1981 Ford F150 (Specs And Features)

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In 1981, a postage stamp was 19 cents, gasoline was $1.19 a gallon, and Ronald Regan was President. Ford was busy trying to sell a new generation of trucks.

The 1981 F150 was part of Ford’s seventh generation of F-Series trucks. Built from 1980 - 86, the trucks had a new chassis and body. Three engine choices, a 300 cu inline six (std), 5.0 L 302 cu, and 5.8 L 351 cu V8) were offered. Trim levels included Custom, Ranger, Ranger XLT, and Ranger Lariat.

Ford was entering a new era in the early 1980s. While Americans were reeling from a second oil embargo and suffering double-digit inflation, Ford turned to overseas sales for stability. While domestic losses were staggering, the international market was soaring. Sales of Ford cars and trucks totaled over 1 million during the first six months of the year, with the small economically-minded Escort car leading the charge. Unfortunately, Ford trucks were taking a hit. Although Ford had been leading the pack for the last three years, sales were off. Production was scaled back. Ford began to bleed cash. Even the new seventh-generation F-Series, with its fresh design and amenities, was not enough to convince Americans to return to the showroom. By 1981, Ford was sent scrambling, looking for ways to promote their truck as fuel efficient and built tough. As a classic truck lover of F-Series pickups, let’s explore what makes the 1981 Ford F150 unique.

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The Features of the 1981 Ford F 150

The seventh generation of F-Series pickup trucks featured several significant changes from previous generations. A newly designed chassis and body with flatter side panels and a square egg-crate grille made the truck seem aggressive. Several firsts were offered on the 1981 F-Series that had not been part of the F 150 family before, like a new column-mounted ignition switch and a hood release lever inside the cab.

Ford had introduced the F150 in 1975, and by now, it was proving much more popular than the long-standing half-ton F100. FMC would continue to manufacture the F100 alongside the new F 150, but by the time 1981 arrived, it was clear that the future of the F 100 was bleak. The price of the 1981 Ford F 150 started around $6k and went up depending on the options.


Sporting a boxier shape, the 1981 Ford F 150 gave an intimidating appearance. Both Styleside and Flareside options were available. While customers could order a 6 ½ bed in the Flareside, the straight Styleside offered a 6 ¾ ‘ short bed or 8’ long bed. Most of the production numbers were 4 x 2 Styleside Regular Cabs vehicles. The four-door CrewCab configuration was dropped in 1980 and did not continue in the ‘81 F-Series model.

The front grill was a square egg crate pattern that monopolized the front, with square, recessed headlights on either side. The front turn signals were moved below the headlight housing, and a chrome bumper rested underneath. The iconic Ford lettering remained on the hood lip until Ford removed it the following year, preferring to have a small, blue oval in the center of the grill. Halogen headlights and radial ply tires were standard.

The dentside accent concave was carried over, but the rear reflector was removed. The truck had a corresponding shadow line ripple trailing over the fenders and riding near the base of an outstretched door. The doors pressed out above the shadow, giving the truck broad shoulders, which lent to its stern new look.

The windshield sloped back at a greater angle than before and featured an expansive, airy feel. Larger chrome side mirrors attached to the door panel with two rods, and owners loved the new design, which was ideal for towing.

The cargo bed was double-walled sheet metal primed with zinc polymers to resist rust and corrosion. Though Ford offered a new 36k mile anti-perforation warranty against corrosion, some 1981 F 150s still had rust problems around the rear quarter panels. The tailgate was removable, which offered truck owners even more ways to use the truck.

Ford offered 17 different exterior color hues with colors ranging from Carmel Metallic, Raven Black, Candyapple Red, Fawn, and several others. Two-tone color combinations allowed owners to break up the monotony of a single color. A Freestylin package offered a small twin-window treatment on the SuperCab section of the rear, side window and stylish striping along the body panel.

Ford did not offer a Camper Special for the F150, although customers could order a cargo box shell.


There were three engine choices offered on the F150, with the 300 cu inline-six as standard, but most F150s had a V8 engine. The V8 engines were the 5.0 L 302 and the 5.8 L 351M V8.

While both engines had been integral in much of the Ford lineup, they would continue to power Ford trucks through the rest of the decade.

Engine Horsepower Torque
300 cu inline-six 118 - 122 hp @ 3400 rpm 223 ft/lb @ 1600 rpm
302 cu V8 133 hp @ 3400 rpm 243 ft/lb @ 2400 rpm
351 cu V8 136 142 hp @3400 rpm 263 ft/lb @ 2000 rpm


The seventh generation introduced a new 4-speed SelectShift automatic (which most owners opted for). With the SelectShift, the truck would shift into overdrive at about 45 mph, allowing the engine to operate at less revs. This engine design had an immediate impact of reducing the wear and tear on the V8s, meaning less maintenance and increased longevity.

The 3-speed manual transmission was standard. The manual transmission was shifted by three on the tree (although Ford would discontinue it in less than 5 years). The 4-speed manual was also an option. For 4 x 4s, Ford used the Borg-Warner 1345 Series transfer case.


Ford continued to use the Twin I-beam front suspension that it had developed in 1965. The Suspension used individual coil springs on each front tire. The result sent the competitors scrambling to try and match the ride quality of the F-Series.


Power steering and power brakes were standard features on every F150. While most owners wanted air conditioning, it was still considered optional equipment.

The Custom was the base trim and offered a vinyl seat along with windshield molding. The Ranger trim offered a choice of vinyl seating or cloth/vinyl combination seats. Courtesy lights had a standard door on/off switch. A faux woodgrain strip on the steering wheel matched the wood that trimmed the dashboard’s front.

The Ranger XLT was next in line, with a bright chrome tailgate handle, aluminum applique on the tailgate, and cloth and vinyl seating.

The Lariat was the top-tier trim with wall-to-wall thick pile carpeting and an ungraded steering wheel, carpeted map pockets, and wood grain on the door panels. While the AM radio was standard, there were options for an AM/FM stereo with a cassette or 8-track tape player. The interior was reminiscent of many of the top-of-the-line Ford vehicles.

What Are The Specs For The 1981 Ford F 150?

Item Specification
Cab Configurations Regular Cab
Length 192.1 “ (6 ¾ bed)
208 “ (8 ‘ bed)
Wheelbase 117 “ (6 ¾ bed)
133 “ (8’ bed)
Payload Capacity 1775 - 2675 lbs (Reg. Cab)
1950 - 2400 lbs (Super Cab)
Trim Levels Custom, Ranger, Ranger XLT, Ranger Lariat
Power Steering Std
Power Brakes Std
Tires Radial P215/75R
Engine 300 cu inline six (std)
302 cu V8 (opt)
351 cu V8 (opt)
Horsepower 118 - 122 hp @ 3400 rpm (300 inline six)
133 hp @ 3400 rpm (302 V8)
136 142 hp @3400 rpm (351 V8)
Torque 223 ft/lb @ 2400 rpm (300 inline six)
243 ft/lb @ 2600 rpm (302 V8)
263 ft/lb @ 2000 rpm (351 V8)
Bore 4.0 (All engines)
Stroke 3.98 (300 inline)
3.0 (302 V8)
3.5 (351
Compression 8.0:1 (300 inline)
8.5:1 (302 V8)
9.5:1 (351 V8 - 2 bbl)
11.0:1 (351 V8 - 4 bbl)
Fuel Tank 19 gallon (std)
38 gallon (aux)
Battery 36.1 amp (std)
63 amp (opt)
Power Door Locks opt
Air Conditioning opt

What Is a 1981 Ford F150 Worth Today?

According to Hagerty, the value of a 1981 F150 in good condition is $9,500, depending on the options. The most ever paid for a seventh-generation F150 is $101k. While market values can vary, most F150 4x4s are worth more than two-wheel drive models. For a review of free listings of 1981 F-Series trucks and other classic cars for sale, see classiccars.com