1981 Volkswagen Scirocco S hatchback coupe

I’ve liked the styling of the first-generation Scirocco since it was new. It was, of course, designed by one of the all-time masters.

“For the most discriminating and demanding sports car enthusiasts”

1981 was the final model year for the first-generation Scirocco, which was first available in North America in 1975. Though the Scirocco used the same platform as the Golf, it was actually released about six months before the Golf.

With its basic form penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro—who seemed to have a hand in nearly every 1970s Volkswagen design—the Scirocco debuted at the 1973 Geneva Motor Show. Like the Karmann Ghia that it putatively replaced, the Scirocco was assembled by Karmann.

Classified as sub-compact by the EPA, the Scirocco was not a large car—its 155.7-inch length is more than a foot shorter than the 2022 Golf GTI. For 1981, the configuration of the Scirocco sold in North America moved to a slightly large 1.7 liter engine, transitioned the standard transmission from a four-speed manual to a five-speed manual, and offered a new Scirocco S package.

The Scirocco’s standard powertrain was the EA827 74 bhp 1.7 liter/105 ci inline four with fuel injection mated with a five-speed manual. A three-speed automatic was optional. With a curb weight of 1,892 pounds, 0-60 came in a little over 12 seconds. Fuel economy was rated at 25 city/40 highway by the day’s standards. With a 10.6-gallon gas tank, a Scirocco owner could expect a range of 280 to 310 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Scirocco S pages from the 1981 brochure

Standard mechanical features on the $8,495 Scirocco (about $27,800 in today’s dollars) included front-wheel-drive, rack-and-pinion steering, power-assisted front disc/rear drum brakes, and 175/70SR13 steel-belted radial tires (a size still readily available) on 13-inch wheels. Inside, a tachometer, a trip odometer, and front bucket seats were standard.

A new package for 1981 was the S, which included black trim, a red VW radiator badge and belt-line moulding, a larger front spoiler, light alloy wheels, and specially designed striped cloth sport seats. The S package was available in three of the eight standard Scirocco colors and cost $520.

Options for the Scirocco were few—a sunroof, a rear window wiper/washer, the aforementioned three-speed automatic transmission, and air conditioning.

The View From 2021

First-generation Sciroccos attract collector interest, and there is club support. They are sometimes available in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds, on eBay Motors, and at online auctions such as Bring a Trailer that cater to the eighties car market.

Make mine Cirrus Gray Metallic, please.

Other Volkswagens I have written about include the 1983 Rabbit GTI hatchback coupe and the 1985 Cabriolet.


1981 Datsun 810 Maxima sedan

“For the luxury minded who long to be Datsun driven.”

1981 brought the nicest Datsun yet for America, in the form of the 810 Maxima sedan. Datsun aimed high, advertising the Maxima as having the “luxury of a Mercedes” and the “sophistication of a Cadillac.” Nissan was in the process of transitioning away from the Datsun name, so the Maxima‘s official name was a clunky “Datsun 810 Maxima by Nissan.”

The only powertrain available for the Maxima was the L24E 118 bhp 2.4 liter/146 ci inline six with Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection paired with a three-speed automatic. Luxury did not mean quick in 1981—in the 2,800-pound car, 0-60 came in about 12.5 seconds. EPA fuel economy ratings were 22 city/27 highway—with a 16.4-gallon gas tank, a Maxima owner could expect a range of 360 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Despite being the top of Datsun’s sedan line and “the roomiest and most comfortable Datsun ever created” to that point, the Maxima was not a particularly large car. With a 183.3 inch length, it was barely longer than today’s Nissan Sentra, which is classified as a compact car. In advertisements, Datsun stated that the Maxima was “about the size of a BMW 528i at less than half the price.” Both of these claims were true, but the Maxima was not yet a “4-Door Sports Car.”

810 Maxima pages from the 1981 Datsun brochure

Standard exterior equipment on the $10,879 1981 Maxima (about $33,200 in 2020 dollars or just a little less than a 2020 Maxima S costs) included an electric sliding sun roof and Quadrabeam headlights with halogen high beams. Mechanical equipment included a fully independent suspension, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, four-wheel power-assisted disc brakes, and 185/70SR14 tires (a size still readily available) on 14-inch “mag-style” alloy wheels.

Inside, centralized locking, power controls, a tilt steering column, cruise control, and an AM/FM digital four-speaker stereo with a cassette player were included. Standard upholstery included “loose-pillow” velour seats, fully reclining front seats, a six-way adjustable driver’s seat, and full Saxony carpeting. Famously, an early version of the vocalized warning system warned a Maxima‘s driver when the headlights were on.

There were few if any options available for the 1981 Maxima sedan. Reviews of the day generally liked the new car’s exterior styling, but the “buff books” complained that the Maxima was only available with a three-speed automatic and velour upholstery. Car and Driver‘s write-up in April 1981 stated: “What we have here seems to be a clear case of over-Americanization.”

It isn’t that surprising that Hagerty’s valuation tools do not track any eighties Datsuns other than the Z-cars. Eighties Maximas rarely show up in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds or on eBay Motors.

Make mine Medium Gray Metallic, please.

1981 Triumph TR8 convertible

“Test drive the incredibly responsive TR8 today”

In its final year, Triumph’s TR8 gained Bosch L-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 133 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.

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.

1981 Plymouth Reliant coupe

Lee Iacocca passed yesterday after leading a full life—he was 94. In his honor, I have revised my write-up on one of his most famous creations.

“right for the times we drive in”

The 1981 Plymouth Reliant and its sibling the Dodge Aries are the K-body cars often (and reasonably) credited with saving Chrysler in the early 1980s. The first K cars were basic transportation, famously (like the GM X cars a year before) with no roll-down rear windows and just barely mid-size by the EPA’s classification—with an overall length of 176 inches, the Reliant coupe is almost exactly as long as a 2019 Honda Civic coupe.

The standard powertrain was an 84 bhp 2.2 liter/135 ci inline four with a Holley two-barrel carburetor paired with a four-speed manual. A Mitsubishi built 92 bhp 2.6 liter/156 ci inline four was optional for $159 and required both power steering ($174) and the three-speed TorqueFlite automatic ($360). Gas mileage with the base powertrain combination was rated at 29 city/41 highway by the standards of the day (23/29 by today’s standards). With a 13-gallon gas tank, a Reliant coupe with the standard engine and transmission could travel between 305 and 410 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

For $5,880 (about $17,800 in 2019 dollars), you got a Reliant coupe with front-wheel drive, rack-and-pinion steering, front disc and rear drum brakes, a cloth and vinyl split back bench seat, and P175/75R13 tires (a size that isn’t generally available anymore) on 13-inch wheels. The base coupe was only available in white, tan, and black.

Spending another $435 on your Reliant coupe moved you up to Custom trim, which added front disc brakes, quarter-window louvers, halogen headlights, a cigarette lighter, a color-keyed “deluxe” two-spoke steering wheel, a digital clock, a glove box lock, and an AM radio. You also got many more exterior and interior color choices.

The top-of-the-line Special Edition (SE) Reliant coupes ($6,789 or about $20,500 in today’s dollars) added dual horns, deluxe wheel covers, special sound insulation, a cloth bench seat, and a snazzier “luxury” two-spoke steering wheel. An option only available with the SE was cloth bucket seats ($91).

External and mechanical options for all Reliant coupes included tinted glass ($75), a glass sunroof ($246), and power brakes ($82). Both the mid-range upgrade P185/75R13 tires and the P165/75R14 upmarket tires (a size that fit the mid-90s Plymouth Neon compact just fine) are still readily available.

Inside, air conditioning cost $605 and required tinted glass, power brakes, and power steering—things were tightly engineered in the early 1980s. Other options included automatic speed control ($132), intermittent wipers ($44), a tilt steering wheel ($81), power door locks ($93), power front seats ($173 and said to be quite rare), along with a variety of radios up to an AM/FM radio with a cassette tape player and four speakers ($224).

1981 Plymouth Reliant two-door coupe, scan courtesy of Alden Jewell

The Reliant sold well in 1981—between the coupe and the sedan, Plymouth moved 101,127. Motor Trend managed to get a 2.2 liter with the automatic to do 0-60 in 12.4 seconds—they tried with another Reliant running the same combination, and it took 14.0 (oog) seconds. Top speed (if you could call it that) ranged from 88 to 96 mph in the 2,350-pound car.

In 2019, Plymouth Reliants rarely comes up for sale in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds or on eBay Motors, though you do see them occasionally on Craigslist. I haven’t seen a coupe in the wild for many years. Make mine Baron Red, I think.

Other K-body and K-body based cars I have covered in this blog include the 1982 Chrysler LeBaron convertible, the 1984 Chrysler Laser fastback coupe, the 1985 Dodge 600 Club Coupe, and the 1986 Chrysler Town & Country convertible. There’s also a short commentary I did on an unidentified K-car wagon I did called Some Quiet Love For A K Car.

Updated July 2019.

1981 Ford Escort hatchback coupe

“Built to take on the world.”

Ford’s biggest news for 1981 was the all-new Escort. Marketed as a “World Car,” the Escort replaced the unloved Pinto and represented a three billion dollar commitment from Ford. The new Escort was shorter, thinner, taller, and about 400 pounds lighter than the Pinto it supplanted.

The Escort’s standard powertrain was the Compound Valve Hemispherical (CVH) 65 bhp 1.6 liter/98 ci inline four with Holley-Weber 5740 2-barrel carburetor paired to a four-speed manual transmission (a three-speed automatic was a $344 option). Mileage with the standard powertrain was impressive: 28 city/43 highway by the standards of the day (about 23 city/31 highway by 2018 standards). Acceleration was less so: 0-60 came in about 14 seconds in the approximately 2,000-pound car. With a 10-gallon fuel tank, Escort drivers could expect a range of from 240 to 320 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $5,158 base Escort (about $15,300 in today’s dollars and close to what a 2018 Fiesta SE hatchback costs) included front wheel drive, rack-and-pinion steering, fully independent four-wheel suspension, halogen headlamps, and P155/80R13 tires (a size still available thanks to Kumho) on 13-inch steel wheels. Inside, high-back body-contoured front bucket seats, fold-down rear bench seat, and an AM radio were included.

As was often true with 1980s Fords, there were many trim levels. L added bright headlamp surrounds and a bright grill along with other brightwork. Moving up to the GL gave the purchaser reclining bucket seats and a four-spoke steering wheel. GLX added dual color-keyed remote sport mirrors, digital clock, locking glovebox, and P165/80R13 tires on styled steel wheels—but started at $6,476 (about $19,200 in 2018 dollars).

Fitting between the GL and the GLX in price, the somewhat sporty SS included black grill and headlamp housing, tape striping, and handling suspension ($37 for other Escorts).

Exterior and mechanical options included power brakes ($79) and power steering ($163). Inside, air conditioning ($530), fingertip speed control ($132), a floor console ($98), cloth/vinyl seat trim ($28), and an AM/FM stereo radio with cassette player ($187) were all available.

The first-year Escort and its platform-mate Mercury Lynx sold well: 193,000 Escort hatchback coupes, 128,000 Escort liftback sedans, 73,000 Lynx hatchback coupes, and 39,000 Lynx liftback sedans, making for a total of over 430,000. First-generation Escorts and Lynx’s were once so prevalent on American roads, but have virtually disappeared by now. You do occasionally see Escorts for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors, but there were none out there as I write this in June 2018.

1981: What Cars Are Collectible?

The question always arises: what cars are considered collectable? One way is to look at what Hagerty tracks with their valuation tools. For 1981 cars, the full list is below—I have added a few comments.

question mark graphic

Alfa Romeo; GTV-6 hatchback coupe, Spyder convertible

Alpine; A310 coupe

Aston Martin; Lagonda sedan, V8 coupe and convertible

Avanti; Avanti II coupe

Bentley; Corniche convertible, Mulsanne sedan

Bitter; SC coupe

BMW; 320i coupe, 633CSi coupe, 733i sedan, M1 coupe

Bristol; 412 convertible

Buick; Regal coupe, Riviera coupe

Cadillac; DeVille coupe and sedan, Eldorado coupe, Fleetwood coupe and sedan, Seville sedan

Checker; Marathon sedan

Chevrolet; C10/K10 pickup truck, C10/K10 Blazer SUV, C10/K10 Suburban SUV, C20/K20 pickup truck, C20/K20 Suburban SUV, C30/K30 pickup truck, Camaro coupe, Corvette coupe, El Camino pickup truck

Chrysler; Imperial coupe

Clenet; SII convertible

Datsun; 280ZX hatchback coupe

Delorean; DMC-12 coupe

DeTomaso; Deauville sedan, Pantera coupe

Dodge; Ramcharger SUV

Excalibur; Series IV convertible

Ferrari; 308 GTBi/GTSi coupe, 400i coupe, 512 BB coupe, Mondial coupe

Fiat; 2000 convertible, X1/9 coupe

Ford; Bronco SUV, F-100 pickup truck, F-150 pickup truck, F-250 pickup truck, F-350 pickup truck, GT40 coupe and convertible, Mustang coupe and hatchback coupe, Thunderbird coupe

GMC; C1500/K1500 pickup truck, C2500/K2500 pickup truck, C3500/K3500 pickup truck, Caballero pickup truck

Jaguar; XJ-6 sedan, XJ-S coupe

Jeep; Cherokee SUV, CJ-5 SUV, CJ-7 SUV, CJ-8 Scrambler pickup truck, Wagoneer SUV

Lamborghini; Countach coupe

Lancia; Beta coupe, convertible, sedan, and station wagon, Gamma coupe and sedan, Scorpion coupe

Lincoln; Continental coupe and sedan, Continental Mark VI coupe and sedan

Lotus; Esprit coupe

Maserati; Kyalami coupe, Merak coupe, Quattroporte III sedan

Matra; Murena coupe

Mazda; RX-7 hatchback coupe

Mercedes-Benz; 240D sedan, 280CE coupe, 280E sedan, 300CD coupe, 300D sedan, 300SD sedan, 300TD station wagon, 380SEL sedan, 380SL convertible, 380SLC coupe

Morgan; 4/4 convertible, Plus 8 convertible

Panther; DeVille convertible and sedan, J72 convertible, Kallista convertible

Peugeot; 504 convertible

Plymouth; Trail Duster SUV

Pontiac; Firebird coupe

Porsche; 911 coupe, 924 hatchback coupe, 928 hatchback coupe

Puma; GT coupe, GTC coupe and convertible

Replicar; sedan and convertible

Rolls-Royce; Camargue coupe, Corniche I convertible, Phantom VI sedan, Silver Spirit sedan, Silver Spur sedan

Saab; 99 coupe

Stutz; Bearcat convertible, Blackhawk coupe, Iv-Porte sedan, Royale sedan

Toyota; Celica hatchback coupe, Land Cruiser SUV

Triumph; TR7 convertible, TR8 coupe and convertible

Volvo; 262C coupe

Hagerty casts a wide net, except when they don’t (why does the Toronado go away in 1981 if it was around in 1980?). Speaking of going away, AMC, International, and Subaru all get no love when it comes to 1981 models.

Coupes are dominant—37% of 128 models listed with an additional 5% being hatchback coupes. Unsurprisingly, the rarest body style is a station wagon, at 2%.

1981 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Sport Coupe

It was a beautiful weekend in the Philadelphia area. Lots of people had their old cars out—one that caught my eye was an eighties Monte Carlo. However, it wasn’t the relatively glamorous SS of the mid-eighties; just a “normal” coupe.

“A matter of personal pride.”

For the 1981 model, the Monte Carlo that had been downsized in 1978 was significantly restyled, both to improve aerodynamics and modernize its looks. Much of the sculpting on the sides (which the middle-school-aged me found appealing) was flattened, the hood was lowered, and the trunk slightly raised. All of this change improved the drag coefficient by about 10%.

The standard engine continued to be an LC3 110 bhp 3.8 liter/229 ci V6 with a Rochester 2ME two-barrel carburetor. Optional power included a $750 (!) Buick-built LC8 170 bhp 3.8 liter/231 ci V6 with a turbocharger and a Rochester E4ME four-barrel carburetor and a $50 L39 115 bhp 4.4 liter/267 ci V8 with a Rochester 2ME two-barrel carburetor. California got an LG4 150 bhp 5.0 liter/305 ci V8 with a Rochester 4ME four-barrel carburetor as an option replacing the 4.4 liter V8. All engines were paired with a Turbo Hydra-Matic three-speed automatic transmission.

Mileage for the standard engine was 19 city/26 highway by the standards of the day (16/22 by today’s standards). With an 18.1-gallon fuel tank, a Monte Carlo driver could reasonably expect 310 to 365 miles of range with a 10% fuel reserve. Performance wasn’t exactly sparkling: 0-60 mph came in about 14.5 seconds with the standard V6 and 14 seconds for the 4.4 liter V8. The rare (about 2% of 1981 sales) turbo V6 was much faster—about 9 seconds for the 0-60 mph dash.

Back cover of the 1981 Monte Carlo brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures pages.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $7,299 Sport Coupe (approximately $21,300 in today’s dollars or about what a base 2017 Chevrolet Malibu costs—the Monte Carlo disappeared after the 2007 model year) included Computer Command Control, Delco Freedom II battery, power steering, power front disc/rear drum brakes, and P195/75R14 steel-belted radial tires (a size still available thanks to Hancook and Kumho) on 14-inch wheels. Inside a split cloth front bench seat, cut pile carpeting, and an electric clock were standard.

Exterior and mechanical options for the Sport Coupe (there was also a higher-content Landau Coupe) included halogen high beam headlamps ($27), removable glass roof panels ($695), F41 Sport Suspension ($43), limited-slip differential ($67), Rally wheels ($49), and attractive new aluminum wheels ($319). Inside, there were many options: air conditioning ($585), automatic speed control ($132), Comfortilt steering wheel ($81), power windows ($140), power door locks ($93), bucket seats ($118), gauge package ($55), and an AM/FM stereo radio with cassette tape ($264) were all available.

1981 Monte Carlo sales were astounding by modern standards for auto sales—Chevrolet sold 149,659 Sport Coupes along with another 38,191 Landau Coupes. For context, the combined Monte Carlo numbers would be enough to make it the 12th most popular car in 2016; and Chevrolet had four model lines that sold better in 1981 (Chevette, Citation, Malibu, and Impala/Caprice). Chevrolet was probably happy with the increased sales over 1980, but this would not last—1981 turned out to be the eighties high water mark for Chevrolet’s mid-size coupe.

Third-generation Monte Carlos have a following, though most of the interest is in the aforementioned SS, which is the only eighties Monte rated in Hagerty’s valuation tools. A 1986 maroon Chevrolet Monte Carlo coupe with a maroon interior and cloth bucket seats, an LG4 150 bhp 5.0 liter/305 cubic inch V8 with a four-barrel carburetor, an automatic, and 60,000 miles sold for $9,000 at Barrett-Jackson’s 2016 Las Vegas auction.

These Monte Carlos do show up for sale in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. As I write this, Hemmings is listing a 1985 Monte Carlo with a light brown metallic exterior, saddle cloth seats, an LG4 5.0 liter/305 ci V8 with a four-barrel carburetor, an automatic, and 68,000 miles for $8,250.

Make mine Green Light Jade Metallic, please. A rare choice when new, those GM light greens from the early eighties have aged very well.

Other rear-wheel-drive G-platform (designated A-platform before 1982) cars I have written about include the 1984 Buick Regal Grand National coupe, the 1983 Chevrolet Malibu Sedan, the 1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme coupe, the 1980 Pontiac Grand Am coupe, and the 1987 Pontiac Grand Prix coupe.

Updated February 2019.









1981 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am coupe

“Soul Survivor”

1981 was the last year for the second-generation Firebird and thus also the final year for the second-generation Trans Am. With the third-generation cars on the way, Pontiac’s eleven-year-old F-car got only minor changes. The “screaming chicken” decal on the hood was now two colors, compared to the four color decal from 1979 and 1980. Not much could be done about the general lack of space efficiency (the EPA rated the Firebird as a subcompact car), the relatively high weight (about 3,300 pounds when the Mustang weighed about 2,800), and the fairly primitive technology.

The standard Trans Am powertrain was the L37 150 bhp 4.9 liter/301 ci V8 with a four-barrel carburetor matched with an automatic. The only choice for Trans Am purchasers who wanted a manual transmission was the Chevrolet-built LG4 145 bhp 5.0 liter/305 ci V8 with a four-barrel carburetor, but you did get a $147 credit.

The top engine was the $437 LU8 200 bhp 4.9 liter/301 ci V8 with four-barrel carburetor and turbocharger, which included a new hood-mounted boost gauge. A Turbo Trans Am would accelerate from 0-60 in a little over eight seconds. Fuel mileage was predictably bad—14 mpg by the standards of the day for the combination of the turbo engine and the automatic. With a 21-gallon fuel tank, Trans Am owners could expect to travel about 260 miles before refueling.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment included in the $8,322 base price of the Trans Am (about $24,300 in today’s dollars) included black accent grille and headlamp bezels, dual rectangular headlamps, wheel opening air deflectors, side-split tailpipe extensions, shaker hood, power brakes, and P225/70R15 blackwall tires (a size still readily available) on Rally II wheels. Inside, power steering, air conditioning, console, bright engine-turned dash plate, and rally gauges with tachometer were standard.

The Trans Am Special Edition package cost $735 additional—$1,430 bundled with t-tops. There was also a special edition of the Special Edition—the NASCAR Daytona 500 Pace Car, resplendent in oyster white with a black and red interior. It included the LU8 turbocharged engine, the WS6 special performance package, four-wheel power disc brakes, and limited slip differential. Inside, the most notable upgrade from other Trans Ams was Recaro seats—among the best available from any manufacturer in 1981. All this extra content was a good thing because the NASCAR Daytona 500 Pace Car listed for $12,257; about $35,700 in 2017 dollars.

Firebird pages of the 1981 Pontiac brochure, linked for the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures pages.

Options available for the Trans Am included the WS6 special performance package, limited slip differential, tungsten quartz halogen headlamps, white-lettered tires, cast aluminum wheels, four-wheel power disc brakes, power antenna, electric rear window defroster, and custom bucket seats.

The View From 2017

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Long neglected by the collector market and with most now used up, late second-generation Trans Ams in good or great shape are starting to get interesting numbers at auctions. A black and gold 1981 Trans Am went for $19,000 at Mecum’s May 2017 auction in Indianapolis. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1981 Trans Am in #1/Concours condition is $38,200. A more normal #3/Good condition version is valued at $13,600.

Make mine the black and gold Special Edition, of course. The NASCAR Daytona 500 Pace Car is tempting, if only for those Recaro seats.

1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme coupe

 “America’s favorite Cutlass for flair, value and price”

For 1981, the exterior of Oldsmobile’s Cutlass Supreme coupe was substantially revised, with a lowered front, a slightly higher decklid, and quad headlamps. With the new styling, aerodynamic drag dropped by about 15%.

The standard engine remained the 110 bhp 3.8 liter/231 ci V6 with a Rochester M2ME two-barrel carburetor. The optional engines, a 4.3 liter/261 ci V8 with a Rochester M2MC two-barrel carburetor ($50) and a 5.7 liter/350 ci diesel V8 ($695!), both had (this makes no sense) five less horsepower than the V6. A three-speed automatic transmission was the only transmission available with any engine. Early eighties Cutlass Supremes were stylish but slow—0-60 came in a little under 15 seconds. Mileage with the V6 was 21 city/30 highway by the standards of the day (17/22 by today’s standards); with an 18.1-gallon fuel tank, a Cutlass Supreme owner could expect a range of about 315 to 415 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Cutlass Supreme page from the 1981 mid-size Oldsmobile brochure

Standard equipment on the $7,484 Cutlass Supreme (about $23,600 in today’s dollars) included power steering, power front disc brakes, and P195/75R14 steel-belted radial-ply blackwall tires (a size still available thanks to Hankook and Kumho) on 14-inch wheels. Inside, a Deluxe steering wheel, an instrument panel with simulated butterfly walnut veneer, and a Custom Sport bench seat with a choice of vinyl or cloth were included.

Moving up to the $7,969 Brougham added snazzier exterior moldings, full wheel discs, and a divided cloth velour tufted bench seat.

Options & Production Numbers

Optional exterior and mechanical equipment included cast-aluminum wheels, tungsten halogen high beam headlamps, engine block heater, limited-slip differential, power antenna, dual sport mirrors, electric rear window defogger, and removable glass roof panels ($695). Inside, you could add either Four-Season or Tempmatic air conditioning, Tilt-Away steering wheel, cruise control, power windows, power door locks, bucket seats, digital or regular electric clock, and a series of radios.

The Cutlass Supreme sure was popular—Oldsmobile sold almost 189,000 of them in the 1981 model year along with another 94,000 Cutlass Supreme Brougham coupes for a total of over a quarter of a million. Olds made it well known that the Cutlass brand overall continued to be the most popular car in the United States.

The View From 2021

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A few folks are collecting these cars, but they still aren’t common at shows. You do see Cutlass Supremes for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. When I updated this blog entry in May 2021, there was a Sandstone Beige 1981 Cutlass Supreme coupe with sandstone vinyl seats, a 3.8 liter/231 ci V6 with a two-barrel carburetor, and 27,000 miles listed on Hemming‘s for $19,500.

Make mine Dark Blue Metallic, please.

Other rear-wheel-drive G-platform (designated A-platform before 1982) cars I have written about include the 1984 Buick Regal Grand National coupe, the 1983 Chevrolet Malibu sedan, the 1981 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Sport Coupe, the 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme coupe, the 1980 Pontiac Grand Am coupe, and the 1987 Pontiac Grand Prix coupe.

Updated May 2021.