chevrolet vega transportation
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Chevy Vega, the car that traveled vertically

We are possibly facing the only vehicle in the history of the automobile designed to be transported in a way that is as unusual as it is ingenious. The need to reduce costs in the transfer and to do it on a large scale over an extremely long distance forced General Motors to devise a vehicle designed to be transported… vertically!

In the late 60s General Motors, Under the influence of his vice president John DeLorean, he developed a vehicle that is relatively small in dimensions, very versatile and designed for all uses. As a result, in 1970 the Chevrolet Vega was launched, a car whose sales success must lie in its price. But the American giant ran into a major unforeseen stumbling block: its long-distance transfer.

The Vega was manufactured in the Lordstown, Ohio plant, and its distribution in nearby areas such as Youngstown or Pittsburg was not inconvenient. However, moving the cars to dealerships on the Pacific coast were big words. To take a reference, the distance that separates Lordstown from Los Angeles is approximately 2.400 miles (almost 3.900 kilometers), and here was the extra cost of the vehicle, something that could undoubtedly prevent its offer at a popular price and, with it, its more than possible best seller.

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And is that the retail price of a Vega in 1970 was about $ 2.000. Loading a train car with 15 cars cost 4.800. Thanks to the small size of the model, it could be transported 18 but, even so, the extra cost of $ 300 per unit was unaffordable for a car of its price. Therefore, only if Chevrolet increased the number of vehicles transported on each trip could it flank the impact of the transportation item.

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Let's do it

General Motors and Southern Pacific Railroad immediately tackled the problem and jointly devised an ingenious, innovative (and expensive) solution. Instead of moving the Vega in the usual way, that is, horizontally, they would be transported vertically in wagons with a specific design for this purpose, the Vert-A-Pac.

In this way, in the 27 meters in length of each of the new wagons, 30 vehicles could be moved instead of 18. This forced GM to modify the original designs to develop the first car (and only to date) conceived for to be transported, literally, hung vertically, with the nose down and, to curl the curl, with all the liquids and fluids inside so that it would be fully operational as soon as it was unloaded when it reached its destination.

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chevrolet vega transportation
General Motors presents the new system to the press (Photo: GMC)

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To prevent an accidental leak on the wagon and later on the track, the engineers designed a special baffle to prevent the oil from passing into cylinder number one. The batteries had sealed filler caps, located at the rear end of their upper part to avoid an acid spill. The inner area of ​​the carburetor mounted a special tube that drained the gasoline into a kind of vapor expansion bottle (gases). Finally, the windshield washer fluid canister was positioned at a 45-degree angle to prevent accidental emptying, both horizontally and vertically.

As we have said, the Vega He was hanging with his nose down, attached at the bottom to four cushioned cast steel sockets. In turn, plastic wedges located next to the engine and transmission protected these structural elements and the wheel axles. The four sockets and wedges were removed when they reached their destination, and the wedges were not reusable. To minimize any risk, the loaded wagons passed low-speed accident tests, in order to ensure that the precious merchandise would not suffer any damage during transit, neither by vibration nor in the event of a collision.

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Loading and unloading

Loading the cars into their wagons was easy. 15 vehicles were placed on one side of the wagon, each one in the precise place of its corresponding gate and, once anchored and secured, a mechanical bull raised them three by three until they were left in a vertical position. When the loading operation on one side of the wagon was completed, the operation was repeated on the other side. Once completed, the car contained 30 Vegas "parked" vertically, looking down and with their roofs facing each other a few centimeters. And so began the railroad journey with at least 300 vehicles spread over 10 wagons.

After its launch, and after an initial sales success, the Vega soon achieved a bad reputation for being unreliable, having rust problems on the bodywork, safety and a poor engine durability. Over the years, Chevrolet eliminated these defects by including new engines (up to the Cosworth) and more specific body treatments, but eventually the model was discontinued in 1977.

When the last manufactured copies were transported, the Vert-A-Pac wagons were retired. These were products that were too specialized to be reused in the transport of other goods. They were later scrapped, although the base of each wagon (platform and axles) was recovered for other uses. Since 1977, vertical transport of vehicles by land, sea, or air has never been carried out.

What do you think?

Alberto Ferreras

Written by Alberto Ferreras

Alberto Ferreras (Madrid, 1968) developed his professional career in the newspaper El País since 1988, where he worked as a graphic editor and editor of the supplement Engine until January 2011. Graduated in Photography, he was a finalist for the Ortega y Gasset Award of ... View all

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