400 Miles in a 1981 Corvette, Part 2

Jonny Lieberman
by Jonny Lieberman
400 miles in a 1981 corvette part 2

When we last left our hero, I was dodging post-wine tasting Buicks and Caddys in a hair-brained sprint to Los Angeles before the sun went down. My steed was a sparkle-blue 1981 Corvette with non-functioning headlights. Until this point, I’d been lollygagging along in the right lane. I assumed that the ‘Vette’s engine would crap-out on me if I gave it the boot. But the fear of getting caught with no lights– and then watching the DEA strip the car to the frame– forced my foot to the firewall.

Chevy small blocks are amazing. Yes, this C3 left the factory with just 190 horses. But the mini mill stumped-up 280 ft-lbs. of torque at 1600 rpm. Sadly, I can't tell you how much of a toll the intervening 27 years exacted on the Corvette’s performance– or how fast I was going. Not because the Nixonian speedometer tops out at 85 mph. Because it wasn't working. Regardless, y'all would have loved the burble.

Amazingly, the Corvette was behaving flawlessly. The engine was strong. Sure, you can get more handling from a photograph of a Miata. But around the gentle twists of Paso Robles, the car was aces. Braking? Not so much. And when you hit 'em the car shot left and then right. But I didn’t need any stinking brakes. I had no intention of stopping.

Suddenly, just north of Santa Barbara the right headlamp popped up. As fate would have it, I had left the lights on. You could almost hear the opening bars from Flight of the Valkyrie. "Come on, come on you little shit," I started screaming at the left lamp. "Pop!" Fifteen long, gut-twisting seconds later it did. Sure, I could have got more illumination sitting on the hood and holding a Zippo, but the lights were up! I was going to make it.

If you've never been through Santa Barbara, there are two things you need to know. 1) Eat at Taqueria Super Rica 2) Don't speed.

I've received six speeding tickets in my life. Three were in Santa Barbara. Case in point: as soon as I passed the sign welcoming me to Goleta (once again travelling at sane speeds) I saw a CHP officer climbing back on his hog and a blue BMW taking off from the shoulder. Then I saw a Highway Patrol car. Then another. I would have been toast. Or tased.

Now that I was back to cruising, I had some neurons to spare to contemplate the C3. What a brilliant little car. How did it know to pop those lights then and there? And maybe those neurons were cooked a little, but I realized what was going on. The Corvette knew.

This was it: the poor thing's swan song. It's death rattle. The last chance the tri-decade dog would have to be flogged California style. Sure, they have roads in Euroland. But 'Vettes — especially C3s – were built for the Golden State. Somehow, like a race horse about to be put out to stud, the Corvette knew. This was its victory lap.

Respect. I like how the Sting Ray makes you feel dangerous. And sleazy. It's akin to driving a van with a waterbed in back. You're a bad element; daughters' mothers know it. I can't even tell you how many times I looked in my rearview and caught a wife in the passenger seat checking me and my 'Vette out. Seriously, they couldn't take their eyes off the long, sleek, blue-speckled phallus.

I stopped at the beach to snap some photos and got mobbed by surfers. I've never heard "Dude!" so many times in my life.

I didn't dare turn the engine off, for fear of losing the headlights, but looking at the C3 nestled next to the Pacific Ocean, the zeitgeist of this machine became clear. It's the 70s, man. Sex couldn't kill you. Cocaine couldn't kill you. Rock and roll would never die, but you could get more coke and sex at the disco. The world has since moved on, but this Corvette? Still super awesome.

Before I got home, I stopped off for some tacos. The locals loved the 'Vette. "Dude, that is a beautiful car." Indeed, it is. The C3’s lines are timeless, as aesthetically spot on as anything from Italy or Britain from the 70s. And light years ahead of Japan and Germany.

In fact, I'm sorry my time with this C3 was so short. The seats are comfortable, the engine can get out of its own way and the looks– to paraphrase Vince Neil– can kill. With just a little TLC I could see owning this 'Vette big time. The C3’s currently parked in an undisclosed location, awaiting the Czech's further instructions. I bet I could make Mexico in a matter of hours.

[Read Pt. 1 of 440 Miles by clicking here.]

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2 of 34 comments
  • IronEagle IronEagle on Mar 18, 2008

    Great write up! I lol'd. That Vette is pimptastic I hope you had the ttops out. That is the best.

  • IronEagle IronEagle on Mar 18, 2008

    You could do 45mpg in the 96 LT4 Corvette I used to drive. In 6th gear at 800rpm going down hill at 50mph. At least that is what I remember the instant fuel econ would go to.

  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Ed That has to be a joke.