Chevy Vega and the Vert-A-Pac Rail System
Regardless of what you might think about the Chevy Vega, the engineering that went into moving the cars across the country was nothing less than brilliant.
Brief History of Horizontal Car Shipping
Before the Vega was created, cars were shipped in boxcars. The first boxcars could hold four cars, as large as full-size sedans. The 50-foot boxcars had two cars on the bottom and two cars on a steel rack. This might seem like an efficient way to move cars, because trains are more energy efficient than car-carrier trucks and trains can lug many boxcars all over the country. But, sadly, carrying four cars in a boxcar was extremely inefficient, because the maximum weight load was not reached. Boxcars can carry much more than four sedans.
Eventually, boxcars and flatcars were enlarged to 85 and 89 feet in length. These train cars could hold up to 15 automobiles. This might seem even more efficient, because even more cars can be carried. But, again, the train cars were not used to their maximum weight capacity. Again, you might question why this is a big deal? The answer is that the customer pays for the shipping costs; car dealerships call this added expense, “freight.”
Fixing the Problem Vertically
In 1970, the Chevy Vega was sold as an economical car that was good looking and fun to drive. Most people know that the Vega did not live up to its expectations, but there was one good thing that came from the Vega: the efficient and low-cost shipping method.
Engineers at General Motors and Southern Pacific Rail worked together to decrease the exorbitant shipping cost that was set to add 15 percent to the cost of the $2000 car. What they designed was nothing short of perfect. They created the Vert-A-Pac, a train car that could hold 30 Vegas in an upright position, with the nose of the car pointing down. In order to keep the car from leaking fluids during shipping, Chevy engineers made some subtle changes so each Vega could be removed from the Vert-A-Pac ready to drive. The Vert-A-Pac train cars maxed the weight limit, making it incredibly energy efficient.
Sadly, the Vega was the only car that was shipped this way. Once the general public stopped buying the cars, the Vert-A-Pac system was broken down into basic 89-foot flatcars.