Sep
14
1981 Cadillac Fleetwood

The 1981 Cadillac Fleetwood equipped with the 4.1-liter V6 was the 2nd-slowest vehicle Consumer Guide tested in 1981.

Historians refer to the period in Europe following the fall of the Roman Era as the Dark Ages. Generally applied to the 10th and 11th centuries, the Dark Ages were a time of economic and cultural decline, and for the people alive then, a time of little hope.

Automotive historians, too, reference a Dark Ages of sorts, the period beginning in 1973 through the mid Eighties. Often referred to as The Malaise, this dark era for car lovers brought with it savage reductions in engine outputs as a result of tightening emissions standards and low-lead gas. For enthusiasts, The Malaise was a time of little hope.

Presented here are a dozen victims of The Malaise. These are the 11 slowest vehicles (we have a three-way tie for 9th place) tested by Consumer Guide in 1981. Though a few of these cars are diesels, most are simply powered by too-small engines struggling against fuel-economy-oriented final-drive ratios.

Note that all times below are the result of 0-60 mph tests conducted by Consumer Guide.

If you spent time with any of these Dark Age lead sleds, tell us about it. Perhaps sharing your experience will prove cathartic.

*As tested by Consumer Guide.

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Volvo Diesel: 25.8 Seconds 

1981 Volvo Diesel

1981 Volvo Diesel

Curb Weight: 3246 pounds

Horsepower: 76

Engine: 2.4-liter diesel six

Fuel Delivery: Fuel injection

Transmission: 4-speed manual with electric overdrive

Final Drive Ratio: 3.54

Consumer Guide Observed Fuel Economy: 30.9 mpg

Note: Volvo treated the diesel as a separate model in North America. Consumer Guide’s test vehicle was a wagon.

 

Cadillac Fleetwood: 22.6 Seconds 

1981 Cadillac Fleetwood

1981 Cadillac Fleetwood

Curb Weight: 4250 pounds

Horsepower: 125

Engine: 4.1-liter V6

Fuel Delivery: 4-barrel carburetor 

Transmission: 3-speed automatic

Final Drive Ratio: 2.41

Consumer Guide Observed Fuel Economy: 19.0 mpg

Note: The 4.1-liter V6 was a $165 credit-delete option for Cadillac Deville and Fleetwood models, replacing a 6.0-liter V8 when ordered.

 

Toyota Starlet: 21.2 Seconds

1981 Toyota Starlet

1981 Toyota Starlet

Curb Weight: 1730 pounds

Horsepower: 58

Engine: 1.3-liter four

Fuel Delivery: 2-barrel carburetor 

Transmission: 5-speed manual

Final Drive Ratio: 3.15

Consumer Guide Observed Fuel Economy: 36.0 mpg

Note: Starlet returned the best fuel economy of any non-diesel model evaluated by Consumer Guide for 1981.

 

Volkswagen Dasher: 20.5 Seconds

1981 Volkswagen Dasher

1981 Volkswagen Dasher

Curb Weight: 2163 pounds

Horsepower: 52

Engine: 1.6-liter  diesel four

Fuel Delivery: Fuel injection

Transmission: 5-speed manual

Final Drive Ratio: 3.91

Consumer Guide Observed Fuel Economy: 34.0 mpg

Note: Dasher was also available as a rather interesting-looking 2-door hatchback.

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Oldsmobile Cutlass: 20.3 Seconds 

1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass

1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass

Curb Weight: 3286 pounds

Horsepower: 105

Engine: 5.7-liter diesel V8

Fuel Delivery: Fuel injection

Transmission: 3-speed automatic

Final Drive Ratio: 3.91

Consumer Guide Observed Fuel Economy: 25.5 mpg

Note: The 5.7-liter diesel engine was a $695 option on Cutlass.

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Chevrolet Chevette: 19.5 Seconds

1981 Chevrolet Chevete

1981 Chevrolet Chevette

Curb Weight: 2119 pounds

Horsepower: 70

Engine: 1.6-liter four 

Fuel Delivery: 2-barrel carburetor 

Transmission: 3-speed automatic

Final Drive Ratio: 3.70

Consumer Guide Observed Fuel Economy: 27.0 mpg

Note: Hard-core fuel-economy seekers could save a little weight by choosing the rear-seat delete option for a $50 credit.

 

AMC Spirit: 18.3 Seconds

1981 AMC Spirit

1981 AMC Spirit

Curb Weight: 2665 pounds

Horsepower: 84

Engine: 2.5-liter four 

Fuel Delivery: 2-barrel carburetor

Transmission: 4-speed manual

Final Drive Ratio: 3.08

Consumer Guide Observed Fuel Economy: 22.5 mpg

Note: Spirit was also available in “2-door sedan” form for 1981. Consumer Guide’s test vehicle was the liftback shown.

 

Buick Electra: 18.3 Seconds

1981 Buick Electra

1981 Buick Electra

Curb Weight: 3865 pounds

Horsepower: 125

Engine: 4.1-liter V6

Fuel Delivery: 4-barrel carburetor 

Transmission: 3-speed automatic

Final Drive Ratio: 2.93

Consumer Guide Observed Fuel Economy: 17.2 mpg

Note: A gasoline-powered 5.0-liter V8 and 5.7-liter diesel V8 were also available for 1981 Electras.

 

Datsun 210: 18.0 Seconds

1981 Datsun 210

1981 Datsun 210

Curb Weight: 2015 pounds

Horsepower: 65

Engine: 1.5-liter four

Fuel Delivery: 2-barrel carburetor 

Transmission: 5-speed manual

Final Drive Ratio: 3.70

Consumer Guide Observed Fuel Economy: 30.0 mpg

Note: A High Mileage model was also offered on the 210 for 1981.

 

Ford Fairmont: 18.0 Seconds

1981 Ford Fairmont

1981 Ford Fairmont

Curb Weight: 2824 pounds

Horsepower: 88

Engine: 3.3-liter six 

Fuel Delivery: 1-barrel carburetor 

Transmission: 3-speed automatic

Final Drive Ratio: 2.73

Consumer Guide Observed Fuel Economy: 20.0 mpg

Note: An 88-horsepower 2.3-liter four was the standard engine for 1981 Fairmonts.

 

Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme: 18.0 Seconds

1981 Cutlass Supreme

1981 Cutlass Supreme

Curb Weight: 3314 pounds

Horsepower: 100

Engine: 4.3-liter V8 

Fuel Delivery: 2-barrel carburetor 

Transmission: 3-speed automatic

Final Drive Ratio: 2.29

Consumer Guide Observed Fuel Economy: 19.0 mpg

Note: Counter intuitively, the Cutlass Supreme’s standard 3.8-liter V6 produced 10 more horsepower and the same amount of torque as the optional 4.3-liter V8 tested here.

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