The 1983 vintage of the Chevrolet Corvette was as visually exciting as its predecessors, and its chassis was technically outstanding. Only in the realm of engines did tradition reign supreme and technology take a back seat.
Having produced its "last" convertible in 1975, the Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz was proof that even General Motors could go back on its word. If ever there was proof that the fuel crisis had subsided by the early 1980's, this was it. A full-blown Cadillac convertible, complete with generous front and rear overhang, whitewall tyres, et al.
Almost thirty years after it first appeared as a production version of a stylist's dream, the Chevrolet Corvette remained the only true American sports car, and the complete redesign which Chevrolet announced early in 1983 would take the car well into its fourth decade. The concept of a powerful two-seater with plastic bodywork remained the same, but the 1983 Corvette had little resemblance to its predecessor, having started as a clean sheet of paper. Despite its "sports car" classification, the Corvette was far removed from the European concept of a sports machine.
It was, however, closer to European thinking than any previous Corvette. Naturally, the power unit chosen was pure "cubic inches" - for which there ain't no substitute - and was the Chevrolet 351 CID (5.7 litres) V8 with Cross-Fire fuel injection producing 205 horsepower. Putting this power on the ground and keeping it there was a complicated business, and the Chevrolet engineers came up with some interestting solutions in the suspension department. A new departure was the extensive use of aluminium for major front and rear suspension components such as the front and rear upper control arms and knuckles, as well as the lateral control support arm in the rear suspension.
Total weight saving from these components was approximately 34 kg. Another innovation was the use of single leaf fibreglass transverse springs front and rear. As in previous Corvettes, the body panels were in plastic, and the hood (bonnet), although the largest plastic part ever made for a car, weighed only 26.2 kg. Styling and aerodynamics blended easily in the design of the body, whose shape came with a low Cd of 0.34.
In 1983 Chrysler was riding on the crest of a wave following the reversal of its financial troubles. Buoyed by their success, the company introduced two new sports coupes, the Dodge Daytona Turbo and the Chrysler Laser. Based on existing Chrysler mechanical components and clothed in stylish bodies, the cars were ample evidence of the management style of Chrysler boss Lee Iacocca, a man who had always shown a readiness to attract customers with cars that were both attractive and enjoyable to drive.
The Lincoln Continental Mark VII borrowed the lines of Ford's Thunderbird, which gave it a Cd of 0.38, particularly low for such a large car. The unique aspect of the car lay in its suspension system, developed by Goodyear and Ford. Air bags at each wheel were the suspension medium, and a micro-computer and sensors controlled an air pump which provided the means of operating the self-levelling system. Advantages claimed for the air springs were a softer ride and better reaction to varying loads, coupled with lower curb weight.
As the 1983 Northern Hemisphere autumn approached, the first of the 1984 models from the American manufacturers began to be shown. The Pontiac Fiero sports car had been an open secret for some time, and Pontiac took advantage of the press's interest by scheduling two announcements, one for the chassis and one for the complete car. A two seater with a 2.5 litre four-cylinder engine mounted amidships, the Fiero introduced an entirely new method of construction, in which a unitary body/chassis assembly was built up and then mounted in a giant jig which accurately drilled the mounting holes for outer body panels made of plastics. In addition to the obvious advantages of light weight and easy repair of accident damage, there was the less obvious one of the ease with which modified panels could be fitted to replace the originals - a point which would not have gone unnoticed in America, the home of the customized car!