Drive It Home: 1981 Ford Courier

The Ford Courier and Chevy LUV (along with the rotary-powered Mazda REPU) are all potentially affordable projects if you need a classic with some practicality baked in. This 1981 Ford Courier pickup is an Arizona survivor, said to run and shift well and only need minor sorting to “…learn on and flip,” according to the seller. Find it here on eBay with an opening bid of $1,800 and no reserve.


The Ford looks like so many other Arizona vehicles we feature – dried out paint but rust-free. The paint appears original and the seller notes that the glass and interior are in good shape. Despite being equipped with a Mazda-derived four-cylinder of fairly limited capacity, the Courier could haul up to 1,400 pounds. The bed here looks tidy enough, and the tailgate appears undamaged in the gallery photos. That air cleaner is in the wrong spot, however.

The interior is better than expected, with clean door panels and carpet that looks tatty but not filthy. Hard to see if the dash has the typical desert-climate sun damage but I’d assume so. The seats look decent, but I’d gather they’ve been re-done as a tan vinyl bench would match the door panels. The window, as the paint stick would indicate, doesn’t wind up with the window roller so plan on fixing that mechanism and finding a new handle if needed.

The seller says he drove this truck home effortlessly, cruising at highway speeds for 90 miles. I believe this engine is the optional Ford-built 2.3L, which was shared with the Pinto, Granada, and Mustang II. This should make parts sourcing even easier than expected and was an upgrade over the stock Mazda-built unit. These Couriers are simple vehicles that offer an ideal mixture of classic ownership with everyday practicality; if yours is the only bid that brings it up, a sub-$2K buy looks pretty smart.


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  1. Ronald G Bajorek jr

    great truck

  2. grant

    That’s not carpet it’s a rubber mat. Friend had one of these in high school (early 90’s) cool little truck.

  3. Beatnik Bedouin

    Looks like a good deal, especially with the 2.3 Lima engine under the hood.

  4. BarnfindyCollins

    Tough little truck. I got to know these years ago working at a Mazda dealer. If they got traded in on a new B2200 or B2600 they had 300k miles and looked like a sand storm inside. I bought one about “98 and the seller tried to tell me it was made by Toyota pointing to the Toyo Kogyo branded glass on it. I said nope; that’s the parent company of Mazda. I wish Toyota, Nissan and Mazda still made a regular cab basic truck that you don’t need a step stool to get up in.

  5. txchief

    Has the “wheel blocked by a rock” sign. May need a little more work than advertised.

    • JW

      Being a manual trans probably the emergency brake doesn’t work.

  6. Steve A.

    I know they ran forever, but MAN, that is one butt ugly truck. LOL

  7. angliagt angliagt Member

    I always liked the looks of these,but I didn’t think that
    they were very nice to drive.

    • Beatnik Bedouin

      Not much different from their contemporaries, angliagt, if my memory’s correct.

      Over-sprung, under-damped and under-tired, but rugged little beasts that would take a heck of a lot of abuse, like a Timex watch (“takes a licking and keeps on ticking”).

  8. BarnfindyCollins

    Hey Steve A, you are right, that truck looks sorta like homemade sin now, but when it was new it was a shiny tool ready to do a job much like the VW Caddy, Plymouth Arrow, and other small trucks then. As a bonus the owner can pop the hubcap off and feed and water that front passenger dog pictured there. Thank goodness our country still makes great trucks; a lot of them are optioned up like drugstore coyboys but that’s what sells and people should buy what they want by enjoying the fruit of their labor. China Inc. hasn’t cracked that truck code yet.

  9. Pete W.

    I had a ’79 I bought from the bike shop I worked at back in the ’80’s. It was asked to do everythiing from haul crated cycles form the warehouse to the dealerhsip service dept for assembly, to hauling our motocross team on weekends.

    Talk about a lifetime of abuse, but it handled it all with bulletproof aplomb. After the motocrossers final attempt at murdering it, I bought it from the shop, fixed the plethora of dent, dings, and dongs and used it as a household hauler and weekend dirt bike carrier for another ten years.

    Rust gave it it’s terminal diagnosis, but I was still able to drive it to it’s final resting place. Or so I thought.

    About 2 years later I got a call from a local police department. They found it abandoned on the power lines in their town and for some reason, I was listed as the last owner of record. They wanted to know how it got there, and what I intended to do about it.

    Fortunately I had the bill of sale and reg. cancellation form in my file cabinet at home.

    God only knows how it got out there, but more proof that it couldn’t be killed.

  10. Wayne Thomas

    Coyote Swap needs to happen ASAP!

    • Noel

      Hooker Headers had a kit (and headers of course) to transplant a Ford 302 in these. My high school buddy with a one year earlier version did the hooker swap. A manger at my part time job in college also did a home brew swap with a 302 as well.

      I had one of these in high school with the 2.0 liter engine. It needed a new head gasket at 64,000 miles. Ford had a recall on it – but I was over mileage for the recall by 4k. After that, it needed a new gasket every 5k miles. Aluminum heads, iron block. That head was re-milled so many times to take warp out of it, surprised it continued working as long as it did…. Finally got rid of it at about 100k miles… that time I could do a full head gasket swap in less than 2 hours. On the later swaps, we finally gave up on straightening the head surface and just double gasketed it. It lasted just as long between swaps – and was a whole lot easier/faster/cheaper.

  11. JoeBazots

    These were truly indestructable with the little Perkins diesel. I’d love to find one of those little bad boys.

    • Kevin

      I’ve got a B2200 with a good Perkins diesel + 4-speed quietly rusting in CT.

      Text 203-568-1061

  12. FOG

    Vintage mini trucks still make great shop/home errand runners!

    Like 1
  13. John

    I have to be the spoiler. This truck was repainted for some reason. They never came in orange. The motor compartment is red. Why is that important? It’s because these trucks would rust badly, quickly, and given the quality of early 80s steel, were often non-repairable. The motors would run forever. The bodies wouldn’t. It’s a truck to learn on alright. If you want to learn body repair.

    Like 1
  14. Moparmann Member

    There is one of these (although much more battered) in a neighborhood not too far from mine! It utilizes the “rock” emergency brake also! :-)

  15. Richard

    Had one of these, a 1981 former Orkin pest control truck with
    air. It drove much better than my work truck, a 1988 Toyota. The Courier had more personality, shifted smoother, and had a much more comfortable bench seat. It would easily bury the 85 mph speedometer and averaged around 27 to 28 mpg day in and day out living in Atlanta. The motor was the 2 liter Mazda engine. It was built tough with a double row timing chain, but it too eventually suffered from a bad head. One of the water passages corroded into a cylinder. I had the head rebuilt, filled the passage and redrilled it, checked the head for warpage, and redid the valves and seals. It ran like new once I got it put back together, until several years later some guy in a jeep ran into the right passenger door. By then it was 15 years old and had rust holes in the lower front fenders, the dash pad had cracked really bad, and it was looking pretty rough. Sold it for $800 and don’t know what happened after that. Wish I could buy a new one that size.

  16. chad

    Wayne/Noel: no swap needed, the 2.3 is a winner. Put in the D port shaped head w/o a motor removal & get a real bank outta that Lima! Turbo it for even more power. One of the longest made / best made motors out there (esp for a 4 cyl).

  17. Kevin

    is the dachshund included?

  18. John Leyshon Member

    Hell yes Chad ! Have two 2.3 turbo Lima motors. One in a 90 Mustang, the other on the engine stand, just waiting for a home in a Courier truck ! Too far, too much. Ford and Mazda put together some good products.

  19. John T

    Auction has ended … No Bids, No Takers, NO SALE.

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