front/variable lug aluminum Centerlines mounted on skinnies.)

About Gary Rosier 79 Articles
Gary Rosier took up photography 4 years ago in his retirement, but has discovered a passion for covering automotive and aeromotive events, particularly around Daytona Beach, FL. You can also find him on Facebook and his own site http://www.carsplaneslandscapes.com.

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