1988 Mercury Cougar XR-7 coupe

For 1988, Mercury’s Cougar personal luxury coupe received relatively few changes after 1987’s substantial restyling. For one year only, the XR-7 received a distinctive monochromatic paint scheme, available only in Oxford WhiteMedium Scarlet, and Black. Creating this look involved changing the wraparound bumper and body-side moldings from black to body color, and deleting the Medium Smoke lower-body accent used in 1987.  The sportiest Cougar also received 15-inch cast-aluminum wheels that had previously been seen on contemporary Ford Mustang GTs. Finally, analog instruments returned to the XR-7 after one year with a digital dashboard.

Though the Cougar LS made do with an Essex 140 bhp 3.8 liter/232 ci V6 with fuel injection as standard power, all XR-7s came with a Windsor 155 bhp 4.9 liter/302 ci V8 with sequential fuel injection. Both engines received power increases in 1988, with multi-port fuel injection and a balance shaft for the V6 being worth 20 bhp, while split dual exhaust brought another 5 bhp for the V8. No matter what the engine, all Cougars came with Ford’s corporate AOD four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive.

Recorded 0-60 mph times are spare for the 1988 XR-7, but would likely have been a little under 10 seconds in the 3,485-pound car. Fuel economy ratings are more readily available; the XR-7 was rated 18 city/25 highway by the standards of the day (16/23 by today’s standards). With a 22.1-gallon gas tank, a Cougar XR-7 owner could expect an impressive range of 390 to 430 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on all Cougars included tinted glass, aero halogen headlamps, a front air dam, dual outside power mirrors, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, and power-assisted front disc/rear drum brakes. Inside, air conditioning, cloth upholstery, and an electronic AM/FM stereo with four speakers were included. The Cougar’s base price was $14,134—about $31,700 in 2020 dollars.

XR-7 pages from the 1988 Mercury Cougar brochure

With a base price of $16,266 (about $36,500 in today’s dollars or about what a 2020 Ford Mustang GT fastback goes for), the XR-7 added a Traction-Lok rear axle, a Quadrashock suspension, and P225/60R15 performance tires (a size still easily available) on 15-inch body-color cast-aluminum wheels. Inside, a sport steering wheel, articulated sport seats with power lumbar support, and a full-length center console were included.

Exterior and mechanical options for the XR-7 included a power moonroof ($841), an electric rear window defroster ($145), an engine block heater ($18), and Argent versions of the standard body-color cast-aluminum wheels. Inside, automatic temperature control ($162), power windows ($222), fingertip speed control ($182), and a tilt steering wheel ($124) were all available. Upholstery options included a leather-wrapped steering wheel ($59), leather seating surfaces ($415), and six-way power seats (either driver’s side only [$251] or driver and front passenger [$502]). A range of audio options included an electronic AM/FM stereo with a cassette player and four speakers ($137), the Premium Sound System with a power amplifier, two additional door-mounted speakers, and premium rear speakers ($168), a graphic equalizer ($218), and a power antenna ($76).

The 1988 Cougar sold well—Mercury moved a total of 113,801 units, with 14,488 (almost 13%) being XR-7s. For unclear reasons, Hagerty’s valuation tools do not track any Cougar after 1973, though they do value Ford Thunderbirds through their entire production history. Eighties Cougars occasionally show up in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. As I write this blog entry, there’s a Black 1987 Cougar LS with gray cloth seats and 33,000 miles listed for $6,900. Make mine Black, please.

Thanks to COOL CATS (a site devoted to the 1983-1988 Mercury Cougar) for providing helpful context for this post.

Other Mercurys I have written about include the 1983 Grand Marquis sedan, the 1986 Capri hatchback coupe, and the 1987 Lynx XR3 hatchback coupe. Regarding the Cougar’s Ford Thunderbird sister, I’ve written about the 1980 coupe and the 1983 Turbo Coupe.

1981 Triumph TR8 convertible

“Test drive the incredibly responsive TR8 today”

In its final year, Triumph’s TR8 gained Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection for all fifty states (in 1980, fuel injection had been California-only). The original “the shape of things to come” TR7 design from 1975 remained, but the internals had come a long way.

Though the TRs had always been the “big” Triumphs since their introduction in 1953, big was a relative term. With a length of 160.1 inches, the TR8 was about six inches longer than today’s Mazda Miata convertible.

The standard powertrain was the Rover 148 bhp 3.5 liter/215 ci aluminum block V8 with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection paired with a five-speed manual transmission (a three-speed automatic was optional). That V8, of course, had a basic design that dated from the 1961 model year and originally came from Buick.

The TR8’s performance was good in comparison to many sporty cars in 1981; 0-60 mph came in about 8.5 seconds in the 2,654-pound car. Fuel economy was rated at 16 mpg by the standards of the day. With a smallish 14.6-gallon fuel tank, a TR8 driver could expect a range of about 210 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

1981 Triumph TR8 advertisement

Standard exterior equipment on the rather dear $13,900 TR8 (about $42,400 in today’s dollars) included a central hood bulge and tinted glass. Mechanical equipment included dual exhausts, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, power front disc/ rear drum brakes, and 185/70HR13 steel-belted radial tires (a size still readily available) on 13 x 5.5 inch alloy wheels. Inside, full instrumentation, a heater/defroster with a three-speed fan, multi-adjustable bucket seats, and a center console with a storage bin and lockable glovebox were included.

Optional equipment included fog lamps, a luggage rack, air conditioning, and three different radios. Of these, only the air conditioning was an option from the factory—all other options were dealer-installed.

Reviews of the TR8 in the automotive press were reasonably complementary, which may have been at least partially because convertibles had become so rare. The V8 drew a lot of positive mentions, as did the roomy cockpit. Observed faults included the steering wheel blocking some gauges, the tiny ashtrays (it was indeed a different age), and the rear-mounted battery’s intrusion into the otherwise reasonably capacious trunk.

The 1981 TR8 was an unusual car—a mere 415 were sold, compared to, say, the 40,408 only slightly more expensive Corvettes that Chevrolet managed to move in that same model year. Like all Triumphs, TR8s have a following and make regular appearances in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1981 TR8 convertible in #1/Concours condition is $24,600, with a far more typical #3/Good car going for $9,600.

Many TR8s and TR7s had colors and color names that were very much of their age; examples are Aran Beige, Champagne, French Blue, Mimosa, Topaz, and Vermilion. Make mine the a little more conservative Poseidon Green Metallic, please.

1982 Porsche 928 hatchback coupe

“the finest Porsche ever built”

1982 was the final model year for the first-generation Porsche 928, which would be replaced by the slightly more powerful Porsche 928 S for 1983. Despite the aerodynamic look of Wolfgang Möbius’ exterior design, the 928’s drag coefficient was a middling 0.41.

The standard powertrain remained the 228 bhp M28 4.5 liter/273 ci V8 with Bosch L-Jetronic port fuel injection mated to either a five-speed manual transmission or a Mercedes-Benz sourced three-speed automatic. To the eternal horror of many enthusiasts, the automatic was ordered about twice as often as the manual.

In a car that weighed 3,197 pounds with the manual transmission, 0-60 mph came in approximately 7 seconds, with a top speed of just over 140 mph. Fuel mileage was rated by the EPA at a class-competitive 16 mpg—with a 22.7-gallon gas tank, the proud new owner of a 928 could expect a range of about 325 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

1982 Porsche 928 advertisement

The 928 came well-equipped—a good thing considering it had a base price of $39,500 (about $109,400 in today’s dollars or a little more than a 2020 Porsche 911 Carrara 4 costs). Standard exterior equipment included halogen headlamps, a headlight washing system, and a rear window defogger with a rear wiper. Mechanical equipment included power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, four-wheel disc brakes, and P225/50VR16 tires (a size still readily available) on 16 x 7 inch wheels.

Inside, automatic cruise control, adjustable pedals, power windows, a central door locking system, and automatic full climate control were all standard. Bucket seats with a driver’s side power seat, a partial leather interior, a leather-covered steering wheel, a steering column that adjusted along with the instrumentation, and an AM/FM stereo radio with a cassette player and four speakers and a power antenna were also included.

Exterior and mechanical options included an electrical sliding roof, protective side moldings ($195), and pressure-cast alloy wheels ($795). Inside, options included a front passenger power seat, sports seats (either leatherette/cloth or leather), an alarm system ($300), and a Hi-Fi sound system with eight speakers.

There is excellent club support for the Porsche 928, as there is for all Porsches. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1982 Porsche 928 in #1/Concours condition is $48,300, with a more normal #3/Good condition car going for $18,500. Porsche 928s frequently show up for sale in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. As I write this in April 2020, there’s a Medium Metallic Blue 1982 with dark blue leather seats, an automatic, and 36,000 miles available on Hemmings for $36,500.

Other eighties Porsches I have written about are the 1986 Porsche 944 Turbo hatchback coupe, the 1987 Porsche 911 3.2 Carrera coupe, and the 1988 Porsche 944 hatchback coupe. Other sports cars from the 1982 model year that I have written about include the Chevrolet Corvette coupe and the Fiat X1/9 coupe.

1985 Oldsmobile Firenza ES sedan

In this post, we’re once again revisiting interesting versions of mass-market eighties vehicles that just about nobody bought. This one is a sporty version of Oldsmobile’s J platform entry.

“A sporty way to tame the open road.”

For 1985, Oldsmobile offered three different Firenza body styles: a three-door hatchback coupe, a four-door sedan, and a five-door wagon. Both the hatchback coupe and the sedan had sporty versions: in the case of the hatchback, it was the GT, while for the sedan, it was the ES. I am going to write about the ES in this post.

The Firenza’s standard powertrain was an 88 bhp LQ5 2.0 liter/121 ci inline four with throttle-body fuel injection paired with a four-speed manual transmission. Engine options included a $50 84 bhp LH8 1.8 liter/110 ci inline OHC four with the throttle-body fuel injection and a far more interesting $560 130 bhp LB6 2.8 liter V6 with multi-port fuel injection. Transmission options included a $75 five-speed manual (available for the LH8 only) and a $425 three-speed automatic (available for all three engines).

Standard equipment exterior and mechanical equipment on all Firenzas include front-wheel-drive, rack and pinion steering, and P175/80R13 blackwall tires on 13-inch wheels. Inside, contour-reclining bucket seats and an AM push-button radio with two front speakers and a fixed mast antenna were included. With a base price of $7,679 (about $18,900 in 2020 dollars), Firenza sedans added Deluxe wheel discs and a Deluxe steering wheel.

Firenza ES page from a 1985 Oldsmobile brochure

Standard exterior equipment on the ES sedan included amber turn signals, a Firenza ES nameplate on the front fenders, and blacked-out trim all around. Mechanical equipment included the 1.8 liter inline four, a five-speed manual transmission, tungsten halogen high-beam headlamps, a firm ride and handling package, and Goodyear Eagle GT P205/60R14 blackwall tires (a size still readily available, though generally not from major manufacturers) on 14-inch wheels with Deluxe styled wheel discs.

Inside, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a Rallye instrument panel cluster were included. Only three exterior colors were available for the ES: Silver Metallic, Light Teal Blue Metallic, and Carmine Red.

Among the many exterior and mechanical options available for the ES were Soft-Ray tinted glass, a Vista-Vent glass-panel sunroof ($310), and two-tone paint. Inside, Oldsmobile offered a Four-Season air conditioner, power door locks, and a choice of three optional radios. A special contoured hood was added if the V6 was selected.

For Oldsmobile in 1985, the Firenza was emphatically not the center of the product line, with every other model—all of them at least somewhat larger—selling better. Of the Firenzas that sold, the vast majority were base sedans, not the GT hatchback coupe (498 sold) or the ES sedan (863 sold). Firenzas of any sort are now almost completely vanished from the nation’s roads, and they rarely show up in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds or eBay Motors.

Other J platform cars I have covered this blog include the 1982 Cadillac Cimarron sedan, the 1988 Cadillac Cimarron sedan, the 1986 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 coupe, and the 1984 Pontiac 2000 Sunbird S/E hatchback coupe. I will not ignore the Buick Skyhawk forever.

1989 Buick Electra Park Avenue Ultra sedan

“The standard for luxurious, smooth-riding American sedans …”

For 1989, Buick’s Electra Park Avenue received a new trim in the middle of the model year: Ultra. It became the new top-of-the-line Buick sedan.

The only powertrain for the Ultra or for any 1989 Electra was a “3800” LN3 165 bhp 3.8 liter/231 ci V6 with sequential fuel injection teamed with a four-speed automatic transmission. Mileage for the standard engine was 19 city/28 highway by the 1989 measures (17/26 by today’s standards). With an 18-gallon gas tank, an Ultra owner could expect a range of about 345 to 380 miles with a 10% fuel reserve. 0-60 mph took a little under 11 seconds.

Electra pages from the 1989 Buick brochure

Buick piled on the bling for the Ultra—standard exterior equipment included Soft-Ray tinted glass, a unique grille texture, smoked tail lamps, chrome side pillars, a Sterling Silver lower accent paint treatment, and a silver accent body stripe. Mechanical equipment on the $26,218 (approximately $55,100 in 2020 dollars) car included a 4-wheel independent DynaRide suspension, power rack-and-pinion steering, power anti-lock front disk/rear drum brakes, and P205/70R15 whitewall tires (a size still readily available) on 15-inch aluminum wheels.

Inside the Ultra, air conditioning, an AM/FM stereo radio, burled elm trim on the doors and instrument panel, a tilt steering column, power door locks, power mirrors, and power windows were all standard. The all-leather seats were styled by famed Italian automobile designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, with the 55/45 front seats being 20-way for both driver and front passenger.

Optional items for 1989 included an electric sliding Astroroof ($1,230), a heavily-padded full vinyl top only available for the Ultra, cornering lamps ($60), Electronic Touch Climate Control air conditioning ($165), and Twilight Sentinel headlamp control ($60).

The Electra Park Avenue Ultra received good reviews, with one automotive writer comparing it favorably to the same year’s Mercedes-Benz 300 SE. First-year sales of the 1989 Park Avenue Ultra sedan were decent considering the short window of availability—Buick moved 4,815 examples.

These mid to late 1980s C-bodies had a stately look about them. Big and (I think) handsome, they had a lot of interior room despite the second round of downsizing—with 111 cubic feet, they had only one cubic foot less than the previous generation rear-wheel-drive cars. C-body Park Avenue sedans of this era rarely come up for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors—as I wrote this blog entry in March 2020, there were none for sale on either marketplace.

Make mine Claret Red over Sterling Silver, please. All Ultras came with two-tone exterior paint.

Other C-bodies I have written about in this blog are the 1989 Cadillac Sedan deVille and the 1985 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency sedan. Among the many eighties Buicks I have written about include the 1980 Riviera S TYPE coupe, the 1983 Skylark T TYPE coupe, the 1984 Regal Grand National coupe, the 1984 Riviera T TYPE coupe, the 1985 Somerset Regal coupe, the 1986 Century sedan, and the 1987 LeSabre T Type coupe.

1985 Ferrari 308 GTB Quattrovalvole coupe

“Only those who dare … truly live”

1985 was the final year for the Ferrari 308 (the 328 would follow in 1986). Ferrari’s least expensive two-seater was also overshadowed in the public view by the release of its big brother Testarossa.

The engine was Ferrari’s Tipo F105AB 2.9 liter/179 ci V8 with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection and four valves per cylinder (thus Quattrovalvole), making 230 bhp and mated with a five-speed manual transmission. In the 3,200 pound GTB, this was good for period 0-60 times of under 7 seconds. Mileage was pretty awful compared to some of the 308’s fuel-injected competition—10 city/16 highway by the standards of the day (9/15 by today’s standards). With an 18.5-gallon gas tank, 308 owners could expect a chastening 200 to 215 mile range with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $54,000 GTB (about $134,000 in 2020 dollars) included four-wheel disc brakes, rack and pinion steering, and 16-inch alloy wheels. Inside, leather bucket seats, power windows, tinted glass, and a heated rear window were all included. Available options included metallic paint, a deep front spoiler, a satin black finished aerofoil at the rear of the roof, 16 x 8 inch Speedline wheels with Pirelli P7 tires, air conditioning, and cloth seat centers.

Ferrari 308 GTB Quattrovalvole, courtesy of Ferrari

The lovely Pininfarina styling that made its first appearance in 1975 had aged well with relatively few changes. Debuting for the 1983 model year, the Quattrovalvole could be differentiated from previous 308s by the addition of a slim black louvered panel on the hood to aid radiator exhaust air exit and a redesigned radiator grille with rectangular driving lights on each side. Also new were power-operated side mirrors carrying small enamel Ferrari badges and rectangular side repeaters. The interior also received some minor updates, such as a satin black three-spoke steering wheel with a triangular center.

Values for the 308 have gone up and down over the last decade. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1985 Ferrari 308 GTB Quattrovalvole in #1/Concours condition is currently $97,000 with the targa-top GTS in the same condition getting $80,000 (the GTB is far rarer, at about 20% of overall Quattrovalvole production). Prices drop significantly for more normal #3/Good condition cars—$58,000 for a GTB and $47,500 for a GTS. Ferrari 308s frequently show up for sale in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds and at auction. As I write this in March 2020, there’s a 1984 Rosso Corso GTS QV listed for $65,000.

Make mine Rosso Corso, of course. Is there really a question?

Other Ferraris I have written about in this blog include the 1983 Berlinetta Boxer 512i coupe and the aforementioned 1985 Testarossa coupe.

Eighties Cars Is Speeding up Again

Last May, I posted that Eighties Cars Is Slowing Down For A While. With the fraught situation that the world currently finds itself in, many of us are searching to re-establish upended routines and find ways to slow the spread of COVID-19.

As a very small offering, I have decided to accelerate my postings on Eighties Cars for the foreseeable future. All the best to my readers and stay safe.

End of the Year Review: 2019

2019 was a decent year for Eighties Cars. We managed 23 new or substantially revised blog entries—one every sixteen days. Posts were divided up into fifteen featuring a specific car, seven on auctions, and one announcing a change: Eighties Cars Is Slowing Down For A While. Despite, this 2019 was the best year for page views since I started the blog—we were up a substantial 62% over 2018.

Every year, I look at the end of the year results for most viewed posts. For 2019, it once again looked like the key to the popularity of an individual post was generally in the rarity of the other coverage available for that particular vehicle. It also didn’t hurt to be a Chevrolet, a Buick, or a Pontiac—our readers seem to be GM-centric. In reverse order, I’ll look at the top ten most viewed posts of this year.

10) 1980 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 coupe—these late second-generation Z28s have been sliding up in popularity and value ($34,600 in #1/Concours condition, $15,600 in #3/Good condition for the 5.7 liter/350 ci engine versions), which marks a hole in my overall thesis on what posts are popular. This post’s ranking did drop from #4 to #10 this year.

9) 1987 Chevrolet Caprice Classic coupe—this very old (April 2014) but evidently evergreen post is about the last of the big Caprice coupes. For the six years Eighties Cars has been around, it’s the third most viewed post overall, and it moved up one spot in 2019. A mere 3,110 coupes were sold in the 1987 model year.

8) 1984 Buick Riviera T-Type coupe—one of my first posts on this blog gets continued interest on a car that Hagerty does see as collectible ($15,100 in #1/Concours condition, $5,100 in #3/Good condition). Dropping two spots this year.

7) 1980 Pontiac Grand Am coupe—another rarely discussed 1980 Pontiac makes the list. This entry was the most viewed post in 2017, so it’s been consistently popular, though it dropped from third to seventh this year. 1,647 Grand Ams were sold in the 1980 model year.

6) 1980 Pontiac Sunbird Sport Hatch—now this is a rarely discussed car, so I understand why the portion of the internet that cares is coming here. They also seem to have vanished entirely from the streets of America. Dropping down one spot from last year.

5) 1989 Chevrolet Celebrity sedan—I doubt there are a ton of articles being written about any of the A-body cars. This August 2016 article inspired by a work colleague’s Celebrity continued to get a substantial number of page hits this year and moved up from #9. 162,462 sedans were sold in the 1989 model year; Chevrolet sold over 2.1 million Celebrities in the 1980s.

4) 1987 Buick LeSabre T Type coupe—a new entry for 2019 is the T Type many don’t know about. A good number seem to be looking as this page received a lot of hits. 4,123 LeSabre T Types were built for 1987.

3) 1985 Buick Somerset Regal coupe—this post has been picked up by other websites a few times, most recently by Jalopnik. Hilariously, I don’t think I would have ever gotten around to writing about the Somerset Regal if I hadn’t seen one on the streets of Philadelphia a few years ago. Down from #2 in 2018, but still the second most popular entry all time.

2) 1987 Mercury Lynx XR3 hatchback coupe—a post that was fast rising at the end of 2018 makes it all the way to #2 in 2019. Mercury is, of course, an orphan make, but this blog entry has been viewed five times more than my entry on the 1981 Ford Escort hatchback coupe.

Berlinetta pages from the 1985 Camaro brochure

1) 1986 Chevrolet Camaro Berlinetta hatchback coupe—the Berlinetta is rarely covered, with almost all the eighties Camaro attention going to the Z28 and the IROC-Z. In spite of this, Hagerty does value this car, currently at $13,400 in #1/Concours condition, $6,200 in #3/Good condition for the version with the optional V8. It repeats as my most viewed post and is the all-time most popular entry.

Posts that no longer made the cut in 2019 that were more popular in 2018 include 1982 Chrysler LeBaron convertible and 1981 Toyota Celica Sport Coupe. A post on the rise in the final quarter of 2019 was 1980 Buick Riviera S Type coupe.

Thanks to all who viewed this blog in 2019!

1984 Pontiac 2000 Sunbird S/E hatchback coupe

“One of the world’s most advanced production turbos”

For 1984, Pontiac’s top-of-the-line Sunbird gained a new turbocharged motor along with some other minor changes.

The S/E‘s new engine was an LA5 150 bhp 1.8 liter/110 ci inline four with a Garrett turbocharger and fuel injection. It was paired with a standard four-speed manual gearbox, with a three-speed automatic optional for $320. With the standard powertrain, 0-60 came in about nine seconds. Fuel economy ratings were 25 city/36 highway by the standards of the day (20/26 by today’s standards). The Sunbird’s 13.5-gallon gas tank meant that owners could expect a range of 280 to 370 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $9,489 S/E hatchback coupe (about $24,200 in 2019 dollars) included two-tone paint, clear fog lamps, power steering, power front disc/rear drum brakes, a WS6 performance suspension, special chassis tuning, and Goodyear Eagle GT P205/60R14 tires (a size now only marginally available) mounted on attractive 14-inch “hi-tech turbo” cast aluminum wheels. Inside, fully adjustable reclining front seats, a folding split back rear seat, a three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel, rally gages, and a Delco-GM AM radio were included.

Exterior options included a power glass sunroof ($300) and a louvered rear sunshade ($199). Inside, custom air conditioning, electronic cruise control, and Lear Siegler bucket seats($400) were available.

2000 Sunbird S/E pages from the 1984 Pontiac brochure, linked from Hans Tore Tangerud’s lov2xlr8 website.

1984 Sunbirds sold well, but most of them were the base coupes and sedans, not the LE or the S/E. Sunbirds of this generation (1982-1994) are now almost completely vanished from the nation’s roads, and models other than the convertibles rarely show up in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds or eBay Motors.

I wrote about the last of the previous-generation Sunbird’s here. Other J platform cars I have covered this blog include the 1982 Cadillac Cimarron sedan, the 1988 Cadillac Cimarron sedan, and the 1986 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 coupe. I will not ignore Buick and Oldsmobile forever.

1981 Chevrolet Corvette coupe

“Corvette is a rolling showcase of new technology …”

For 1981, Chevrolet’s Corvette gained a new standard powertrain—the L81 190 bhp 5.7 liter/350 ci V8 with a Rochester four-barrel carburetor combined with a four-speed manual transmission (a three-speed automatic was a no-cost option). The new engine featured Computer Command Control, which automatically adjusted the ignition timing and the fuel/air mixture. Chevrolet engineers also managed to remove 167 pounds of curb weight from the Corvette by reducing the thickness of body panels, using aluminum for more parts, and replacing the steel rear leaf spring with a fiberglass one in cars with the automatic.

With the four-speed manual, 0-60 came in about 8 seconds—quick for a 1981 model year car. Fuel economy was 14 city/20 highway by the standards of the day with either transmission. With a 23.7-gallon gas tank, one of the 40,606 proud new owners of a 1981 Corvette could expect a range of 365 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

For the $16,258.52 base price at the beginning of the model year (about $49,300 in 2019 dollars), Corvette buyers got T-tops, four-wheel power disc brakes, power steering, dual sport mirrors, and P225/70R15 tires (a size still readily available) on 15 x 8 inch rally wheels. Inside, air conditioning, power windows, a tilt-telescopic steering column, an AM/FM radio with dual front speakers, a quartz clock, and a choice of either cloth/vinyl or leather/vinyl bucket seats were all standard.

Exterior and mechanical options included aluminum wheels ($428) and power antenna ($55). Inside, buyers could add power door locks ($145), cruise control ($155), and a rear window defogger ($119). 1981 was the first year that the AM/FM stereo radio with a cassette player ($423) was more popular than the AM/FM stereo radio with an 8-track player ($386). A power driver’s seat was a new option and cost $183.

1981 was the first year Corvettes were produced in two factories at one time. The new Bowling Green, Kentucky plant produced its first Corvette on June 1, 1981, while the St. Louis plant was producing its last Corvettes—the final St. Louis Corvette was built on August 1, 1981. All St. Louis Corvettes were painted with lacquer paints while the new Bowling Green plant had a brand new paint facility and used enamels with clear top coats.

Cover of the 1981 Corvette brochure, linked from Hans Tore Tangerud’s lov2xlr8 website.

One of the two 1981 Corvette brochures has what I think of as one of the best visual expressions of the “shark” Corvette as its fold-out cover. A silhouetted 1981 is in the foreground, with the image of the curving path it has just traversed carved with a time-lapse of its taillights.

There is strong club support for the 1981 Corvette, as there is for all Corvettes. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1981 Corvette in #1/Concours condition is $29,900, with a more normal #3/Good condition car going for $12,200. 1981 Corvettes often show up in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors—as I write this in December 2019, there’s a White one with a Medium Red leather bucket seats and 92,000 miles available on Hemming’s for $19,000. Make mine just like that, please.

Other Corvettes I have written about in this blog include the 1980 coupe, the 1982 coupe, the 1986 convertible, and the 1988 35th Anniversary Edition hatchback coupe. I also wrote about traveling long distances in an eighties Corvette.