Welcome back to Hobby Car Corvettes, as we wrap up the final years of the C3 Vette series. We began this series with the exciting launch of the third generation of Corvettes in 1968, and this week we bring you the second to final year, the 1981 Corvette. Each post, we discuss the highs and lows, the additions and removals, of each Corvette born into the third generation.
Here at Hobby Car Corvettes, located in Martinsburg, PA, we began this series because we personally think the third generation of Corvettes was, and remains, the best! We love all Corvettes, but let’s be honest, everyone has favorites. The third generation was ours.
Let’s dive right in and find out what Chevrolet had in store for the 1981 Corvette.
HELLO BOWLING GREEN, KENTUCKY!
The year of the 1981 Corvette brought with it yet another milestone. After many years of sole Corvette production occurring in St. Louis, Missouri, this year, Chevrolet opened a brand-new, high-tech facility in Bowling Green, Kentucky. This is where Chevrolet would now produce all Corvettes, and only Corvettes. The St. Louis plant was not Corvette exclusive, and so this was seen as an upgrade and opportunity to solely focus on perfecting the Corvette.
You have probably heard of Bowling Green before, because today, that is where you will find the National Corvette Museum. If you have the opportunity to visit, we enthusiastically recommend it!
The facility that GM purchased for the development of the Corvette plant had originally been an air-conditioning plant, but was fully refurbished by General Motors to be used only for the production of Chevy Corvettes. This facility would utilize the latest automated manufacturing processes which improved consistency in quality. Also included in the new Bowling Green facility was a more efficient and updated paint shop allowing for more durable enamels and a new clear coat finishing. You will notice in the specs and details below, this year offered not only more colors than ever before, but also the options of two-tones and many metallic colors.
The actual announcement of the move to a new Corvette facility was released on March 26, 1979. One of the main reasons for the eventual move in 1981 was age of the St. Louis facility, which had been built in 1920. Not only was it outdated, it was also small and Corvette had frankly outgrown what the facility had to offer.
Production of the 1981 Corvette continued in the St. Louis plant until August 1, 1981. The last Corvette to be completed in St. Louis occurred in the Fisher Mill building on Natural Bridge Avenue. The first Corvette to roll off production in the new Bowling Green plant did so on June 1, 1981. This meant that there were two months where Corvettes were being produced in two locations. Many of the workers from St. Louis did relocate to Bowling Green to continue their work with Corvettes, evidence of the commitment of the workers and the fulfillment that working in a Corvette plant provided.
1981 CORVETTE AESTHETICS
While very few aesthetic changes occurred in 1981, the most notable was an interior upgrade. A modernized dashboard offered new user-friendly features. Some features added included a standard quartz clock and electronic tuning for all factory radios. Another new option would be a six-way power driver’s seat. This introduced the ability to recline.
On the outside, the 1981 Corvette was nearly identical to the 1980 Corvette. The biggest difference on the outside was the new paint option, RPO D84, which was a 1981 exclusive option. This year, you could opt for a two-tone paint job.
This was decided to be an option to showcase the high-tech capabilities of the new Bowling Green facility. There were four two-tone combinations available—Beige/Dark Red, Silver/Dark Blue, Silver/Charcoal, and Autumn Red/Dark Claret.
1981 CORVETTE MECHANICS
Similar to aesthetics, very few changes were made to the mechanics of the 1981 Corvette. Chevrolet clearly had their hands full with the big move. In addition, more people were accepting the inevitable end of an era. It was clear that the third generation was coming to an end. That being said, there was little need for a major makeover or mechanical rework. Perhaps they were saving any big changes for the launch of a new generation.
The one change worth mentioning, was the single engine option in 1981. As regulations and standards continued to tighten, Chevrolet knew they would never give up the Corvette, but they accepted that they would have to put in the work to improve its fuel compliance rating. The effort made to do this resulted in a single, reworked engine designated as L81, while the previous L48 and L82 350 ci engines were retired.
The 1981 engine option was a 350 ci V-8, rated at 190 hp. The new L81 engine featured magnesium valve covers, a stainless steel exhaust manifold, and an auxiliary electric cooling fan that worked in conjunction with a smaller, engine driven cooling fan, which aided in noise reduction.
An exciting introduction to the 1981 Corvette was the use of computer command control (CCC). This technology utilized electronics to integrate the emissions and fuel systems, which reduced smog and fuel consumption. CCC was also used with the automatic transmission’s new lockup torque-convertor clutch. This change eliminated gas-eating frictional losses through the convertor.
Chevrolet also made efforts to reduce Corvette weight, which would ultimately benefit fuel efficiency. One major weight reduction was the change from a plastic mono-leaf fiberglass rear spring which weighed 8 pounds, in comparison to the previous 44 pound steel leaf springs.
DID YOU KNOW
1981 offered more color options than any other year.
This was the first time that Corvettes were running off the assembly lines in two locations simultaneously.
The L81 engine could be mated to a four-speed manual transmission, allowing California drivers to purchase a manual-transmission Corvette for the first time since 1975.
The number of Corvettes sold in 1980, in comparison with the total sold in 1981, only differed by 7 Corvettes. With 40,606 total 1981 Corvettes sold, numbers remained notable, even with a steep price increase. The 1981 Corvette sold for over $16,000.
While 1981 brought few exciting changes to the Corvette specifically, the introduction of the Bowling Green facility offered great potential for the future of the Corvette.
As was stated in a 1981 Corvette brochure,
“The Bowling Green facility, which will build Corvettes exclusively, is an investment in Corvette’s future. It represents the experience and knowledge learned over all those years.”
As always, thank you for stopping by here at Hobby Car Corvettes. We hope the information and insight we offer in these posts, adds value to your day. Whether you are looking to expand your well of Corvette knowledge, or you’re in the market for Corvette purchase, we have what you need.
Feel free to peruse below to see the 1981 Corvettes we currently have for sale. Don’t forget, we have worked with international customers who now proudly own their dream Corvette. Don’t let miles deter you. If we have what you are looking for, reach out and let’s connect.
Don’t forget to stop by next week for the final year of the C3 Vettes, 1982.
We currently have the following 1981 corvettes for sale:
Just Arrived L81/350 Numbers matching, automatic transmission, 62,000 miles, dark red leather interior, power steering, power brakes, power windows, alloy wheels, glass t tops, dual exhaust, AM/FM, Just Arrived Numbers matching, L81/350 engine, automatic transmission, 14,492 miles on dash (title is exempt for mileage), A/C, red leather interior, power steering, power brakes, power windows,
L81/350 Numbers matching, automatic transmission, 62,000 miles, dark red leather interior, power steering, power brakes, power windows, alloy wheels, glass t tops, dual exhaust, AM/FM,
Numbers matching, L81/350 engine, automatic transmission, 14,492 miles on dash (title is exempt for mileage), A/C, red leather interior, power steering, power brakes, power windows,
|MODEL||1981 CHEVROLET CORVETTE|
|BODY STYLE||Two-door coupe, front engine, rear wheel drive|
|MANUFACTURING LOCATION||St. Louis, Missouri & Bowling Green, Kentucky|
|Mahogany, White, Silver Metallic, Black, Bright Blue Metallic, Dark Blue Metallic, Charcoal Metallic, Beige, Yellow, Dark Bronze, Red, Maroon Metallic, Autumn Red, Charcoal Metallic, Dark Claret Metallic, Silver/Dark Blue, Silver/Charcoal, Beige/Dark Bronze, Autumn Red/Dark Claret|
|Silvery Grey, Charcoal, Black, Dark Blue, Camel, Dark Red, Medium Red|
|CONSTRUCTION||Frame features a cross-member for transmission (with bolting assembly for transmission). The frame is all welded (full length), ladder constructed. The full frame includes four cross-members and is sealed with a corrosion resistant material. The body is constructed of a corrosion-resistant, steel-reinforced fiberglass. The front bumper features a honeycomb cushion system. The rear energy-absorbing bumper features twin hydraulic shock absorbers. The hood and doors are constructed of fiberglass and feature a double-panel construction method. The roof assembly features two removable roof panels.|
|VEHICLE NUMBERS (VIN)||1G1AY8764BS400001 – 1G1AY8764BS431611 (St. Louis)
1G1AY8764B5100001 – 1G1AY8764B5108995 (Bowling Green)
|ENGINE SUFFIX||ZDA: 350 CUBIC INCH, 190 HORSEPOWER, MANUAL TRANSMISSION
ZDB: 350 CUBIC INCH, 190 HORSEPOWER, AUTOMATIC, CALIFORNIA EMISSIONS
ZDC: 350 CUBIC INCH, 190 HORSEPOWER, MANUAL TRANSMISSION
ZDD: 350 CUBIC INCH, 190 HORSEPOWER, AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION
|ENGINE BLOCK NUMBER||14010207: ALL|
|HEAD NUMBER||462624: ALL|
|CARBURETOR NUMBERS||ROCHESTER Q-jet #17081217: 350 C.I., 190HP,MANUAL TRANSMISSION
ROCHESTER Q-jet #17081218: 350 C.I., 190HP, AUTOMATIC, CALIF. EMISSIONS
ROCHESTER Q-jet #17081228: 350 C.I., 190HP, AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION
|DISTRIBUTOR NUMBER||1103443: ALL|
|ALTERNATOR NUMBER||1101075, 1101085, 1103088, 1103091, 1103103|
|AXLE IDENTIFICATION NUMBER||OJ: 2.87:1 RATIO, AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION
OK: 2.72:1 RATIO, MANUAL TRANSMISSION
|PRODUCTION ENDING VEHICLE||AUG., 1980: 400775 DEC., 1980: 415234 APR., 1981: 426422, SEP., 1980: 404136 JAN., 1981: 418399 MAY, 1981: 428003, OCT., 1980: 408594 FEB., 1981: 421392 JUN., 1981: 429775, NOV., 1980: 412124 MAR., 1981: 424742 JUL., 1981:|
Options Codes, Production, & Pricing
|1YY87||Base Corvette Sport Coupe||40,606||$16,258.52|
|AU3||Power Door Locks||36,322||$145.00|
|A42||Power Driver Seat||29,200||$183.00|
|CC1||Removable Glass Roof Panels||29,095||$414.00|
|C49||Rear Window Defogger||36,893||$119.00|
|DG7||Electric Sport Mirrors||13,567||$117.00|
|F51||Heavy Duty Shock Absorbers||1,128||$37.00|
|G92||Performance Axle Ratio||2,400||$20.00|
|MM4||4-Speed Manual Transmission||5,757||$0.00|
|N90||Aluminum Wheels (4)||36,485||$428.00|
|QGR||White Letter SBR Tires, P225/70R15||21,939||$72.00|
|QXH||White Letter SBR Tires, P255/60R15||18,004||$491.22|
|UM4||AM-FM Radio, electronically tuned stereo with 8-track tape||8,262||$386.00|
|UM5||AM-FM Radio, electronically tuned stereo with 8-track tape and CB||792||$712.00|
|UM6||AM-FM Radio, electronically tuned stereo with cassette||22,892||$423.00|
|UN5||AM-FM Radio, electronically tuned stereo with cassette and CB||2,349||$750.00|
|U58||AM-FM Radio, stereo||5,145||$95.00|
|V54||Roof Panel Carrier||3,303||$135.00|
|YF5||California Emission Certification||4,951||$46.00|
|CC||Warner 4-Speed, Heavy-Duty Aluminum Case, Wide-Ratio (2.88:1 1st Gear)|
|8JD||Turbo Hydra-Matic 350 with 350 Engine|