What Is the McLaren M81?

What Is the McLaren M81?

Last Updated August 8, 2023 | Andrew Boyle

The McLaren M81 Mustang is one of the rarest ever produced. After the Mustang II era, Ford wanted to send a clear signal that the Mustang had returned to performance, and teaming up with McLaren was one of the best ways to do that.

Though not many would ever think of McLaren Performance and Ford in the same breath, it wasn't the first time that the McLaren name had been used to associate Fords with performance. Bruce McLaren, the founder and namesake of McLaren Performance, was one of the Ford drivers who secured the 1-2-3 victory for Ford at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Though tragically Bruce McLaren had passed away before 1980, McLaren Performance had continued on in his honor and secured a reputation early on for making high-quality performance vehicles.

McLaren m81 Mustang

A Turbocharged Mustang for the ‘80s

The Mustang II era saw a long line of four-cylindered Mustangs that leaned towards fuel efficiency rather than performance. But for the launch of the third generation, Ford wanted to show that it could do both.

The goal of the McLaren M81 was to truly embrace the potential of the 2.3L turbocharged four-cylinder that Ford had been promoting as its performance option. The M81, designed by Todd Gerstenberger and Harry Wykes, took the four-cylinder as its base but heavily tuned it, adding a variable boost control with a range between 5-11 psi. In addition, the M81 featured a spoiler, hood scoops, fender flares, an improved suspension, and 15” German BBS alloy rims. Together, these improvements over the stock four-cylinder gave the M81 a top output of 175 horsepower, allowing it to make the trip from 0-60 in 9.76 seconds.

Pricing and Availability

While reviews of the McLaren M81 were overwhelmingly positive, only ten of the planned 250 units ever got produced. Though Ford's Special Vehicle Operations Department often gets credit for the McLaren M81, it was actually the creation of SVO that torpedoed the production of the McLaren Mustang.

The few McLaren M81s that were created were built by hand in the tradition of the great European racecars. The M81 had a sticker price of $25,000. Of those ten cars, seven sport the Bittersweet Orange paint job, two the Enduro coloring, one black and one white. Though it failed to catch on in 1980, with Ford’s 2015 Mustang available with a turbocharged four, the M81 has proved to be ahead of its time in more ways than one.

Image Credit: automobilemag.com

This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.