Think back to a specific year from early on in your story that stands out in the timeline of your life, one that left a huge impression on you and remains as a trailside marker to which you’ll still occasionally refer. We may have several such years that we think about, but the earliest impactful year occurred at a point that represented a larger percentage of our life than any year that followed. That year for me was 1980. I have been gifted with a strong sense of memory. Having barely started grade school by that point, I still think about ’80 with palpable excitement that seems a little harder to fully grasp with each passing flip of the calendar, though I try to stay aware of the amazing and wonderful things still happen today.
Nineteen-eighty brought a host of changes to Dennis family life. That was the year we moved from our old house to an entirely different neighborhood after almost having permanently relocated to Liberia, my father’s country of origin. I remember the process of all of us going on showings that spring with our realtor in a few neighborhoods in the eastern part of Flint. I had no real sense of what my parents were looking for specifically outside of a stable area with good schools and room for the five of us.
When they had finally made their selection, that summer was spent making that house ours, which included removal of hideous wallpaper, installation of new carpets and linoleum, white walls everywhere, and new furniture. An abundance of west African artifacts made our living room look like a museum exhibit where you’re not allowed to touch anything, as some of my friends will still occasionally remind me. It wasn’t the warmest place, but it at least felt cultural. It was also where I would spend a lot of time playing with Matchbox cars, Legos, and in front of the television.
There were new friends to be made, and being the gregarious blank-slate I was at that age, I made them easily then with so much self-assured confidence that I smile when I think about it now. I don’t remember much talk from my interracially married parents about the importance of relocating to a diverse neighborhood, but in our little area of Flint’s East Village, we were one of at least a few other non-White families. My new friend group was like a little rainbow, and my recollection today was that the Dennises were warmly embraced, and I stand by this today as an accurate perception. This was Flint, after all, a beautiful and wonderful place to grow up.
I didn’t have the tools at the time (few young kids would) to fully assess how I felt about everything about my new, mostly White neighborhood, having moved from a wonderful, vibrant, and predominantly Black neighborhood. I loved our old house, street, neighbors, and the general atmosphere in the Evergreen Valley subdivision, and would think of these people and things often for years after we moved away.
Our new home, area, neighbors, and school I would be attending that fall, however, seemed so exciting, like I had arrived at some incredible future that was about to unfold in front of me, with my active participation. There would be new clothes, as young kids need from year to year up to a certain age. My training wheels had finally come off of my blue Schwinn. And then there was all of the glorious music coming out of car speakers and out of open windows from the surrounding houses. Long before I hit puberty or had any idea who or what I would later be into, certain things produced the kind of visceral excitement inside me that could only come from deep inside of one’s soul. One of those things was the music of Donna Summer.
I’ve written about my Summer fandom here before. The song I most closely associate with the summer of 1980 in my new neighborhood is “On The Radio”, released in November ’79 as featured on the soundtrack to the teenage flick Foxes, which starred Jodie Foster. This song peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January of that year (No. 9 R&B; No. 8 Dance), but I remember hearing it often that summer. Maybe the neighbors had Summer’s greatest hits double-LP or the Foxes soundtrack next to the Hi-Fi.
All I know is that from the start of the piano ballad chords that start the song, I’m always immediately happy and know I’m about to hear one of my favorite songs and choruses of all-time. This is probably, next to the groundbreaking “I Feel Love“, my favorite Donna Summer record, and arguably one of the last purely disco songs to have been met with wide, mainstream success before the popularity of that musical genre imploded and it morphed into other forms of dance-oriented music. Without question, it would be Summer’s last disco hit before she’d move in different sonic directions, starting with The Wanderer, released in the fall of ’80.
I’ll admit that the needle may be skipping on my own record, as I’ll emerge with yet another post about a C3 Corvette every few months or so, but in my defense, I’ve always found a different slant by which to present each example. The Discovette was the definitive performance car for many in my age group who might also have been impressed with Datsun Z-cars, Trans Ams, and Camaro Z28s. One of my favorite t-shirts was lemon-yellow with a glittery, iron-on transfer of a C3 on it that covered almost the entire front of the shirt, purchased in Athens, Ohio while on a family vacation. It was such a sad day when I had finally outgrown it.
Nineteen-eighty could also be seen as the last stand for something new from the third generation of GM’s flagship performance car. Very significant change to the car’s profile and overall look had last occurred with the ’78 model’s adoption of wraparound rear glass versus the original tunnel-back look used from the C3’s ’68 introduction. After Corvette production would peak in ’79 at over 53,800 units, the 1980 version would again be altered. Reshaped front and rear fascias that included new spoilers front and aft would improve aerodynamics, going from a 0.503 coefficient of drag to 0.443 Cd, a 12% improvement which put it in a league with the slick, new ’79 Mustang hatchback.
The Federal CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) program continued to play into automakers’ efforts to develop more fuel-efficient ways of getting things done, for both new and existing models. The ’80 Corvette lost about 250 pounds from the year before through the use of lighter materials, including aluminum versus steel for some components (differential housing and front-frame crossmember) and more plastics. Other changes to the new-decade starter Corvette that arrived in the fall of ’79 were focused on increased comfort and convenience, including standard air conditioning and a tilt wheel.
Inflation for 1980 was in excess of 14%, up from 11.35% in 1979. This was reflected in a base price that was increased by roughly 13%, going from about $12,300 to almost $14,000. Sales for 1980 dropped by almost a quarter, to just 40,600 units. The L-82 emblems on the front fenders of this car indicate the top-shelf, 230-horsepower, 350 cubic-inch V8 is under the hood. Non-California cars came standard with a 190-horse version, while examples in the Golden State featured a 180-hp 305.
By 1980, the C3 was already in its thirteenth model year. The mid-engined Aerovette concept had actually been approved in 1977 for ’80 production by General Motors CEO Thomas Murphy, but was later cancelled by engineer David McLellan for cost reasons and also the assessment at the time that the existing front-engine / rear-drive configuration was still viable. (Echoes of my family-of-origin’s aborted move to Liberia that same year…)
A new C4 would arrive in early ’83 as an ’84 model, with a character as different from the car it replaced as the music on top-40 airwaves was from when our featured ’80 Corvette was new. The third-generation Corvette may have seemed geriatric toward the end of its run to some who had been aware of its existence starting in the late ’60s, but by 1980, it was still new-ish to kids like me. Its updated appearance for ’80 still elicits genuine excitement in me, arriving as it had during the first time in my life that a new decade had turned over, when so much seemed possible and adulthood seemed a million years away.
Andersonville, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, February 25, 2023.
Brochure photos courtesy of www.oldcarbrochures.org
Not sure of the exact year, but close to this, C &D noted that even with it’s flaws ( a speedo the size of a pie plate, that only went to 85) comes to mind, their long term test example was always on of the first to be picked. They also welcomed it’s sucessor with open arms.
When I was doing a little research for this, I was shocked to learn that any Corvette had arrived with an 85-mph speedo! I mean, after the ’77 arrived with the Vega GT steering wheel (to give greater legroom), I suppose anything was possible.
I think that was a Federal law for a while. Even on Ferrari’s. But someone will correct me if I’m wrong.
Ridiculous as it sounds, it really was a law, one of Joan Claybrook‘s bright ideas.
“No speedometer shall have graduations or numerical values for speeds greater than 140 km/h and 85 mph and shall not otherwise indicate such speeds.”
The same law also mandated some sort of highlight on 55, then the national speed limit. The law only lasted for less than two years (about 1979-1981 iirc), but automakers, especially American ones, were afraid of any controversy if they reverted to 120mph (or more) speedos until about 1990. Some brands found a workaround that met the letter of the law. Later speedometers, such as on the Mustang SVO, did have graduation hash marks but no numbers, which were legal because the law was repealed by then. I recall the 1983 Mazda 626 and some VWs as the first to revert to 120mph speedos. Even those sometimes still had the 55mph highlight.
Forgive me for my lack of knowledge, but do Liberians have anglo saxon names like yours ?
Fair question. Dennis is a fairly common Liberian name. The country has a long and complicated history with the U.S. Dad was descended from both indigenous Liberians and freed slaves. On that side of my family, my ancestors have been across the Atlantic at least three times before I arrived. My grandmother’s maiden name was very not-Anglo.
” … removal of hideous wallpaper, installation of new carpets and linoleum, white walls everywhere, and new furniture… ”
I’ve moved a lot in my early years, sometime voluntarily, sometimes not. One thing I can never fully understand is the propensity of people to paint or paper walls in heavy and dark primary colors or hideous (as you said it best) designs.
My kindest thoughts about this is that “it must have seemed like a good idea at the time”.
Dark paint needs strong primer (probably oil based and maybe more than one coat) and removing wall paper is an awful, messy, and wet job.
White walls sound delightfully clean, refreshing, and ready to welcome inhabitants, art work, and new furniture.
Good memories are a treasure. And the best part about good memories is that we can constantly create new ones every day we are alive.
“One thing I can never fully understand is the propensity of people to paint or paper walls in heavy and dark primary colors or hideous (as you said it best) designs.”
It is a law of the universe as immutable as those of gravity or entropy: The aesthetic tastes of the seller of a house are always and everywhere the polar opposite of the aesthetic tastes of the buyer of that house.
For every law there’s an exception, and in this case I’m an exception.
My wife and I rented a house for ten years; it was oppressively beige. The walls, doors, woodwork, carpet… EVERYTHING was beige. Even for an uncreative, conservative person like myself, that house became annoyingly bland.
When we finally bought a house, the interior didn’t have a white or beige room in it. Green, yellow, red… even an orange bathroom. I never would have been bold enough to actually choose those colors, but I felt the sellers probably had a better sense of style than we did, and we kept the paint. It’s been 7 years now, and we still haven’t repainted one room.
Wallpaper may have been generational.
We just sold my late Mom’s home in Northern California and several years ago my wife sold her family home in Pennsylvania. Both were thoroughly wallpapered. The eastern home from the lste 1950s was done in a rather dark, baroque style which her parents liked. The Western one had been wallpapered twenty years later in lighter colors. They were both a pain to remove in preparation for clean off-white paint.
The two were on different coasts, done in different eras but by the same generation and both couples liking wallpaper.
I can see the appeal of accent walls, or maybe one papered wall with clean walls everywhere else, but you should have seen this banana leaf-themed nightmare in our kitchen. I remember just laughing at it. Nowadays, I suppose I’ve seen something similar in Architectural Digest. Done properly, it’s nice, but the condition of it, and the house in general, made me think it looked dirty. I actually preferred the antiseptic white walls my mom prescribed.
I especially like your last line – I try to remind myself of this regularly. The magic still happens, every day.
RE : house interior colors ~
One time my Sweet allowed the pre teenaged boys to choose the color of their family room .
I warned her but she said it’d be fine, they chose dark brown and it looked awful from day one .
She hated it too but allowed it to remain for a few years, every visitor asked what the hell were we thinking ?! .
6 pre teenaged boys and she didn’t want me to paint their bathroom with glossy paint either….
Guess how that looked in a month ? .
Colors are always a subjective thing .
A thought-provoking post, as usual. First, the Corvette. I am only now beginning to appreciate the later versions of the C3. The C3 came out in the fall of 1967, just as I was getting started in the 2nd grade. I had to look it up to confirm, but the car ended production in October of 1982, as I was a first year law student. When you are in your early 20s, something that has been around since you started 2nd grade is OLD!
I was like most at the time – I found the early C3 cool and impressive, but started to lose interest once the chrome bumpers went away. My law school buds and I jokingly referred to the still-new late C3 as a $20k plastic male sex organ for fat bald guys in their 50s who were evidently still trying to prove their manhood. Maybe it is coincidence that I was well past 50 by the time I started to warm to this car? 🙂
A standout year? For me I think the first of them would be 1965. I was learning to ride a bike, I was in school, I had a group of friends in my neighborhood and spent summers roaming freely between their houses. I was becoming really into cars and the new cars were exciting, with Mustangs, GTOs and lots of others. And we took a road trip from Fort Wayne to California and back that summer. I think it was the first year that I had developed some real autonomy. Having now raised three kids who cycled through the age of 6 that thought of autonomy seems kind of silly to me now, but it sure felt that way as I lived it.
Loved reading this. About the “rubber bumper” Corvettes, I grew up preferring them to the chrome-bumoer models, as they were the newest-looking ones to me. The earlier, tunnel-back ones looked cool, but somehow not *as* cool. Now that they’re all old, I think I like all ends of the C3 spectrum.
What a great road trip memory for you to have made.
In the top photo, he’s on his way to pull his money out of the bank before it fails like SVB, but Janet Yellen is blocking the path…..
I think it was Popular Mechanics that described the 1981 Firebird Trans Am (last year of 2nd gen, all spoilered up with the big screaming chicken decal on the hood) as “still disco in a new-wave world” which summed up that relic of the late ’70s quite well. The ’80 Corvette was about as disco as the Trans Am, as was the Datsun 280-ZX. Another species of discomobile were the pervasive personal luxury coupes of the mid- to late-’70s like the Cordoba, basket-handle T-bird, or any of the GM midsize coupes. But no vehicle was as disco as a customized van with an airbrushed mural on the side, porthole windows, and thick carpeting on the floors, side panels, and ceiling. I went to the annual local RV show every year as a kid and I wanted a van conversion when I became old enough to drive. But when that time arrived, ’70s-style van conversions seemed to mysteriously disappear from the roads almost overnight. The 1979 gas crisis helped make vans unfashionable. A distinctly less exuberant aesthetic in van conversions took over around by 1981, with large picture windows replacing bubble portholes, wide stripes replacing murals, and rational plaid cloth and wood interior trim replacing shag carpeting/wet bars/beds. These vans were definitely not disco. When the Dodge Caravan dropped in 1984 I thought that may revive custom vans now that they were manageable in size and fuel economy. I was wrong.
I was a huge Donna Summer fan too; several of her songs were played at every middle school dance I went to, with the last song of the night always being “Last Dance”.
You bring up a great “what-if” that I don’t think I had ever considered. What if the introduction and popularity of the Chrysler minivans had led to a rebirth in the popularity of conversion vans? I remember not seeing a whole bunch of panel delivery versions of them around when new, but those might have been the basis for the new wave of conversion vans.
I saw Donna Summer in concert twice, in ’98 and again in ’08, and she was just great both times. The enthusiasm of the broad range of people in the audience added to the experience.
I didn’t like the looks of these when new, now it looks fine to my tired old eyes .
I have only come to appreciate them more and more with time, exaggerated styling and all. I love the C3.
Long ago my buddy Snakepit had a ’68 Corvette he’d bought from a Corvette only junkyard, he walked the yard pointing out the body, engine and front clips he wanted assembled, it was a convertible with the factory hard top .
V8 350 four speed . about $3K out the door running IIRC .
It was never a ball of fire (this was about 1974 IIRC) but we certainly had loads of fun zooming ’round in it .
He was a far more cautious driver than I and never really pushed it .
He said the one time he’d done that he induced a four wheel drift he wasn’t anywhere close to controlling and it slid up under a freeway bridge and blew the entire front end off the car .
A few years later he -one- let his girlfriend drive it and she did the same thing, way too fast under a decreasing radius turn under neath the N/B i605 freeway at the i10, I’m sure many here remember that poorly engineered turn that took out many vehicles and not a few people I knew .
Yes, the doors weighed a ton each and yes, the incredible amount of cheapo GM plastics squeaked and rattled but that car was _FUN_ ! .
I should have bought one, even the beaters now are way too much $ .
It matters not what anyone else thinks as long as you’re getting good Dollar value .
I love the idea of a “build your own” Corvette from a Corvette-only junkyard. That has immense appeal for a thrifty dude like me.
It matters not what anyone else thinks as long as you’re getting good Dollar value. – Words I live by.
I was perhaps 12 years old when I decided to resurrect the rusted out 1959 Ford F100, that taught me a lot and by the time I was finished it had parts from a bewildering array of old junkers down in that flooded field all farms used to have for derelict vehicles .
Most kids I think, began doing this with bicycles .
For the entirety of my long career and years afterwards I built Salvage Reconstruct vehicles for resale and side money .
I’m still doing it for fun with a pile of old Honda 90’s I gathered over the decades, I wanted to be sure I wasn’t bored when I retired .
This helps keep my alleged mind sharp too .
The C3 was due to die after ’82MY, so it’s almost surprising they made so many changes for ’80, but that’s GM, I suppose.
From what I can ascertain, later C3 cars are in an odd spot in terms of desirability and collectability. Some folks keep them bone-stock, but they’re almost laughingly slow by modern standards. Other folks think they have low values and won’t appreciate much, and feel free to modify them with LS engines and other things. These late C3 seem to be all over the map as to how owners treat them.
The Corvette was selling really well at that point, so the revised 1980–82 editions ended up selling at total of 106,627 cars, not a negligible figure for CAFE purposes, and really impressive for an expensive, impractical car in a period of high gas prices and dire interest rates. So, there was lots of incentive to keep it fresh until the C4 was ready.
Thank you for adding this perspective. Wow. I did read that these were pricy relative to what else was out there for the money.
Also, there’s an interesting parallel with the Triumph TR7 and to some extent the Corvair: Production was high enough that survival rates are (or were) pretty good, parts availability is decent, and even the most pristine showroom stock examples have never commanded such high prices that everyone gets freaked out about originality. Something to be said about that niche, frankly.
Excellent post as always, and I never get tired of reading about Donna Summer connections.
For me, it was 1970. Somehow, the rolling over to a brand new decade, the first time I had ever experienced that, seemed special. I’m not sure that it WAS particularly special, but it sure seemed that way.
Thank you, Jeff! Our perceptions have validity as our realities – 1970 was special to you, and 1980 was special to me. I’m sure there are some who would say that neither year was particularly noteworthy. Not to us.
A colleague who moved to California from the Midwest had a late C3 convertible. I rode in it a few times; I remember a very heavy passenger door and poor fit and finish. Even as a passenger it seemed like the shifting (manual) was clunky though when I had my own ‘81 TransAm shortly afterwards, it felt much better than it looked, so to speak. And while the TA of that era may have had a disco image, my own taste in music at the time was more New Wave and even light punk. I had discovered the local college radio station KFJC which had just increased broadcasting power to 250W and was trying to compete, quite successfully, with the mainstream local rock stations by offering a more individual DJ selection, eclectic playlist and new music.
This is interesting to think about, and now I feel like I want crack open my car books when I get home to read about how much extra reinforcement was added to the C3 convertible over the coupe. If the regular coupe was a bit like a Flexible Flier, how much more so might the open-top version have been. I still love ’em.
Ah, Disco, the music of my coming of age. I turned 21 in 1975, and started going out to clubs and discos. A couple of years later Saturday Night Fever hit the movie theaters and did for Disco, what Travolta’s other masterpiece, (?) Urban Cowboy did later for country dancing.
While young people had always gone to dances of one sort or another, disco put a lot of pressure on guys to actually learn how to do some steps and routines. Kind of hard to fake it, if you got on the dance floor you’d better be ready to strut your stuff. Or at least shake your groove thing!
Overall, it was a pretty fun time, how could it not be fun when you’re in your early 20’s?
Corvettes were always magic to me in my youth, but after the first year of the ’68 Mako Shark style, every following model lost the purity of the original design. The end of the series looked like an over the hill actor with too many face lifts.
I was one of the lucky many that survived that period, just like the Corvette has survived. It not only survived, it returned with a new model, better than ever. Unfortunately, I’m still making do with my old, 1950’s platform. Intact, but a bit worse for wear!
Jose, after having rewatched “Saturday Night Fever” maybe six months ago, it did occur to me that good disco dancing took skill and coordination. More than I possess, though I’m not saying I’m a terrible dancer. But when it would come to learning actual steps (I can barely hustle) and not dropping my lady dancing partner on the floor, we’d all be taking our lives into our own hands. LOL
I wish I had Joseph’s literary skill – I always marvel at his ability to tie a number of disparate themes into a cohesive, enjoyable and thought provoking whole.
This piece resonates with me for a number of reasons:
I have a currently 6 year old son who has progressed so much in the last year – learned to ride without training wheels, now cycling our local MTB skills course with great competence and really got his reading, writing and numeracy to a level where these are not just “work”, but fun things to use. Just a couple of things where he has certainly gained a level of autonomy.
He is also developing his own musical tastes – I wonder if, when he hears Get Lucky, or Happy Happy Happy from Pharrell Williams in his adult years, it will bring out memories from driving somewhere in one of those old gas powered cars with his dad?
I remember hearing “I Feel Love” from the lovely Donna Summer for the first time, and thinking how unlike anything else it sounded – that it was the start of a new, electronic era of music, rather than the end of disco. YMMV!
Mentioning that your living room was filled with West African art strikes a chord as my wife and I have strong connections to Africa and treasure our soapstone carvings and other art from there. I imagine that room of yours was an inspiring place to be – any pictures of it you could share?
And so to the ’80 Corvette. I am a C2 fan, but love the early chrome bumper C3s, but have mellowed in my opinion of these. The facelifts were actually rather well done, seeing the constraints and effective in prolonging the life of this platform. I had forgotten that they reduced weight by such a large amount and, having ridden in one can confirm that they accelerate rather well.
The Aerovette was such a lovely design – I wish the messy, dated looking C8 had some of its sophistication and purity!
Huey, thank you so much for your kind words. I really enjoyed putting this essay together, having spotted the featured car only minutes after catching up with an old friend over coffee.
Your point and question are interesting ones, about your son and what he’ll remember from hearing songs in the car while riding with you. Certain songs from early childhood will remind me of riding to school. I’ll hear Frank Mills’ “Music Box Dancer”, and I’m suddenly in the back seat of Ms. Lawrence’s 1970 Oldsmobile on my way to kindergarten.
My college-aged nephew was playing songs on his phone this past Thanksgiving that my brother and I were grooving to, and I kept wondering, does he really like these songs, or is he playing them just because he knows my brother and I still think these are the jams?
And thanks for sharing that about your appreciation for west African art and artifacts. What’s interesting for me is that since I grew up with those things around me, and while I have nothing but respect for my father’s culture, I did a hard pivot and can’t have it in my own home. I’ve definitely developed my own aesthetic.
The only pictures of our old living room that I could think to share also have people in them, so I’ll just let the readership use the imagination. 🙂 Wood carvings, oil paintings, and an entire wall covered in sewn-together strips of country cloth (not the same as Kente cloth, though for years I thought it was)… among other things. Dad was professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Michigan, so I always kind of thought of the things in our living room as being tied into not only his country, but also what he did for work and in his studies.
I also think the Aerovette is / was beautiful, and the simplicity of its design was elegant. I’m with you.
A commenter on here on some C3 Corvette post once said something along the lines of for as much as they messed with the C3, every one taken by itself not compared to other years looks pretty good. It’s been years and I still can’t decide if I agree with that assessment. The 1978 is without a doubt the worst styled of them all but even the ones I’m kinda meh about I find myself agreeing with the comment when I see one in person.
As for this one? The squared up late C3 isn’t the worst iteration and with appropriately fat tires I can’t say I dislike it. In a vacuum, I have to say it actually looks pretty good…