<< 1980 : 1981 : 1982 >>

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.

Performance Statistics
1981 Horsepower Torque 0-60 1/4 Mile
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:
3dr Hatchback:
2dr Sedan Ghia:
3dr Hatchback Ghia:
‘S’ Coupe:
Standard Coupe:
Ghia Coupe:
Standard Hatchback:
Ghia Hatchback:


Available Exterior Colors Interior Trim Colors
Paint Code Color
Black 1C Beryl
Bright Bittersweet 2G Black
Bright Red 27 Caramel
Bright Yellow 6N Cordovan
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
Pastel Chamois 86 Pewter
Polar White 9D Sand
White / Bittersweet
White / Black
White / Blue
White / Fawn
White / Red
1981 Mustang VIN Decoder
Example1FA|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
Engine Codes:
A – 2.3L 2V 4cyl 88hp
B – 3.3L 1V 6cyl 85hp
D – 4.2L 2V 8cyl 119hp
Body codes:
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.


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 for sale1981 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.

1980 1981 Mustang Cobra with hood decal - polar white

Cobra T-shirt: $19.50 while supplies last. Click to select shirt color and size.

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.


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