Flashback: McLaren M81 Mustang


For the 1979 model year, Ford introduced a brand new Mustang platform, the now-famous Fox-body. After five years of underwhelming Mustang performance, Ford decided to take a different approach, the four-cylinder turbo. To help push this technology along, Ford started the Special Vehicles Operations team, or SVO, and their first order of business was the McLaren M81 Mustang.

Autoholics came across one of the few press photos of these ultra-rare Mustangs, of which just 10 were produced. It was quite the performer back in the day though, even if only a handful were sold.

The McLaren M81 was designed by a team of former and current Formula 1 engineers, which explains its slopping design and superior aerodynamics. Gone was the grille, and dual functioning hood scoops were added to feed the turbocharged four-cylinder engine. While Ford’s standard 2.3 turbo engine was rated at an underwhelming 132 horsepower, the McLaren team was able to double the boost and increase power to a respectable 175 ponies.

Then there’s the widebody kit and ultra-low ground effects that all helped improve aerodynamics. Heavy duty suspension bits improved handling, and this Mustang was just a few careful modifications away from being race-ready. Unfortunately, all that extra work added extra costs to this unique Mustang. These hand-constructed sports cars carried a price tag of $25,000 at a time when a top-of-the-line Mustang GT V8 cost around $6,000.

Original production called for 250 cars, and yet only 10 (including the prototype) were ever built. That makes this one of the rarest Mustangs in the world…and yet so few have heard of it. Is it because of the four-cylinder turbo engine, the lack of sales, or is this just a piece of history Ford would rather keep buried?

About the author

Chris Demorro

Christopher DeMorro is a freelance writer and journalist from Connecticut with two passions in life; writing and anything with an engine.
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