The First Car Bob Barker Gave Away on ‘The Price Is Right’ Was 1 of the Worst
The Price Is Right is among the most beloved game shows, giving away big-ticket prizes like vacations and cars. The TV series ran from 1956 to 1965 before CBS revived it with a new host, Bob Barker, in 1972. The Price Is Right has aired consecutively since then, making it the longest-running game show in TV history. Throughout the years, contestants have longed to hear “It’s a new car!” as their potential prize, but the automobile behind the curtain isn’t always applause-worthy. That applies to the first car Barker gave away on The Price Is Right: a Chevy Vega.
The Chevy Vega was supposed to lead the minicar segment
Over the past five decades, The Price is Right has given away a staggering number of cars — over 8,400, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Some have been automotive gems, but others, including the first — a Chevy Vega valued at $2,796 in 1972 — turned out to be disappointments.
Amid all the land yachts of the time, General Motors, Chevrolet’s parent company, wanted to create a small, lightweight car with cutting-edge manufacturing techniques to compete with the likes of the Volkswagen Beetle. Thus, work began to develop what would become the Chevy Vega.
GM’s then-honcho Jim Roche insisted this new small car weighed under 2,000 pounds and sported an aluminum engine. Plus, it should compete in price with the Beetle.
The company didn’t meet those targets.
MotorTrend notes the Vega’s $2,091 starting price was $300 more than a Beetle and $172 over a compact newcomer from Ford, the Pinto. The Vega also tipped the scales at about 2,200 pounds.
Ultimately, those failed targets were the least of the Chevy Vega’s problems.
The Chevrolet Vega was not the ultimate game show prize
Despite publicity from appearances on The Price Is Right and other early-’70s game shows like Sale of the Century, the Chevy Vega became a monstrous mistake. The car quickly showed that its advanced manufacturing processes (made more complicated by automotive worker strikes upon the Vega’s public debut) weren’t necessarily up to snuff.
Most notably, the Vega’s aluminum engine was prone to melting. Under intense heat, the cylinders could warp, causing the cylinder walls to wear. Subsequently, the car guzzled oil. This cylinder distortion also caused coolant to bypass the head gaskets, leading to additional overheating issues and plenty of blown engines.
Unfortunately for Vega drivers and Chevrolet, the engine wasn’t this car’s only glaring fault.
The automaker recalled 500,000 models in 1972 due to rear axle shafts separating, causing the wheels to fall off. Another recall was issued for a fire risk caused by the Vega’s optional two-barrel engine, in which backfires could split the muffler and cause hot exhaust fumes to blow over the fuel tank. That led to the potential expansion of the fuel tank, causing ruptures.
Additionally, the front fenders, rocker panels, front suspension, and other parts near the front of the car corroded rapidly because of a fault in the Vega’s rust-proofing system. That left the car’s front components without an anti-rust coating.
As a result, early Chevy Vega models were essentially rust buckets with a propensity for blowing their engines, falling apart at the rear, and creating the makings for potential fires.
Chevrolet addressed those issues after they came to light, but the car had already earned a reputation from which it would never recover. GM pulled the plug on the Vega in 1977.
We’re unsure if The Price Is Right winner’s car made it that long.
‘The Price Is Right’ has also given away cool cars
The Chevy Vega didn’t pan out as a great car to win on The Price Is Right, but contestants have scored some excellent vehicles in the show’s 9,000-plus episodes.
Recent gems include a C8 Corvette, a Porsche 718 Boxster, a Maserati Levante GT, an Audi e-tron GT, and a BMW 8 Series. In 2013, Sheree L. Heil of Tacoma, Washington, won the most expensive car the game show has ever given away: an Audi R8 V8 Spyder Quattro S Tronic, valued at $157,300.
Thanks to its long run, The Price Is Right has also offered cars that have become classics. They include a 1984 Toyota 4Runner, a 1986 Ford Bronco II, a Mazda RX-7 S in 1983, and a Ferrari 308 in 1985.