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Just Listed: Extremely Rare 1980 Ford McLaren Mustang M-81

An IMSA stunner with the heart of a Pinto

Let’s get this out of the way right up front – this period correct, widebody, musclebound Mustang takes just a tick under ten seconds to reach 60 mph. Don’t worry, we have the feeling once you read up on this uber-rare Mustang, you’ll still want it as badly as we do. If you’ve got some cash lying about, you can even buy it for yourself, courtesy of our friends at Bring a Trailer.

On behest of Ford, McLaren Engines from Michigan developed the swollen 1980 Ford McLaren Mustang M-81 with full-blown production plans set for a 249 unit run. In some regards, this can be seen as the first SVO product, despite never achieving a production run past the initial 10-unit prototype phase.

The M-81 might look as though it was ripped straight from a 1980s IMSA race paddock, but it’s packing some seriously damp kindling under that front hood in the form of a near-stock 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. The Lima four-banger was blueprinted by McLaren, allowing the engine to handle more boost than the stock unit. Despite the extra engine work, the mill only put down an estimated 175 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque that was shipped to the wide rear wheels through a four-speed manual transmission.

As you might expect, performance wasn’t really on-par with the bodybuilder appearance. Our colleagues over at Motor Trend tested the M-81 when it was new, returning a confirmed 0-60 run in 9.76 seconds, and a quarter-mile time of 17.37 seconds. Yikes.

Despite this malaise-tastic acceleration, we’re still digging the car’s incredibly aggressive appearance. It packs a fair bit of period-correct speed gear, as well. The car rides on special adjustable Koni shocks, paired with beefier police-spec sway bars. Wonderfully-retro three-piece BBS wheels are wrapped in thick 255 tires, hiding high-spec rotors and pads for track use.

See all that bulgy bodywork? Some of that is aerodynamically functional, as ridiculous as that may seem. The M-81 spent a fair bit of time in the wind tunnel, and has the working front fascia spoiler to prove it.

Inside, McLaren worked to create a driver-focused environment. Period Recaro seats provide great support, while a structural roll cage keeps things rigid in the event of a rollover. The gauge cluster was modified for more dials, hiding behind a special 14-inch steering wheel.

We often preach about originality and preservation, but we can make an exception in this case. The Lima four-cylinder has proven itself to be a stout little engine if tuned properly, and the extra oompf would fit the M-81s attitude perfectly. If you want to try your hand at this 1980s oddity, head over to Bring a Trailer to submit a bid.

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