What Is The Mustang McLaren M81?

Posted 12/9/2017 by Tyler Rodriquez

The 1980 McLaren M81 is thought to be one of the rarest Mustangs of all time. Follow along as we walk you through how this turbo 4 cylinder got it's cult following.

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  • What Is The Mustang McLaren M81?
What Is The Mustang McLaren M81? - What Is The Mustang McLaren M81?


What Is The Mustang McLaren M81

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.

The Early Years

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.

Failed Production

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.

Mustang M81 Engine Specs

  • 2.3L Turbo Motor
  • T-3 Garret Turbo
  • 9.0:1 Compression
  • 175 Horsepower
  • 145 Ft/Lbs Torque

Mustang M81 Suspension

  • Fully Adjustable Koni Shocks
  • Fully Adjustable Koni Struts
  • Unique Higher-Rate Springs
  • Police Packaged Fairmont Sway Bars w/ Tungsten Bushings

Mustang M81 Wheels & Brakes

  • 3 Piece BBS 15x8 Wheels
  • 255/55/15 Firestone HPR Tires
  • 10.6” Front Rotors
  • Semi-Metallic Brake Pads
  • V8 Mustang Calipers
  • 9” Rear Drums

Mustang M81 Exterior

  • Functional Heat Extracting Hood
  • Chin Spoiler
  • Active Front/Rear Brake Ducts
  • Wide Steel Fender Flares

Mustang M81 Interior

  • Recaro LS Bucket Seats Matched To Rear Seats
  • 14” Racemark Leather Steering Wheel
  • SCCA Approved Bolt In Roll Bar
  • Unique Stewart-Warner Instrument Panel That Integrated To The Factory Dash
  • Small Brass Dash Plaque

Mustang M81 Production Numbers

  • 249 Slated For Production (Plus One Prototype)
  • 10 Actually Produced (Plus One Prototype)
  • 7 Bittersweet Orange
  • 1 Black
  • 1 White
  • 2 Enduros