The Mustang McLaren M81 was a prototype Fox Body Mustang equipped with a 2.3L Turbo motor that had been blueprinted, polished, deburred, & reassembled by McLaren engines. It is often believed that the M81 was the first SVO vehicle from Ford’s new Special Vehicle Operations division. While 250 M81 Mustangs had been scheduled to be produced, only 10 cars were made after the first prototype.
In the late 70s, Ford wanted to bring attention to the 2.3L turbo motor due to the energy crisis and death of big block motors. To help spread awareness, Ford gave the approval to a special project car that would become the showcase car for Ford’s new turbo 4 cylinder motor. Todd Gerstenberger & Harry Wykes collaborated on the design of the new M81 McLaren and completed the prototype in the spring of 1980. Ford had a few requirements for this car which included highlighting the handling capabilities and using current, off the shelf parts inventory. With the massive positive response to the prototype, Ford’s Motorsports division and McLaren Engines got the approval for a limited run of 249 vehicles to begin production in 1981.
Although the prototype had a surprisingly large amount of positive feedback, the M81 did not appeal to the consumers at the hefty price tag of $25,000. This caused the hand built cars to come up incredibly short of its approved 249 vehicles by producing only 10 cars other than the prototype. While the M81 did not catch on, it has been thought that it paved the way for the later SVO Mustang.