One of the Rarest Ford Mustangs of All Time Is Heading to Auction

The 1-of-10 M81 McLaren Mustang prototype will be featured in Mecum’s Indianapolis sale in May

1980 Ford M81 McLaren Mustang which is going up for auction at Mecum Auctions' Indy 2023 sale
Feast your eyes on the 1980 McLaren Mustang.
Mecum Auctions

A McLaren Mustang. What sounds like the wet dream of a muscle car enthusiast is not only real, but one of these rare beasts is heading to auction this May. 

During Dana Mecum’s 36th Annual Original Spring Classic, a car auction taking place in Indianapolis from May 12-20, one of the highlights among the 3,000-odd vehicles will be a 1980 Ford M81 McLaren Mustang. If you’ve never heard of the collaboration before, that’s because only 10 of these were ever made, even though a production run of 250 was originally planned. What makes this particular lot even more valuable is that this one is the original prototype, and the odometer only counts 556 miles.

If you’re familiar with McLaren the supercar manufacturer, which traces its history back to 1985 and released is first road car in 1992, the arm of the company involved in the McLaren Mustang build comes before that. As Ben Branch explains at Silodrome, this Mustang grew out of a partnership with McLaren Engines, which set up shop in the U.S. in 1969 to compete in the American racing scene (Can-Am, Indy, etc.) while the original outfit focused on Formula 1 in England. 

“The M81 McLaren Mustang was conceived as a sort of 1980s version of the Shelby Mustangs of the 1960s, now among the most desirable muscle cars ever made,” Branch writes. “Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) unit was founded in the early 1980s and the M81 would be their first major project.”

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First came a racecar variant, which competed at the 24 Hours of Daytona, as Hagerty details in its history of the project. For the road-going model that followed, Ford started with its standard Fox body Mustang then bulked up the bodywork, added hood scoops and an anti-roll bar, and beefed up the suspension with adjustable Koni shocks, among other things. The most consequential change was the “[t]urbocharged 2.3L inline 4-cylinder engine that was blueprinted, polished, de-burred and reassembled by McLaren to enhance performance from 132 HP to 175 HP,” as stated in the auction listing.

How much will this M81 McLaren Mustang set you back? It depends on how hot the auction market winds up being come May. Mecum Auctions currently lists the estimate at $75,000 to $100,000 for this prototype; but this exact car, VIN 0F03A308227, sold at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale auction in 2020 for just $37,400. Also, another one of these McLaren Mustangs sold in 2016 on Bring a Trailer for $36,250

Yes, this is one of the rarest production Mustangs out there. But is it worth six figures? According to recent auctions, it would probably be better to pinch your pennies and wait to get a modern McLaren GT, which offers about 3.5 times the horsepower for just twice the price, or save yourself some dough and get a brand new 2024 Mustang Dark Horse for about $58,000.

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