Turbo 302 Equipped: 1981 Mercury Zephyr

This 1981 Mercury Zephyr is a very cool build that you don’t often see in this model, as the seller has dropped in a turbocharged 302 paired to a manual T5 transmission. The Zephyr has always been an oddball just for the name alone, but the Fox body platform doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the range of options that exist for customization and upgrades. Certainly, this is not a sexy car, but it is a bit of a sleeper that has room for more upgrades down the line. The seller admits there is still some buttoning up to do, but that it runs and drives just fine right now. Find it here on craigslist for $9,000.

The Zephyr looks bone stock from the outside, aside from the alloy wheels lifted from an LX model Mustang. That’s a huge part of the appeal here, as you wouldn’t expect a car like this to be packing so many upgrades. The seller has seemingly thought everything out, as the suspension is completely built too, with Bilstein shocks, coilover kit, bump steer kit, camber plates, upper and lower solid control arms, and an 8.8 rear end with 2.73 gears and upgraded spline axles. There’s plenty of fabrication involved as well, as the seller notes the front Bilsteins were removed from a 2003 Mustang Cobra, and there’s also rotors, pads, spindles, and brake lines from a 1993 Mustang.

The engine is a 302 Roller block with E7 heads and numerous upgrades, including: King main and rod bearings; ARP main and head studs; Erson E212996 cam; Procomp “Vic JR” polished intake; PowerBond PB1084n harmonic balancer; Fluidyne aluminum radiator; Volvo cooling fan with BMW switch; and more. The T5 transmission comes with a new steel bearing retainer, clutch fork, output shaft bushing, and seal, “King Cobra” clutch and pressure plate, and a B&M short shifter. Finally, the turbo kit consists of a VS Racing 7875 turbo with a 38MM wastegate
and 50mm BOV.

The interior has also been improved, with Racequip 5 point harnesses attached to seats of unknown origin. The Zephyr also comes with upgraded gauges mounted in the dash above the factory woodgrain-style trim. The seller is including a new black carpet kit if you don’t like the “race-ready” look. With a New Mexico address, you can be confident this is a rust-free or nearly-rust-free chassis, and the seller has tucked the bumpers to improve the looks while also replacing the door hinge pins, along with the door, trunk, and ignition locks. Overall, a lot of sweat has been poured into this oddball, and I hope the seller gets his number. But is the Zephyr too obscure for the asking price?


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  1. Stevieg Member

    Well built odd-ball! I would never use it to it’s full potential, so for me it would be overpriced. But to someone who would use it for its intended purpose, this is a great deal.

    Like 10
  2. J_Paul Member

    Back in the early 1990s, I would often go to Philadelphia on weekends to catch the illegal street racing near the airport and sports stadiums. This reminds me a lot of the kinds of cars that would show up when things got serious, plain on the outside but with many surprises underneath.

    Like 12
    • Matt Murray

      I grew up on front st in south Philly and yes lots of sleepers
      My buddy had a 73 4dr with a built 454. I had my 78 magnum 440 mid 12s and a/c t tops and white walls

      Like 6
  3. Todd Fitch Staff

    Nice one Jeff. Love the stock hood. Mostly a drag setup but it’s a Fox and most of the Mustang goodies will work if you wanted to make it more well-rounded. I see the camber plates have the typical setup putting the top of the struts as far inward and rearward as possible. Drop another $5000 on this thing and a competent drive could show up anywhere and do well. Swap out the ridiculous headlights. LEDs look bright when you’re looking AT them but not great for illuminating far down the road, unless you want to spend about $2000 then maybe. Anyway a nice ride that could be magazine worthy without spending a dime on cosmetics – except maybe some better matching seats. :)

    Like 11
  4. DavidH

    My confidence level on a rust free vehicle is not great even with a New Mexico address because the Zephyr is clearly sporting a Vermont plate with a registration sticker good through next month.

    Like 7
  5. KC John

    I can’t decide which I dislike more. Clown car headlights or hideous red seats? Both easily remedied problems. Like the sleeper vibe though.

    Like 8
    • PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

      I am hoping that the seats were purposely added for serious 1/4 mile runs and not for their looks. That could also explain the lack of carpeting.

      There is no explanation for those headlights, though.

    • John Alm

      Maybe Car Is Leads A Double Life As Sleeper / Deer Hunter Considering The Vermont Tags , Beautiful State

  6. Dean Wilson

    I had a Zephyr as a company car and the build quality was terrible. As much as I respect unique, out of the box vehicles, the money would have been better spent on some other Ford product.

    • Dwcisme

      While these cars were built to a price point and not durability, quality couldn’t have been that bad. The car is 40 years old after all.

      Like 1
  7. WayneA

    Craigslist post has been deleted.

    Like 1
  8. scottymac

    “The Zephyr has always been an oddball just for the name alone.” I’m not sure what was meant by that, on-line definition for Zephyr says “soft gentle breeze”. Some of the pioneering streamlined trains used the name, and one of the most gorgeous Ford company car lines of the 1930s used the name.


    Like 1
  9. Geoff C

    Talk about a sleeper… way to go!

    Like 3
  10. Gary

    Oddball like the Fairmont Futura. My buddy had one with a hopped up 351C 8v and four speed. Red with Centerlines, almost a sleeper and ran really well. Another guy we knew had a red Fairmont two door like this one, a hi horse power Boss 302 auto that would stand it up on it’s back bumper.

    Like 3
  11. chrlsful

    that name may have come oe w/a 12 cyl…
    Not the 1st fox (Grenade – a) and onto ’94 (some say ’04) alota swap-ins. I been doin them (cosmetics mostly, let 3rd owner poor the $ in) awhile as I see the hobby pretty age related. Those guys started buyin in ’10 and now the market is cresting the apex (some are in their 60s now) but the platform came ina lota styles (luxury, personal car, phoney, waggy). 4eyed hatch has more buyers (mellinneals now out number boomers) than the early sports of same name. Almost too late for my hobby (buy’em cheep, fix, sell when the next lovely catches ur eye – geta free car for while).

  12. Terry

    Tow car for the Swiss Chalet.

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