The 1981 Mustang was largely unchanged from 1980. There was a new Traction-Lok, power side windows became available, and reclining seats became standard equipment. The biggest new option of the 1981 Mustang was the availability of a T-Top in both hatchback and notchback bodied Mustangs. Very few T-Top coupes were made, and if you see one it’s very difficult to determine if it’s an OEM T-Top without a verified build sheet.
The 2.3L was listed as an available option in 1981 – availability of the turbo engine became limited later in the model year. Reliability issues reported from the 1980 Mustang had not been resolved. We wouldn’t see the 2.3L turbo in a Mustang again until 1983.
On the performance front – the 1981 Cobra returns to the lineup. It was only available with the de-stroked 4.2L V8, the 2.3L turbo was discontinued. The 1981 Cobra used a 2.26:1 final gear ratio to make the MPG Police happy. The 4.2L V8 was only available with a 3 speed automatic transmission.
Many of the 1980 options were available – rear-window louvers, and the Carriage roof – and there was a new trim level available for the coupe. The ‘S’ trimmed Mustang came with limited options and the base 2.3L engine. Wheel options were unchanged from 1980: Standard models were equiped with 13″ steel wheels with wheel covers. The sport package wheel provided (13″) steel wheels with a polished trim ring and black plastic center cap. 14″ options were available as an option for Ghia models as turbine or wire wheel cover – and a 14″ cast aluminum 16-spoke was optional for all models except Cobra. The TRX 15.5 X 5.9″ wheels returned for their final model year as standard equipment for the Cobra, and optional for all other models.
|2.3L 2V||88 @ 4,800 rpm||118 @ 2,800 rpm||n/a||n/a|
|3.3L 1V 6cyl||91 @ 3,800 rpm||160 @ 1,600 rpm||n/a||n/a|
|4.2L 2V V-8||115 hp @3,400 rpm||195 @ 2,200 rpm||11.20*||18.10 @ 77 mph|
|* Car and Driver (October, 1981)† California Emissions specific 4.2L V-8: 120 hp @ 3,400 rpm and 205 tq @ 2,600 rpm|
|Production Numbers||Retail Prices|
2dr Sedan Ghia:
3dr Hatchback Ghia:
|Available Exterior Colors||Interior Trim Colors|
|Dark Blue Metallic||3L||Cream Gold|
|Dark Cordovan Metallic||8N||Dark Red|
|Light Pewter Metallic||1T||Dove Gray|
|Medium Bittersweet Metallic||8A||Light Fawn|
|Medium Blue Metallic||3H||Light Pewter|
|Medium Dark Brown||5Q||Medium Fawn|
|Medium Pewter Metallic||17||Medium Pine|
|Medium Red||24||Medium Red|
|White / Bittersweet|
|White / Black|
|White / Blue|
|White / Fawn|
|White / Red|
|1981 Mustang VIN Decoder|
|Example: 1FA|B|P|12|D|6|B|F|0000011FA – Ford Motor Company
B – Restraint System
P – Passenger Car
12 – Body Code (See below)
D – Engine Code (See below)
6 – Check Code
B – Year (B=1981)
F – Plant (Dearborn)
100001 – Consecutive unit number
A – 2.3L 2V 4cyl 88hp
B – 3.3L 1V 6cyl 85hp
D – 4.2L 2V 8cyl 119hp
10/14 – 2dr Sedan
15 – 3dr Hatchback
12 – 2dr Ghia Sedan
13 – 3dr Ghia Hatchback
|Location: Stamped on the plate which is riveted to the driver’s side of the dash, visible through windshield; the certification label is located on the rear face of the driver’s door.|
Wheelbase for the 1981 Mustang was listed at 100.4″ with a 179.1″ total length. 3-Door models boasted of over 32 cu. ft. of cargo room. By modern standards, the 1981 Mustang was petite with a curb weight of 2,625 lbs for 2-door coupes, and 2,658 lbs for the 3-door hatchbacks.
UNIQUE OPTIONS FOR THE 1981 MUSTANG:
A new ($916.00) option for Mustang was the T-Top (or, as indicated in sales materials, the “T-Roof.”) “Mustang gives you a wide range of models trim packages and powerteams. And with exciting options like Recaro bucket seats, 5-speed manual overdrive or the rakish new T-Roof, you can go your own way.”
1981 MUSTANG COBRA :
1981 was the last year of the Cobra for a while – and thanks to a lack of choice for power that could be considered a mercy killing. Appearance options from the 1979 Pace Car and 1980 Cobra returned in 1981, as did the Marchal fog lights, and a rear-facing, non-functional hood scoop.
Black quarter window louvres returned as did the graphics package with the ‘Cobra’ decal on the quarter window, and a striping package running the length of the car – tying into a unique Cobra rear spoiler. The absolutely awesome graphics package was still available, this year as an $95 option. The Cobra package was $1,075 High-backed Recaro seats added another optional $776.00.
FORD MUSTANG RETURNS TO RACING :
After the 1971 championship season for Parnelli Jones in the Boss 302 – Ford scaled back its support of professional motorsports in favor of focusing attention on a challenging business environment and struggling economy. Thankfully, 1981 saw Ford return to its racing roots. April 12, 1981 the Miller Mustang overcame qualifying issues and navigated through a field of BMWs, Porsches, and Datsuns at the IMSA Camel GT race at Road Atlanta Raceway. The turbocharged 1.7L 4-cylinder engine creating almost 700 horsepower, and piloted by Klaus Ludwig stormed through the field to within 0.14 seconds of the leading Porsche 935 at the finish line – boldly announcing Ford’s return and commitment to auto racing.
Ford Racing History
Wikipedia Ford Mustang
Ford Sales Brochure
The Official Mustang 5.0 1979 through 1993 Technical Reference & Performance Handbook, Kirshenbaum – Bentley Publishers
Fox-Body Mustang Recognition Guide 1979-1993, Shreiner & Sessler – T-5 Design