1981 Ford Mustang: Ultimate In-Depth Guide

History, Specs, Options, Performance & More

1981 Ford Mustang

1981 Ford Mustang

1981 Ford Mustang Overview

There were not a lot of updates to speak of for the 1981 model year Mustang. Perhaps the biggest change was the new-found freedom that buyers had in optioning and combining of options, Ford basically letting consumers mix and match as they please. 1981 was also the last year for the Ghia and Cobra, replaced in 1982 with the L, GL, and GLX trim options packages. 1981 would mark the first year in Mustang history that hatchback models outsold coupes. The trend continued through the end of the Mustang’s third generation in 1993.

Model: 1981 Ford Mustang
Generation: 3rd Generation Mustang
Type: 2 Door
Body Styles: Coupe, Hatchback
Engines: 2.3L 2V 4 cyl, 2.3L 2V 4 cyl turbo, 3.3L 1V 6 cyl, 4.2L 2V V8
Original Price: $5,897 (Basic Coupe), $6,566 (Basic Hatchback)
Units Produced: 182,552

Additional 1981 Mustang Research: 1981 Research Center / Colors Details / Production Numbers / Prices & Options / Sales Brochures / Owner Manuals / Maintenance / Pictures / Videos / VIN Decoder / Special Editions

Background & Details

In the 1981 Mustang production year, not much changed. A few cosmetic body changes. They offered a rear window louver option on the 3 door model. Still no convertible for the Mustang either, but 1981 did see the introduction of the T-Top option. The T-Top was the only option for those seeking an open-air Mustang experience.The headlights did not have a plastic cover this year and the car came standard with a Black strip that ran the circumference of the car. The Fox Body continued to be tweaked with little improvements here and there versus any big wholesale changes.

The engines once again sucked in 1981 thanks to Ford carrying over the same engines from 1980. The base engine continued to be the 2.3L four-cylinder. The 3.3 liter inline six-cylinder engine (91 hp) or the anemic 4.2L V8 (115 hp) were upgrade options. The turbocharged four-cylinder, the premier engine of 1980, had already been discontinued by 1981 due to reliability issues. In 1981 a five-speed manual overdrive transmission finally became available for the Ford Mustang as an option behind the regular and turbocharged fours. The Traction-Lok rear axle’s debut allowed drivers to experience less wheel hop.

Special Edition Models & Variants

As the rate of sales begins to drop, fewer Mustangs are produced and that means less investment in special model Mustang. The Ghia and Cobra were seen for the last time in 1981. A short-lived “S” Coupe model made an appearance for 1981 also.


The 1981 Ghia included many luxury items including black remote control side mirrors, body side pinstriping, turbine style wheels, low back reclining seats with adjustable headrests and deluxe seat belts with tension eliminators, luxury level cut-pile carpet, and extra convenience lighting (map, dome, glove box, ash tray, engine).

Learn more about the 1981 Ford Mustang Ghia

'81 Mustang Cobra


The 1981 Mustang Cobra continued to be the only sports model for the Mustang with blacked out side mirrors and interior trim accents, rear facing hood scoop, 1979 Mustang pace car front end and rear spoiler, TRX wheels, added to the standard 2.3L twin turbo 4-cylinder engine connected to sport tuned exhaust. Upgrades included the 4.2L V8 engine. A Cobra package taping delete option existed to save $65 but the special, large Cobra hood decal was an additional $95 option. Although the Cobra came only in a hatchback, a sports package was also available for the hatchback or coupe which included engine upgrades, blacked out treatment, sport wheels, rear window louvers on the hatchback and convertible looking carriage roof for the coupe. See our 1981 Cobra Data Explorer for more information.

Learn more about the 1981 Ford Mustang Cobra

“S” Coupe

“S” Coupe

New for 1981 was the “S” coupe. It was also the only year for the Mustang S Coupe. The 1981 Mustang S was an economy sedan model which offered all the fuel savings options with a less than base Mustang price of $5,897 where the base 2 door regular sedan was $6,363.

Learn more about the 1981 Ford Mustang “S” Coupe

McLaren M81

Technically the M81 was a 1980 model year car, so we included it in our 1980 Mustang guide and the full guide can be found here.

Specifications, Options & Detailed Stats

Production Numbers

1981 would mark the first year in Mustang history that hatchback models outsold coupes. The trend continued through the end of the Mustang’s third generation in 1993. To dive into the model and body splits as well as see charts and percentages, check out our 1981 Ford Mustang Production & Sales Numbers deep dive.

Options and Pricing

Inflation was an issue in the U.S and Ford was faced with hiking the price of the Mustang. Base sticker prices for the coupe were now almost $5900 while the base hatchback fetched almost $6600. For more detailed options and pricing, please check out our 1981 pricing and options research.

Exterior & Interior Colors

A total of 14 colors were also added for the 1981 Mustang model year. Most of the exterior colors available for this year are muted, but tu-tone paint options and decal packages created unique and eye-catching combinations.  For detailed colors, color palettes, codes and interior colors please check out our in depth 1981 colors information post.

Dimensions & Weight

The 1981 Mustang had the same dimensions as the prior year model. No notable changes to the size.

Engine Specs

No notable engine changes and upgrades were made for the 1981 Mustang model year. The 255 was the only V8 offered in 1980 and 1981. The Traction-Lok limited-slip differential was available for the first time in 1981, with all engine combinations. For more information on engines for 1981, you can find the information here.


Below is the performance data for the 1981 Mustangs that we could find. We have included 0-60 mph times, 0-100 mph times as well as quarter mile times and top speed where available.

VIN Information

Vin Decoder Mustang 1981

This link will take you to a page which contains the VIN tag information for all years of Mustangs. Previously this information appeared on each Mustang’s year page, but consolidating it has significantly reduced page loading times. To decode the build sheet, check out our 1981 VIN & Data Plate Decoder sheet.

Videos & Picture Galleries

We managed to find some great video reviews of the 1981 Mustang so definitely check those out. We also have a picture 1981 Ford Mustang Picture Gallery and photos of real Mustangs in each color that was available.