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Buying an 81 vette



I am thinking very hard about buying an 81 vette, it is a trade sale from a local dealer. The car has done 70'000 and has had 12 previous owners over here in the UK since it was imported from Texas in 1990!

I have been for a test drive and it seems quite a good runner, the engine doesnt sound too rough, and the ride quality was OK.

I am going back to look at the car this Friday, possibly to buy it!!!

Does anyone have any tips on possible problem areas to look out for and question the seller about?

The car is a Red 81 vette with side pipes, PAS, power windows and recently re-fitted door/window seals....

I would be extremely pleased if anyone could give me some tips for my first vette purchase!

Cheers, Martin (UK) :t
Hello Martin,

I`m not to far away from you, the 80-82 cars are a good choice, is it an auto or a 4spd ???

Needless to say you should check out all the usual thing that you would check buying any car. The two main areas to be carefull with other than rusty chassis or accident damage is the rear axle and induction set-up. 81 was the first year for computer control of the fuel and ignition timing and also this year should I think have a lockup on the torque converter, you should check it starts, idles and runs smoothly right thru the rev range and that the converter is working properly. The rear axles are prone to wheel bearing, u-joint problems and misaligned suspension. All of this is fixable but can be expensive. At the back have a look at the tyres any uneven wear will give a clue to wheel alingment problems, let the car coast from a reasonable speed with the window down and listen for any grinding noises from the rear or knocks when you accelerate again this might give an indication of rear end problems.

Another problem area is the brakes and a good wheels off inspection of the calipers will reveal any leaks, even with stainless inserts I have done the seals in mine twice and one of the fronts still leaks and will have to be done again this winter. The hand brake should work as well as this can be a bit tricky to sort out. Power rams steering tends to be a bit leaky as well.

Mechanically it is straight forward and there are plenty of people selling bit over here so can get just about anything you want reasonably easy.

81VetteMartin ~ Welcome to The Corvette Action Center Community ~

You have some really good advise so far. There is one spot on the 1978~1982 Corvette that is a must check item... The Lower Control Arm assy. there is a weld there that is a known problem in these years. The metal used is not as thick as the years before these models. The weld tends to seperate and the Lower Control Arm will actually start to come apart.

Take a tape measure with you too. Get the car on level ground and measure each wheel well at the apex to ground, the front should be very close to each other, as should the back measurements compare to each other. (back to back... front to front)

If JHL offers to go with you I would take him up on his offer. He is very knowledgable, and has had a few Corvettes and American Muscle cars..

Also Rob has a check list here at CACC for helping check used or new cars out with.. Right off hand I can't remember where it is, I'll find it and post back as an edit.. good luck and you are welcome to check out The L81VetteRegistry too. ;)

Edit: At the top of the page is a section called Technical it has a drop down menu :) and in that menu is a section called "Buying a Corvette" click on that ;)
Good luck on the '81

Seems like everyone has covered things pretty well. My big question would be why so many owners in such a short time? Could there be a major problem that the other owners didn't want to or didn't have the money to repair? Do a close inspection.


Many thanks to Racer 78, JHL and Rare 81, I didnt expect such brilliant replies in such a short space of time!

I am printing off the advice now and will be taking it into work with me tomorrow to scour over in detail. As you can imagine I do have the so called love at first sight emotions and needed the practical side bringing home to me!

We did go for a test drive, but I didnt get a chance to drive it, the car sounded loud (as expected!) but not too rough, not much knocking.

The insurance quotes are starting to get better now, and I think the price might be negotiable, he is asking £7500 (approx $11000?) I do have a possible part ex, but feel that a reasonable price would probably be about £6000.

Anyway, I have got a lot more thinking to do between now and Friday, so Thanks again for all the replies and I will check back soon.



Thanks to Tom59! I too wondered why so many owners, it is around about 1 every year... I can't help but wonder why it has changed hands so much..


Martin :t

In 81 it was still a quadrajet. The CrossFire injection became available in 82 cars. The computer set-up in 81 was a fairly simple affair compared to modern cars and as far as I`m aware only controlled timing, mixture and idle. In the event of any problems it can be changed to a standard carb and HEI without to much hassle.

Its Official (nearly!)

Well, I think I am going to take the plunge...

I am going to see the car again tomorrow, and will probably place a deposit on it!

I have made a cash offer and the owner has agreed.

The insurance looks like its getting close to being sorted out as well, I could be driving my classic vette to work next Friday!!!

On a related topic, namely the price of fuel, has anyone converted their corvette to duel fuel/ lpg? I hear that the performance loss on many cars is negligible and as long as there are garages that can supply lpg, it is a valid option.

John in particular, have you ever considered lpg? if so, do you know where to get a reasonable quote for such a classic car?

I look forward to any advice.

Cheers, Martin :s

I helped my father convert a 1976 truck to propane 15 or 20 years ago. The power loss wasn't bad.

The only real issue was space. Unless they have changed the configuration, the propane tank was a space hog.

Hi Martin,

Duel fuel is not something I thought about, I don`t use mine very often. I have seen several local companies offering conversions at prices from around £800-£1000 for something like a RangeRover. There are plenty of places to fill up if you look around, any Calor Gas depot has it for sale and it is about half the price of petrol.

I worked in Holland for a while and almost all the pertrol cars were converted to gas, to be honest you couldn`t tell the difference although it does take the edge off the performance. The other bonus is that it is a very clean fuel.

Good luck tommorow
Completely off Topic but

This is nothing to do with the thread but as I was replying, and fuel costs being on the agenda it reminded me of a friend who had a Trans-Am. He used to drive the wheels off it even though petrol was expensive even then.

I asked him one day how he managed to afford to keep it going, he told me that he would go out at night and syphon it out of his company truck into his T/A.

Unfortunately he worked for his wife:( this must have been the last straw, when she found out he had been using company funds to try and turn it into a 12second hotrod she fired him and divorced him at the same time.:eek :eek


I helped my father convert a 1976 truck to propane 15 or 20 years ago. The power loss wasn't bad.

The only real issue was space. Unless they have changed the configuration, the propane tank was a space hog.

Cheap gas

I don't mean to rub any salt in the wound, but gasoline has gotten down to $1 around here. I don't know how long it is going to last, but I'm driving endlessly now.--Bullitt
That sounds rather Imperial of you. :D

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