Late 1960s. Meet Vert-A-Pac, The Coolest Automobile Transport Ever
This rail car designed for the Chevrolet Vega was an incredible feat of transportation engineering.
For most long-haul automobile shipments over land, rail has always been the way to go. Faster than truck shipments, rail cars for automobiles were still costly leading automakers and rail companies to design better rail cars that could pack more vehicles into a single car, therefore bring down the shipping cost per vehicle. Probably the most incredible of these rail cars was the so-called Vert-A-Pac, co-developed by General Motors and the Southern Pacific Railroad in the late 1960s.
Designed for GM's upcoming Chevrolet Vega, the Vert-A-Pac was able to fit 30 Vega's into a rail car -- as opposed to the typical 18 found in the standard tri-rack rail car -- by shipping the cars standing upright, nose-down.
When General Motors began designing the Chevrolet Vega, they did something rather incredible: they designed the car specifically to fit into a new railcar being designed specifically to transport Chevrolet Vegas. Commonly known as the Vert-A-Pac, the new railcar nearly doubled the number of cars that could be transported in a single-car, which was especially important for GM at the time. They needed to keep the cost-per-Vega to around $2,000 otherwise they wouldn't make any money on them, so the entire assembly-line-to-dealership cost had to be carefully factored into the vehicle.
The result was a railcar that shipped Chevrolet Vegas standing upright with their nose pointed straight down. Since the cars were designed to be driven right off the rail car and onto a dealer's lot, they were shipped with gasoline, oil, and all of the fluids necessary for the normal operation of the vehicle. As a result, the entire car had to be designed to keep the fluids in the car while they were being shipped.
As a result, the Chevy Vega had some interesting quirks. According to Railway Age:
"The Vega’s engineers had to design a special engine oil baffle to prevent oil from entering the No. 1 cylinder of the car’s inline-four engine. Batteries had filler caps located high up on the rear edge of the case to prevent acid spills. The carburetor float bowl had a special tube that drained gasoline into the vapor canister during shipment, and the windshield washer bottle stood at a 45-degree angle. Plastic spacers were wedged between the powertrain and chassis to prevent damage to engine and transmission mounts. The wedges were removed when cars were unloaded."
Once the Vegas were driven up on one of the Vert-A-Pac's 30 door-ramps, they were secured into place with special hooks designed to lock into slots set into the chassis of the car and then a forklift would lift the ramp up and secure it into place, storing the Vega in a vertical position for transport.
The Vega was a huge hit when it was introduced in 1970, but it lost its shine pretty quickly once it became clear that it wasn't the most reliable car on the road. The Vega was produced until 1977, when it and its sister model, the Pontiac Astre, were discontinued.
As for the Vert-A-Pac, without the Vega and the Astre, it too was discontinued since it was so specifically designed for a single model that they couldn't be used with anything else. It lives on in history though as one of the coolest ways to transport a car ever designed, too bad they didn't spend more time on the Vega it was meant to carry across the country.
Curtesy of Interesting Engineering transportation.
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