It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Chevy guy, a Ford guy, or even a Mopar guy, you know the name Don Yenko. It was way back in 1957, when Don set up a performance shop dedicated to Chevrolet vehicles. Back then, customers could order high-performance parts for their car, or they could have their car modified by the mechanics in the Yenko shop.
In 1967, the Yenko shop started modifying Super Sport Camaros by removing the original 396 cubic-inch engines, and replacing them with an L72 427 cubic-inch big-block, originally destined for Chevrolet’s Corvette. There were other modifications involved, and through the years, he also modified other Chevrolet vehicles like the Chevelle and Nova.
By the end of 1970, ever-increasing insurance rates put a stranglehold on the once-flourishing musclecar market. Although it was probably hard to imagine at the time, it was clear to Don that Chevrolet was planning to stop offering high horsepower engines for their cars and would instead, begin producing smaller cars for this new, burgeoning market — enter the Vega. The all-new Vega was powered by a small, four-cylinder engine, but what conversion could Yenko undertake to keep his performance legacy alive? When the Corvair was around, Yenko built a version that he called the Stinger. When Yenko looked at the new Vega, he saw his next project, and he called it the “Stinger II”.
Immediately, Yenko knew that he needed to make sure that his versions of the Vega were recognizable, so it would have fiberglass front and rear spoilers and special Yenko graphics. In order to retain the four-cylinder engine (to appease the insurance companies), he planned to install a turbocharger to increase horsepower. Big brother intervened, and as soon as Don was ready to release the latest Yenko creation on the performance market, the EPA heard about it, and informed him that the “Yenko Turbo Vega” would need to pass EPA certification before it could be sold to the public.
The certification process requires that a car drive 50,000 miles while under the watchful eye of the EPA. Yenko had his staff rent a racetrack so they could run the test, but at the last minute, he decided not to go through with the testing. He did however, go ahead and produce his Yenko Vega, albeit, the turbocharger would not be part of the package. The turbo was however available separately as an aftermarket item.
It is unknown how many Yenko Vega’s were actually built, and with the rust problems that plagued the car, there are very few documented examples surviving today.
Do you know of a Yenko-ized Vega? How about just a cool looking edition of the compact Chevy? Let us know about it in the comments section below.