1981 Year In Review

Send This Page To A Friend

DeLorean DMC12
Sleek, Fast and Glamorous...but ultimately too expensive!

Holden Commodore VH
Most Aussies wanted the V8's, but it was the 1.9 litre 4 and 2.8 litre 6 that were to undergo most development for the VH's release, both obtaining far improved fuel economy.

The DeLorean

It may have been in 1973 that John DeLorean decided to set up a network of companies to design, manufacture and market a sports car in his own image; sleek, fast and glamorous; but it would take until 1981 for the car to eventually make it into production. DeLorean managed to persuade the British government to invest more than $140 million in the venture in hopes of stimulating the economy in Belfast, North Ireland, where a modern plant was constructed. American investors put up another $31 million; among them entertainers Johnny Carson, who contributed $500,000, and Sammy Davis Jr., who coughed up $150,000.

The rear-engine, gull-winged, stainless-steel car that emerged in 1981 was well received at first and developed a cult following which helped propel it into the "Back to the Future" films..., but the $25,000 price tag was a good bit higher at the time than that of the principal competition - GM's Corvette. Unsold DeLoreans began piling up at dealerships. The factory only produced about 8,900 cars in three years, and many of those went unsold.

In Europe, Renault held onto their position as number one car-maker, maintaining a whopping 13.9 per cent of the market. Back home, the 1981 James Hardie 1000 was stopped on lap 120 after a multi-car pile up on top of the mountain; Dick Johnson, who was leading at the time, was declared the winner. And while Alan Jones would win the US Grand Prix, the World Formula One Championship would go to Nelson Piquet. The banchmark small car was undeniably the Ford Laser hatchback - released earlier in the year it would continue to gather sales momentum throughout 1981.

Australia’s First ABS Fitted Car

Mercedes-Benz released the 380SL in Australia in 1981. Powered by a light alloy 3.8 litre motor it was initially available in limited quantities with a sticker price of A$58,867 - a lot of money back then, but that was not enough to stop the first shipment from being snapped up in record time. The 380SL was lighter, more aerodynamic and more fuel efficient than previous sports models, and more importantly it takes the honours as being the first car available in Australia to have been tiffed with a true anti-lock braking system. Daimler-Benz engineers made use of light alloy materials and a front end aerodynamic spoiler to improve the vehicle's fuel efficiency.

The 380SL was 40kg lighter than the 450SL it replaced. The front spoiler lowered the 380SL's drag co-efficient by five percent. It also improved stability by reducing front end lift forces by up to 20 percent. The 380SL was equipped with a detachable hardtop with a laminated heated rear window. The then new 3.8 litre V8 motor produced 145 kW at 5500 rpm and 295Nm of torque at 3750 rpm. It was mated to a new four speed torque convertor automatic gearbox. Instruments and controls included a vacuum gauge econometer to aid fuel economy and a cockpit operated levelling adjustment for the front headlights.

VC Commodore Vacationer

The GM-H "Vacationer' options pack had instant acceptance with many Australian motorists as, unlike many factory limited offer' packs, there was nothing frivolous or too flashy about the "Limited Edition" Holden's which carried the sub-title. Function, pure and simple, had traditionally been the purpose of the Vacationer pack, and in 1981 the base model VC Commodore L sedan and station wagon had their respective attributes enhanced to the point where the $650 price reduction seemed more like a gift than a marketing ploy.

Mechanically a Vacationer pack substituted GM's 3.3 litre six cylinder motor for the original 2.8 litre unit common to the Commodore L. Creature comforts over and above the norm included air conditioning, cord cloth trimmed seats and height adjusting mechanism of the driver's seat. Externally the coachwork was resplendent in either Chardanay Gold or Cypress Green paint, with subtle body-line highlighting stripe, small 'Vacationer' insignia and headlamp wiper/washers. The station wagon featured a special roof rack.

You could option an automatic transmission over and above the Vacationer equipment, bringing the total cost to A$10,229 plus on-road charges. Without auto, the sedan is listed at $8,-964 and the wagon at $9,580 - comparably equipped manual vehicles purchased outside the special limited offer would retail for $9,614 and $10,230 plus on-road costs. On the road, the holiday inspired machine lived up to its name with relatively lively performance - courtesy of the XT-5 3.3 litre motor introduced in 1980 with the VC Commodore range.

The Commodore Vacationer pack on the wagon included a study and stylish luggage rack in addition to items offered on the sedan. Special body colours and subtle 'Vactioner' insignia enhanced the base model Commodore, while cloth cord trim and extra driver's seat adjustment do the same for the interior. With the rear seat folded forward there was room for plenty of bulky gear, however the seat itself provided the biggest frustration of the whole vehicle - requiring you to use your entire weight to engage the lock which prevented the compressed padding from springing the seat back into a semi-upright position.

On the road, the Vacationers Radial Tuned Suspension gave the impression that a drunken blindfolded monkey could manage the machine on even a wet road. In high speed cornering a well laden station wagon could be a proverbial handful, but only a minor amount of initial roll oversteer would make corners a little untidy. On loose rough surfaces - even laden - ride and handling were pretty good, big wash-ways and potholes being smoothly absorbed without interfering with directional stability.

The Vacationer did manage to move some old stock, and in October the General would release the next iteration of the very successful VH Commodore. For the first time a five speed gearbox was offered, along with other options such as leather interior, cruise control and central locking.

Obviously there were significant changes made to the exterior, as would befit any mid-life makeover, but most development had taken place under the hood, particularly on the 1.9 litre four cylinder and 2.85 6 cylinder engines. The engineers were given the task of making the smaller engined Commodores more economical, and that they did, achieving a 12.5 and 14% reduction for each.

The hugely successful Australian film Gallipoli, directed by Peter Weir, was released in August and managed to take in an astounding $11.74M at the box office. In overseas events, Egypt's President Anwar Sadat would be assassinated, Hosni Mubarak being sworn in as his replacement. US President Ronald Reagan announced a plan to increase US nuclear forces, and the Commonwealth Heads of Government would meet in Melbourne. Poland experienced food riots; A Soviet submarine would run aground in Swedish waters, while a well publicised IRA hunger strike in British prisons would eventually come to an end.

Formula One Championship:

Nelson Piquet (Brazil) / Brabham-Ford

1981 Bathurst Winner:

Dick Johnson & John French / XD Falcon

NRL Grand Final:

Parramatta (20) def. Newtown (11)

VFL/AFL Grand Final:

Carlton (12.20.92) def. Collingwood (10.12.72)

Melbourne Cup:

Just a Dash (P. Cook)

Wimbledon Women:

Chris Evert Lloyd d. H. Mandlikova (6-2 6-2)

Wimbledon Men:

John McEnroe d. B. Borg (4-6 7-6 7-6 6-4)

The Movies:

  • 9 to 5
  • The Elephant Man
  • Stir Crazy
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Chariots of Fire
  • On Golden Pond
  • Reds
  • Atlantic City

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture - Chariots of Fire
  • Best Actor - Henry Fonda (On Golden Pond)
  • Best Actress - Katharine Hepburn (On Golden Pond)

Gold Logie:

Bert Newton (The Don Lane Show and New Faces, Nine)

The Charts:

  1. Tainted Love - Soft Cell
  2. Start Me Up - Rolling Stones
  3. Down Under - Men At Work
  4. Stars On 45 - Stars On 45
  5. Counting The Beat - Swingers
  6. Wired For Sound - Cliff Richard
  7. Whip It - Devo
  8. Who Can It Be Now - Men At Work
  9. Jealous Guy - Roxy Music
  10. Endless Love - Diana Ross & Lionel Richie


  • Joe Louis (Boxer)
  • Anwar Sadat (Egyptian President)
  • Natalie Wood (Screen Legend)
  • Bobby Sands (Irish Republican)
  • Bob Marley (King of Reggae and best known Rastafarian)
  • Bill Haley (Rocker and leader of the Comets)
Latest Classic Car Classifieds

You may also like...