As a midwest Corvette and Chevy drag racer (108 wins in 123 final rounds) and a hardcore enthusiast from the wild '60s, the '80s might have seemed tame on many fronts. But it was actually pretty awesome, at least from my vantage point. It didn't start that way, though, at least not for new Corvette owners in California.
The '80 model year Corvettes had three different engines: a standard LG4 305 for California (which ran remarkably well) and two 350s for the other states (a base 350 plus RPO L82, a high performance option at $595). Due to strict emissions regulations, the California LG4 could only be ordered with the MX1 automatic transmission. Total '80 Corvette sales in California were 3,221. In all other states, you could not order a four-speed manual transmission with the RPO L82 engine, although lore has it that some were produced early on. The '80 body color of choice was Code 10 white with 7,780 units painted in that color. The least-ordered body color was Code 58 Dark Green with 844. The base Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) was just over $13,140.
For the '81 model year, Corvettes were produced in both the St. Louis and Bowling Green plants. All engines were now equipped with Computer Command Control, which automatically adjusted ignition spark timing and fuel mixture. In the rear suspension a new 8-pound composite plastic rear leaf spring replaced the previous 44-pound steel multi-leaf assembly. Composites were a big deal back then. Few thought it was possible. The St. Louis Corvettes were painted with lacquer, while the Bowling Green Corvettes were painted with a new, basecoat/clearcoat process. The MSRP was just over $16,200. Total '81 Corvette sales were 40,606. For the record, Code 10 White was the most popular body color in with 6,387. The rarest was Code 24 Bright Blue Metallic at one. Yes, one.
During these years imported, sporty-type cars were on the scene and selling well, and Ford's new Mustang and Buick's Turbo V-6 Regal were both putting on the performance gloves. The Corvette continued to evolve year after year. Sadly, by the close of the decade, the base MSRP had almost doubled. So, due to new competition from all fronts as well as huge pricing increases, new Corvette sales dropped to a low of 30,632 in 1987. The first Corvette with a base price exceeding $20,000 was the '82 Special Edition at just over $22,500. (There were 6,759 produced. Neat car.)
You may recall that the new Mustang was getting all the ink in magazines in the early '80s. While Chevy's '82 V-8 ran out of power at 4,400 rpm due to a restrictive pellet catalytic converter and smallish Cross-Fire throttle-body induction, the Mustang 302 had a free-flowing monolith converter and a carburetor. Its engine could reach 5,500 rpm. Chevrolet really didn't have much to brag about. As editor of Super Chevy, neither did I. To do something positive, I quietly entered a friend's new '82 Special Edition Corvette in the 16th Annual Corvette National Charity Drags at Orange County International Raceway. I was hoping to win a few rounds then write up a fun, descriptive tale. Yes, the '82 Corvette had some moxie.
We were one of 66 Corvettes entered in Bracket 5 (15.00-15.99 seconds). Our dial-in started at 15.90 seconds, as the computer-controlled automatic transmission took its time shifting full-throttle into Second gear. Six or so class elimination wins later we beat friend Norm Curtis for Bracket Five class laurels. (Actually, Norm beat himself by running 15.00 on his 15.07 dial-in.)
We thought we were done for the day, but Gary Leonhardt, club president, told us we had to compete for "King Of The Hill." To earn that honor we had to run Gary Cooke, then the NHRA Winternationals Super Gas champion, in his Service Center 9.90 e.t. '59. We dialed in a 15.95 e.t. for this final run. Cooke dialed in a soft 10.15.