1980 M-81 McLaren Mustang Prototype With 74 Miles!


When I was a young lad of 16, I vividly recall seeing this very special Fox body Mustang all over magazine covers and in articles. Being a Mustang fan and loving the color orange, as well as being a huge fan of IMSA-type boxy fender flares, I was in love. Imagine my surprise when I found that very car for sale this morning here on eBay, with an opening bid of $50,000 (and a reserve higher than that). It’s now located in Indianapolis, Indiana.


The story goes as follows per the auction listing: “This special Ford Mustang was created by McLaren in 1980 for Ford’s then recently founded Special Vehicle Operations (SVO). The turbo powered 4-cylinder 2.3 liter engine produces 175 HP at 5,200 RPM. The plan was to build 250 units, however the prohibitive price tag of $25,000 limited production and only 10 were built (including the prototype), which makes it one of the rarest Mustangs in the world.” As it turns out, the seller actually bought both this one and a racing version from the estate of the original owner, who won it on a slot machine in Las Vegas in 1984! And I thought I was doing good to get $30 that one time!


Menacing, isn’t it? The seller sold the racing version here in June on eBay. It went for just over $60,000. In case you want to know more about this interesting car, here’s a detailed history of how the M81 Mustang came to be over at MustangLab.com. But the best part about this particular car (besides the great color) is that it is awfully original, down to it’s original tires (!) That’s right, it only has 74 miles on the odometer!


Needless to say, the interior is perfect as well, and the car has obviously been stored carefully. A lot of documentation comes with the car backing up the history. This really is prototype #1 of one of the most storied Fox body Mustangs ever built! What a survivor!


In case you are wondering what makes an M-81 special, here’s a show placard that comes with the car.


The engine is almost disappointing looking considering the outside appearance of the car. Remember, though, we were just exiting the 1970’s and automakers were still struggling with how to deliver performance along with gas mileage and emissions. 175 horsepower was nothing to sneeze at during this time period. The saddest part to me is that more than likely, whomever buys this car won’t ever drive it. I would! Not all the time, for sure, but it would look great next to my Boss 302 in the garage when I wasn’t driving it! What do you think–is it worth this kind of money for something that is still, under it all, a derivative of a Ford Fairmont?


  1. PaulG

    Cool. I see no harm in putting a couple of thousand miles on it yearly.
    Would be the only one at most shows…

  2. Thibeault

    “In Tack” ???????

  3. Len

    Talk about saying something without saying something. As you scroll down the pictures in the add you get an idea of what you are buying and then at the end, there are 2. Cool car and definately a collector item but I’d want them both would’nt you.

  4. Bingo

    I’m confused by the word “prototype”. Please help me. I thought prototypes did not have VIN numbers and couldn’t be titled in any state making it impossible to license them.

    It seems to be an overused word, like the word “restored”. Very confusing to a simpleton like myself.

    • Josh Staff

      In the case of this one it’s a prototype in the sense that it was the test bed car that McLaren used to develop the M-81. It isn’t the same kind of prototype that Ford or Chevy would build that’s a complete one of car. This is just a highly modified Mustang and still has the VIN it left the Ford factory with. I hope that helps you out!

      • RayT Member

        Josh, not to start an argument, but I saw and drove a few “test bed,” “prototype” and “development” cars in my day, and not a one of them ever left the manufacturer’s hands with a mere 74 miles on the clock! If it said “7400” or, in some extreme cases, “74,000” (a proving-ground car, or one handed out to the automotive press), I might think that part of the story was true. Unless it was something to test-fit the aded body parts to, in which case it would most likely have been lacking some of the mechanical goodies McLaren specified.

        Being #1 of a very limited run is certainly a solid credential! I’m glad I can’t rustle up the money for it, however, because I could never “collect” it; I’d have to drive it. And, with the spec. this one has, I’d have to drive it — shall we say — briskly.

        After, that is, I went through the brakes, replaced all hoses, got new tires and changed all the fluids. A 36 year-old car with virtually no miles on it is…a 36 year-old car.

      • Josh Staff

        No worries RayT, I’m in total agreement with you that the mileage can’t be right for a running test bed. I was more just trying to help Bingo understand why this car has a VIN when the typical prototype might not. Since this is just a customized Mustang, it isn’t a prototype in the typical sense.

        As for the mileage, I doubt this one was a running test bed. They probably had other cars they used to test performance components on, that way they could isolate each upgrade to see how they performed. Honestly, why would they spend the money to install the body kit and paint on a car that may blow up or get wrecked during test runs? If it really is a prototype, it’s probably just the first car to receive all the upgrades and components together. And then like many prototypes, it was probably only driven on and off the stands at car shows.

      • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

        If I remember correctly, this one was used for all the photo shoots and magazine testing, and that’s about it.

  5. tasker

    why o why with all that originality would you put a Duralast battery in this car??? I just don’t get it I guess…..

    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      I noticed that too. I think I’d at least go to my Ford dealer for a Motorcraft battery, even if it weren’t vintage in appearance. But that’s me being nitpicking…I’d still LOVE to own this car!

  6. Fred W.

    If it couldn’t be titled or tagged, maybe that’s how it only has 74 miles. I believe there was just one prototype, the rest were “limited production” vehicles and could be titled.
    Edit: I see it does have a VIN, so could be titled.

  7. Madbrit

    Reminds me of the Ford (UK) X-pack Capri. Very similar extended fender arrangements. My wife had a 3.0 loiter X-pack clone as her daily driver. Sure got the guys pissed that “I let my wife drive my car” and more so when I told them it was her car…… LOL.

    Like 1
  8. brakeservo

    What if any relationship does this car have with the company in England?

    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      Good question. I found articles that said it was the same company, but one that said it wasn’t. So…your guess is as good as mine!

  9. daCabbie

    In my mind it’s not a ‘prototype’ … its a Mustang. Although it does fit the technical definition.

    Adding a bunch of aftermarket products to a car doesn’t make it a one-of…

    As far as a title goes, ya’ll worry about them too much… in Florida I can get a title for anything…production or homebuilt… the sheriff comes out and checks the VIN to see its not stolen and that signature gets me a title.

    Back to the Mustang: Is it cool? Yes. Is it original? Yes. Is it worth 50k? Probably worth way more, but limited models means a limited market…

    And why does it only have 74 miles? I imagine insurance is steep… it might also be unsafe on the road.

  10. RS

    Very interesting car, but wouldn’t it suck to get beat on the street by a Camry V6.

  11. rich voss

    First thing I noticed is that neither of those cars have their original engines. Both were claimed, in various parts of the “write-up”, to have turbo 4’s, the racer with a “one-of-two” special Garrett. Perhaps the block may be original, but I’d be curious before dropping 60 + large on a non-original “prototype”. The racer ended up with a Cosworth DBA, very nice motor, but that’s probably what kept the value down on it. Not original as raced. Have no idea what 4 banger is in the one advertised here. I actually like the German Ford Capri’s racer bodies better.

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