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Electrical Gremlins: 1981 Chevy Corvette

This 1981 Chevrolet Corvette looks great in a color that isn’t black, red, or white, but electrical issues may keep this example stuck in the garage. Despite the disclosure about some wiring matters to sort through, this isn’t the cheapest 1981 model out there, listed here on eBay with an asking price of $8,450. Bidding does open at $6,500, with one bid recorded and the reserve unmet.

The seller claims there is an unsolved electrical short, with a switch installed to isolate the battery. These types of issues always spook me a bit, as it seems like the potential for a garage fire goes through the roof. I haven’t had too many electrical woes to sort through on my projects, but perhaps there’s a simple fix the seller hasn’t discovered. The seats look quite nice, and the dash is uncracked.

The seller does paint a brighter picture of the rest of the car, with strong cosmetics and the aforementioned preserved interior. No disclosures are made about engine health, but performance wasn’t really a focal point of this generation of the Corvette. The 350 is said to show mileage of just over 96,000, so there should be a reasonable amount of life left – provided maintenance has been kept up with.

That’s a key selling point of the 1974 Corvette convertible listed here as a Barn Finds Exclusive. The car is nicely restored, with a smooth-running L82 engine paired to a 4-speed manual with few cosmetic flaws. If you’re going to consider a Corvette, going for a generation with a bigger engine than the 350 and fewer emissions controls is the way to go, so give this one a look if you’re hunting for a turnkey car.


  1. Rube Goldberg Member

    Electrical problems always send me screaming into the night, but it’s not the space shuttle and can’t be too tough. My brother has a Corvette like this, needs a heater core, and decided it’s just too much work, never going to drive it in winter anyway, so it was just bypassed. These are a bear to work on.

    Like 2
  2. Steve R

    They were lucky to get that one bid.

    Steve R

    Like 5
  3. Camaro Joe

    One common electrical failure point on early 1980’s Corvettes is the “Dome light timer relay.” I’m told it’s supposed to keep the interior lights on for a few seconds after you close the doors. My cousin’s car had that problem a couple months ago and I fixed it with a $50 replacement from Corvette America.

    The thing can fail in several ways, sometimes the dome lights stay on, but sometimes it’s a short. Removing the relay kills the dome lights, but it’s a cheap way to find out if that’s the problem. Stick a meter set on “DC amps” in line between the battery ground cable and the battery negative post. If it reads
    zero, you found the problem.

    The relay is located behind the glove box liner, so you have to take the liner out and you will see the relay in the upper right attached to the body. Happy hunting!

    Like 8

    OK so you have a Corvette with electrical problems. Hmmm….Corvettes sit around. More often then they are driven. That being said my educated guess on why is so it’s quite possible a family of rodents may have taken residence in this fiberglass fantastic from GM. Hopefully not but if true RUN. They have the ability to do some serious damage

    This is a most serious issue many insurance companies will total a car that has been seriously infested with rodents. It can also kill you. Look it up. I agree the guy is lucky to have a bid regardless. I would take the 74

    Like 2
    • PRA4SNW

      I was thinking the same thing – rodents are are big enemy of any stored car.

      My Vette had that horrible mouse smell any time I turned on the HVAC fan. I finally found the huge nest of pink fiberglass in the fan housing. I counted my blessings that they left the wiring alone.

      Like 2
  5. bobhess bobhess Member

    If the Corvettes we worked on in the ’80s had wiring issues for whatever reason we had suppliers who could provide partial or full wiring harnesses. I would assume that’s true today and wouldn’t walk away from this car especially if it can be bought right. As I’ve said before I love yellow Corvettes, but I like the color of this one too.

    Like 1
  6. 86_Vette_Convertible

    Sounds from the description the short is in a battery cutoff. Not rocket science so shouldn’t be that hard to trace assuming it’s a 3d party setup.
    Not that big on C3’s but looks decent but the short will need to be figured out and corrected.

    Like 1
    • Mike

      I agree. Remove the aftermarket battery cutout and use a trickle charger to maintain the battery during storage, or, replace it with a QUALITY disconnect installed properly. Problem solved.

      Like 0
  7. Bob McK

    Run…. the other way

    Like 1
  8. art

    Camaro Joe is on the right track. Problem here is “short” vs “parasitic battery drain”. A short will blow a fuse or circuit breaker. A parasitic battery drain condition means something continues to use power after the key is removed, beyond, say a clock or the cars computer. Hook up a multimeter as he says, check the reading and then start removing each fuse one at a time and then relays, one at a time, checking to see if the meter goes to zero. Once you have found the fuse then the task is finding the circuit responsible since one fuse can be protecting several circuits. If the pulling the relay solves the battery drain issue, then try replacing the relay with a new or known good one to see if the problem is resolved. A factory shop manual with an electrical schematic is essential. One more tip is to disconnect your alternator and check the meter too, as a shorted diode can cause battery drain, as well.
    If you will need to send the car out for diagnosis and repair, brace yourself. As one person on here said, “run the other way”. Electrical issues are a major headache and made worse if someone has tampered with or cut into the harnesses..anywhere.
    If I really wanted a specific car, this issue probably would not deter me if the price was right considering the work needed to fix it.

    Like 3

    It seems if it was that easy to diagnose and repair then the current owner would have had it fixed. Taking it to a competent shop is going to be expensive. You are NOT going to get a deal. These cars are small and offer little in the way of room to access. Wiring parts available new in the 80’s don’t count on having them around today. GM Delphi is no more.

    I am not a fan of taking it to a Joe Blow only to have it all ripped up and out ruining clip and trim pieces. and lazily have it reassembled and hoping it turns out.

    I would pay the money for a nice sorted car. Don’t hope for a deal because any discount would be gone quickly and you would be at retail and who knows how long it would really take to have fixed. There are five cars ahead of you now buddy!

    Like 1
  10. Gay Car Nut

    Given the electrical problems plaguing this Corvette, I’d lover the asking price from $8,450 to $4,850. That way you can still afford to sort out the electrical gremlins. It’s all fun and games until someone tries to start the car, and (boom!), car catches fire.

    Like 2

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