It was 1981 when Pope John Paul II and then-President Ronald Reagan were both wounded by gunmen; Anwar al-Sadat was assassinated; Pacman-mania swept the country; and Christopher Cross won 3 Grammies, with his song, "Sailing," voted Song of the Year. CB radios were still enormously popular with thousands of motorists "10-4ing" their "good buddies" on the highways and byways of America.
Corvettes were being built both in St. Louis and at the new facility in Bowling Green, Kentucky, as the year began. The first Kentucky-built unit rolled off the line in June, while St. Louis manufacturing was phased out in August. St. Louis-built units were mostly solid color cars using traditional lacquers, while Bowling Green built two-tone units using the new enamel-type paint with clearcoat finishes.
No engine options were offered in 1981, since the 185hp, 350ci block had finally garnered California certification. Available transmissions were the four-speed manual or the automatic, and Chevrolet's "computer command control" that automatically adjusted engine timing and air/fuel mixture was now standard equipment on all models.
Weight reduction remained a key design factor. A fiberglass monoleaf rear spring weighing only eight pounds was introduced, and all '81 valve covers were made of lightweight magnesium. The antitheft alarm system had an ignition interrupt added to prevent engine startup, and the speedometer's top calibration mark was 85 mph.
It's safe to say that 1981 wasn't exactly Corvette's finest year. But that certainly didn't stop 40,606 people from plunking down their hard-earned cash to buy one, and at a base price of $16,258.52, they weren't exactly cheap.
Ron DeSmedt, owner of the Contemporary Corvette boneyard in Bristol, Pennsylvania, got a call one day from a fellow who said his sister had an '81 Corvette with 800 original miles on it, and she wanted to sell it. Ron thought this was just another one of those tall stories you hear when people are trying to unload a car and get top dollar for it. As it turned out, however, the woman's husband had passed away the previous year, and every time she saw the car it evoked a lot of emotion and memories for her; she was trying to move on with her life, so she thought selling the car was a good first step.
Ron felt the asking price was higher than it should have been for an 80,000-mile Vette but lower than it should have been for an 800-mile vehicle. Long story short, his curiosity was piqued, so he decided to check out the car. When he did, he found that this car was, indeed, the real deal. The widow had all the original paperwork, including the window sticker, manuals, and so forth. Ron connected a jumper box to the battery and the car started right up. He learned that the lady's husband had purchased the Corvette from its original owner in 1991 with 500 miles on it at the time. When he first bought the car, the couple took it on a trip to the shore and back, logging about 300 additional miles on the clock. After that, the car was only taken out locally for a couple of oil changes, racking up about nine additional miles each time.
Ron acquired the car in 2006 and originally thought about selling it at Carlisle, but he decided to keep it. Aside from the rare short jaunt now and then when there's reason to take it out (such as for this photo shoot), he has kept it pretty much under wraps to preserve its survivor status.