Here's the story:
Illustrated Corvette Series No. 64 - 1981 Corvette
"Price Way Up... Sales Flat-Lined"
Detroit was experiencing real pain in 1981. Sales hit a 20-year low with only 6.2 million cars built. Despite a 23 percent price hike and flat sales, General Motors was very happy with their flagship Corvette.
Chief Engineer Dave McLellan and his crew had been working on the C4 since 1979. Their challenge was to make incremental improvements to the existing car, keep it fresh, and develop a replacement car.
One of the biggest challenges was weight control. In 1981, the Corvette lost 150-pounds of weight with the use of a new fiberglass mono-leaf rear spring, magnesium valve covers, steel tube headers, and thinner door glass. The Corvette went from 3,495 pounds in 1980, to 3,345 pounds in 1981.
Unfortunately, the optional 230 hp L82 engine was no longer available. Only the base 190- hp 350 engine was available. Buyers had a no-cost choice between a four-speed and an automatic transmission. New for the '81 was the lock-up torque converter for second and third gears. However, the 40 hp loss canceled out any performance advantage from the weight reduction.
The '81 marked the last year for the St. Louis assembly plant and the first year for the new Bowling Green facility. The purchase of a 550,000 square-foot building from Chrysler enabled GM to build a 1 million square-foot, Corvettes-only assembly plant. The all-new, state-of-the-art facility enabled GM to gear-up for the new C4 Corvettes as well as the use of the new clear-coat painting process. The first Bowling Green Corvette rolled out on June 1, 1981, while the last St. Louis Corvette was built on August 1, 1981. Only 8,995 of the 40,606 '81 Corvettes were built in the new Bowling Green plant.
The '81 Corvette saw a huge price hike of $3,118 over the '80 model. "Soft" options such as aluminum wheels, two- tone paint, glass roof panels, 60-series tires, and am-fm cassette/CB radio, could jack the price as high as $19,750!
While it is true that C3 Corvettes were now marketed to a different buyer base, the car was still alive and well. Besides, McLellan and his crew were working on great things for 1984. - K. Scott Teeters