“Corvette is a rolling showcase of new technology, new materials and new thinking – all part of an evolutionary process that continues year after year.” 1981 Corvette sales brochure
- The only engine available for the 1981 Corvette was a new reworking of the 350 CID V8.
- The new Computer Command Control electronically controlled the emissions and fuel system.
- The new engine featured an auxiliary electric cooling fan, which allowed for a smaller engine driven fan and reduced noise.
The 1981 Corvette was the first to be electronically controlled when the Computer Command Control (CCC) was introduced. The CCC was also installed in many other GM cars that year, and was great news for California. For the previous few years, California Corvette buyers had to settle for a 305 CID V8 so that the car could meet the state’s stricter emissions standards. With the emissions controlled by the CCC, the need for the smaller engine was eliminated. Since the power of the one engine left was nearly identical to the previous base engines, Corvette drivers in other states probably barely noticed.
The CCC came at a much needed time, as the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards were continuing to rise, and General Motors needed the Corvette to help out the company’s compliance. The CCC also was tied in with the new lockup torque converter clutch that was used in the Corvettes with automatic transmissions that year. This eliminated fuel wasting friction losses in the converter.
The new engine was dubbed the L81, and was rated at 190 horsepower, which was five less than the base engine the year before. This did, however, mean the unfortunate end of the L82 motor, which had been the maximum Corvette performer the previous year, producing 230 horsepower.
Another big news story for the 1981 model year was the shift in Corvette production from St. Louis to a newly built factory in Bowling Green, Ky. The new facility was far more high tech than the previous plant, and accommodated much more automated manufacturing hardware. Another difference was that the Corvettes coming out of St. Louis were using lacquer paint exclusively, while the Bowling Green Corvettes were treated with enamels. Corvettes were produced in both places simultaneously for about two months before the switch was completed.
1981 Corvette Coupe
Despite all the changes in the internal workings of the car, the actual look and performance of the car did not change very much. What did change, however, was the base price tag. With rising inflation, the price of the Corvette had been increasing steadily since 1975, and rose more than $3,000 from 1980 to 1981. The car now had a base price of $16,259. It would increase an additional $2,000 in 1982.
Fortunately, the price tag didn’t keep away buyers, and total production for the year was 40,606. While this was lower than it had been the year before, it is still quite respectable after the price hike.
Comparison to the 1980 and 1982 Corvette
While so many things were different between the 1980 Corvette and 1981 Corvette, there were still very many things that were the same – including styling and performance. But there were many rumors going around at the time that the shift to a new plant would soon mean the shift to a new Corvette – and these murmurs turned out to be true – as the fourth-generation Corvettes would be out for the 1984 model year.
But there was still one more year to go for the third-generation “Shark” Corvettes, and the styling would once again stay almost exactly the same. A bit of big news coming in the new year, however, was the reintroduction of a fuel-injected engine after a 17-year hiatus.
If it seems that a year model is missing in the above discussion, it is because there was actually no 1983 Corvette, because the new models weren’t ready in time and Chevy decided to release the first of the fourth-generation Corvettes in 1984.
|Base||350ci||1x4bbl||190 hp @ 4200 rpm||280 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm|
|0 to 60 mph||Quarter Mile||Engine||Source|
|7.9 sec||16.1 sec @ 84. 5 mph||350ci/200hp||Estimate|