RESERVE LOWERED - 1981 Chevrolet Corvette

Guide Price: £9,500 - £14,000

The Background

The Chevrolet Corvette sits proudly in the pantheon of all-time great American cars: an iconic machine, as much art as automobile, which is so inextricably intertwined with both Hollywood and the realm of motorsport to always have a frisson of specialness about it. Every Corvette is a cool Corvette, that’s just an ingrained reality.

What we do tend to find is that, while most people have some level of fondness for the model in general, the die-hard fans aren’t just Corvette fans overall: they’re enthusiastic about one particular generation. The moneyed purists will chase after the original C1 of the 1950s, with its imposing side scallops and distinctive dual-cowl dash. Road-racer connoisseurs will zero in on the C2, with its all-wheel disc brakes and big-block motors. And an increasing groundswell these days is growing beneath the C3; a model so massively popular in period, it continued in series production from 1967 all the way up to 1982. The new-for-’67 body featured targa tops and a removable rear window, with vacuum-operated pop-up lights, all-independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and a whole host of V8 engine options. The final editions, built from 1980-82, boasted significantly improved aerodynamics thanks to their restyled bumpers and rear window, and a manual gearbox was offered on the L48 350ci (5.7-litre) engine option. Power windows and air-con came as standard, body panels were thinner with the aim of weight-saving, and the rear suspension was made from aluminium. The brawny ’Vette was all grown-up. And today, a late-model C3 represents a truly alluring proposition – brains and brawn combined, backed up by that delicious V8 rumble.

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The History

The current owner has had this Corvette in his possession since May 2017. The key reason for buying this particular one was that it was very straight and solid, and almost completely original. There was no accident damage to worry about, no welding to tackle, no reliability worries, no lengthy parts list to shop for – it was simply a decent and honest Corvette that could be pressed into recreational use. And that’s precisely what he did. The only major work undertaken in his tenure has been to give the body a full respray in its correct and original shade of red – something which he’s well equipped to do, as this is his line of work and he was able to paint it to his own high standards in his own spray booth.
Aside from that, it’s simply been a case of proper maintenance and regular enjoyment. It’s only done local journeys while he’s owned it, and the sole reason for sale is that he’s not able to take his wife and young daughter along for the ride – being a strict two-seater, it’s not exactly a family motor. So it’s time for this honest and original ’Vette to move on to its next set of adventures.

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The Paperwork

Documentation from the States shows that this Corvette was originally supplied to its first owner in Chicago, and a few years later found itself in Florida. The sheaf of old MOTs demonstrates that it’s been in the UK since at least 1990, and there’s a handy wedge of receipts for parts and owners’ club details. The servicing and maintenance over the last few years of ownership isn’t documented here quite simply because the car’s been self-maintained by a professional – the owner runs his own garage, and has looked after the car himself.

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The Interior

The first thing you notice about this interior, aside from the vivid redness of it all, is that it smells proper. It’s got that evocative old-car whiff which all true-blue classics should enjoy, and this makes sense as this interior is all original. It wears its years of use on its sleeve rather than presenting a picture of concours perfection, but everything is present and correct. The passenger seat could do with a minor repair, but the rips are confined to the bolster so it wouldn’t be an in-depth fix. The original steering wheel has recently been repainted; in doing so it was discovered that the horn had stopped working, so the owner has a new aftermarket horn that will be supplied. The targa tops are present and in good condition; they seal properly, although there is a little broken plastic trim at the leading edge on the driver’s side. 

There’s no lacquer peel on the faux-wood centre console, and the car is fitted with a period Alpine stereo. In the rear, the Corvette has its original retractable load bay cover which is in proper working order, and beneath the floor are two cubbyholes – one for storage, and one where the battery lives. It’s all present and fit for purpose; the owner points out that if he were keeping the car, the only thing he’d address would be to replace the carpet with a nicer example. 

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The Exterior

The C3 Corvette’s body shape makes a heck of a statement: Chevrolet essentially designed a front end and then kept going, and going and going… it’s the archetypal long-bonnet-cab-rearward profile and it looks magnificent. Corvette aficionados will of course be aware that these cars have plastic bodies, so obviously there’s no rot to worry about there; in addition, this car enjoys wonderfully straight panels that all sit correctly with even gaps. The owner resprayed the car in its original shade of red a few years ago, and it polishes up to a beautiful as-new shine – the only blemishes being a few blisters along the edge where the tail meets the rear spoiler, plus the odd very minor age-related ripple that you’d expect of this material. But there’s no cracks, no spidering, no dings or scuffs, it’s all very well presented. 

The rubber sills on the roof are shot, and is causing some water to leak into the interior. The seller has advised though that these are available to buy, but they will not have time to rectify before the auction ends, so do take this into consideration.

The pop-up headlights work correctly, and the original-spec wheels look period-perfect on those BF Goodrich tyres. (The rears will probably require replacement when it comes to the next MOT – it’s a symptom of having all that raw power galloping through the rear wheels!) The underside is absolutely spot-on too – no structural corrosion, no signs of accident damage.

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The Mechanicals

The Corvette features an iconic motor, the 350ci (5.7-litre) V8, and it’s all in fine fettle: it starts without trouble, idles as it should, and pulls strongly through the gears. The presence of a four-speed manual gearbox is a huge plus here as it’s fairly unusual to find a C3 with a self-shifter, and the car really announces its presence through what the owner describes as ‘granny-killer exhausts’! These raucous side-exit pipes are largely un-silenced and really help the V8 to sing. 

Aside from an Edelbrock intake and a shiny new pancake filter, the engine is all in OE spec, and has recently received a new distributor and cap. There’s a small blow on one of the exhaust manifolds, but this would easily be fixed with a new gasket. The power-assisted steering has recently been overhauled and is working well, and there are no issues with the suspension, it’s all in good condition and the car tracks straight and true. The brakes have also been overhauled, with the front callipers rebuilt with the correct repair kits. The only thing immediately on the to-do list is a new windscreen wiper switch, which does need replacing.

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The Appeal

The Corvette is a legend, and the C3 generation is arguably the most usable of the lot. Does this make it the most desirable? For many, it really does – after all, while high-end speculators are stuffing their collections with rare-groove C1s and C2s, cars like the one you see here are being bought by people who actually want to drive them. And that’s just as it should be, because these cars are hilariously good fun to drive: they may feature a bunch of the modern-seeming accoutrements to civilise the experience, like the electric driver’s seat and the electric windows, but make no mistake – this is a hairy-chested muscle car of the old school. A totally analogue experience, with a shouty V8 gargling through fat tailpipes, throwing its power through a hewn-from-granite manual ’box, chucking all the grunt to the rear tyres. It looks sublime in the way that only a Chevrolet designed in the 1960s can, while its 1980s revisions ensure that any contemporary Porsche 911 you pull up alongside at the lights will have its owner shrinking down in the seat. And the most perfect thing about this particular ’81 Corvette is that, well, it isn’t perfect. If that interior was in concours condition you’d perhaps be reticent to use it in case you sully its purity with the rivets on your jeans. But as it is, this is an honest, well-used, dependable classic that’s ready to go out and have some fun. And with all the confined-to-quarters lockdown weirdness of 2020, we can’t think of many things more fun than haring about the place in a C3 Corvette.

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Although every care is taken to ensure this listing is as factual and transparent as possible, all details within the listing are subject to the information provided to us by the seller. Car & Classic does not take responsibility for any information missing from the listing.

As is normal for most auctions, this vehicle is sold as seen, and therefore the Sales of Goods Act 1979 does not apply. All bids are legally binding once placed. Any winning bidder who withdraws from a sale, is subject to our bidders fee charge. Please see our FAQs and T&C's for further information. Viewings of vehicles are encouraged, but entirely at the sellers discretion.

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Auction Details
  • Year 1981
  • Make Chevrolet
  • Model Corvette
  • Colour Red
  • Mileage 73,600 Miles
  • Engine size 5700
  • Seller Type Private
  • County Kent
  • Country United Kingdom
  • Auction ends
Bidding history
22 Bids
  • Re•••• £10,250 11/09/20
  • fr•••• £9,400 10/09/20
  • Re•••• £9,250 10/09/20
  • be•••• £9,000 10/09/20
  • Re•••• £8,800 10/09/20
  • be•••• £8,650 10/09/20
  • su•••• £8,400 10/09/20
  • Ma•••• £8,300 10/09/20
  • su•••• £8,100 10/09/20
  • Ma•••• £8,000 10/09/20

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