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Mad Men and the GM XP-887

May 5, 13 • by Craig Fitzgerald • Featured, Vintage Cars1 CommentRead More »

Vega-AdIf you’re a Mad Men viewer that want interested in learning about the iceberg approaching the Titanic, you probably want to stop reading now.

The car that Sterling Cooper Pryce Draper has a chance to work on is the XP-887, otherwise known as the Chevrolet Vega and the Pontiac Astre.


In 1968, GM chairman James Roche announced GM would produce the new car in the U.S. in two years. Ed Cole was chief engineer and Bill Mitchell, vice-president of design staff, was chief stylist. Cole wanted a world-beater in showrooms in 24 months.


Mitchell formed a GM design team headed by James G. Musser, Jr. who had helped develop the Chevy II, the Camaro, the Chevrolet small-block V8 engines, and the Turbo-Hydramatic transmission. Musser said, “This was the first vehicle where one person was in charge,” and his team “did the entire vehicle.”


At the time, the XP-887 was revolutionary. It set GM on a different development path, and put the chief engineer in charge of the entire program. Everything from the OHC alloy block to the electrophoretic paint process to the train cars it would be shipped on was new.


It’s going to be interesting to see where this leads the agency. The XP-887 was awaited breathlessly, and it was a standout sales success in the early stages. It wasn’t until 1972 that it all went wrong.

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One Response to Mad Men and the GM XP-887

  1. Robert Spinello says:

    GM’s first U.S. mini-car cost $200 million to design and bring to production. In today’s money that’s over a billion dollars – it wasn’t by chance the Vega out-handled more expensive european sport sedans.
    AMC in contrast, spent all of 5 million to convert an existing Hornet compact into the Gremlin, selling it for about the same price as the Vega which was new from the ground up, sharing nothing with existing vehicles.
    At $2090. when introduced, it was a bargain. No other car company in the world was able to invest hundreds of millions of dollars on a vehicle to sell in that price range, and GM made little or no profit on the Vega which was usually ordered with few options (GM’s profits came from expensive options).
    But in a rush to bring the car to market, numerous piecemeal “fixes” were performed by dealers and Chevrolet’s “bright star”, received an enduring black eye despite a continuing development program which eventually alleviated most of these initial shortcomings.
    Motor Trend selected the Vega one of the 10-Best cars of 1971 and awarded the Vega 1971 Car of the Year.
    Car and Driver readers voted the Vega “Best Economy Sedan” for 1971, 1972, and 1973 in C&D’s Readers Choice Polls. By 1974, the Vega was among the top 10 best-selling American cars. By 1976, the car had received five years of improvements (300 new part numbers in ’76 alone) with a refined, durable automobile the result.
    The liner-less aluminum/silicon engine technology that GM and Reynolds Metals developed turned out to be sound. Mercedes-Benz and Porsche use sleeveless aluminum engines today, the basic principles of which were developed for the Vega engine.

    Motor Trend said in 1971, “So, the Chevrolet Vega 2300 is Motor Trend’s 1971 Car of the Year by way of engineering excellence, packaging, styling and timeliness. As such, we are saying that for the money, no other American car can deliver more.”

    Motor Trend Classic said in 2010, “Chevrolet spun the Vega as a more American, upscale car. And let’s face it, the car looked hot. So can you blame us for falling hook, line, and sinker for the Vega and naming it 1971’s Car of the Year?”
    “..well-maintained examples are great looking, nice-driving, economical classics..”

    Motor Trend Classic said in 2013, “Overblown – The China Syndrome might have overhyped the TMI (Three-Mile Island) incident as bad press might have exaggerated the Vega’s woes.”

    see also:
    Chevrolet Vega Reviews – Chevy Vega Wiki