It wouldn’t take long to realize that Chevrolet didn’t build any big-block Corvettes in 1981. They did however, build Corvettes in two different locations that year. Production at the St. Louis plant, where Corvettes had been made since 1954, ceased production in August of ’81. Production of Corvettes at the new Bowling Green Assembly began a few months earlier, in June of that year, thus making 1981 the only year for dual location production of Corvettes.
Even when building the same-year Corvettes at two different places, there were still differences. The Bowling Green Assembly was configured with a state-of-the-art paint area, and to highlight this new facility’s capabilities, a variety of two-tone paint schemes were offered. This Corvette wears one such paint combination, making it one of the 8,995 Corvettes manufactured at Bowling Green Assembly that year. Overall production of 1981 Corvettes reached 40,606 from both plants.
This particular Corvette is still quite original, save for the powerplant now residing under the hood. Once you realize what it is, we doubt that anyone would object to it replacing the original L81 engine. While the original ZL1 Corvettes are extremely rare, this newer, all-aluminum version of the ZL1 is also quite limited in production. Built to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the big-block engine, these crate monsters were spawned from the same tooling of the originals.
The Anniversary Edition 427 Crate Engine was available through Chevrolet Performance. Each engine carried its own serial number plate, designating it one of the only 427 units produced. Once only 427 blocks were poured, the tooling was retired forever. Making these engines just as special as they are powerful.
This particular engine happened to wind up in this ’81 Corvette when it only had 14,000 miles on the clock. It is one of the Bowling Green-produced cars fitted with a four-speed transmission as well. Other options include glass roof panels, rear defroster, two-tone paint, Gymkhana suspension, aluminum wheels, cassette player, power antenna, air conditioning and Camel leather bucket seats.
Other options include the March Performance accessory drive assembly to supply the power steering, air conditioning and other necessities. A MagnaFlow performance exhaust rids the engine of any leftover fumes from all the fun.
The car would be a great example of what a ZL1 Corvette might be, had GM continued building them in 1981. Who hasn’t ever dreamed of making their own ZL1 with a tasteful mix of modern and vintage? We have, and we’d love to have the coin to take this one home when it goes up for bid at the Palm Beach Barrett-Jackson event next month. Reality dictates that you’ll likely not be bidding against us, but we’ll bet that there will be enough enthusiasts wanting their own ZL1 to make this offering quite exciting to watch!