Restoration project got you in a panic? Here are some expert strategies designed to get your project back on course
Classic Mustang restoration projects look like so much fun going in, imagining the finished product and all that goes with it, plus the adrenaline rush of a teardown and a body in the raw. But this is usually where excitement ends, and the harsh, lonely, real world of restoration begins. Anyone who tells you automobile restoration is easy is not telling the truth. Even for the most seasoned restorers, automobile restoration is grueling at best. It is always long on twists and turns and success often depends upon your personality, budget, support system, and something known as raw tenacity. Even if you’ve never performed a restoration before, you better know what you’re getting into.
Restoration projects require proper planning, a realistic budget, an enclosed garage, tools to get the job done, self honesty, and real commitment. You must have a written plan that covers what’s going to be done and in what order. Impulsiveness and lack of self-discipline are what run restoration projects off the rails. It is that left turn amid a restoration that gets a lot of us into trouble. That’s why your plan must be realistic and list goals you can achieve. Never kid yourself. It is one thing to set goals and quite another to set realistic goals. When you set unrealistic goals, prepare to be disappointed and emotionally derailed. Once your spirits are beaten mid-restoration it is challenging to get back in the saddle.
And that’s why we’re here at Mustang Monthly. We want to show the way and pass along the voice of experience by amassing some of the best advice in the restoration business. The knowledge in these pages comes from a lifetime of successful and failed restoration and restomod projects.
Begin With a Plan
No restoration project should begin without a written plan and realistic goals. Set goals you are confident you can achieve. There’s no pie-in-the-sky in a restoration. You experience joy in the hurdles crossed and real letdown when things go wrong. Follow a logical process in your planning, beginning with a productive teardown and cataloging of parts and prioritize from there. And never kid yourself: It is always more expensive than you budget, and there’s never the time you have planned. There will always be distractions.
Look Before You Leap
Look before you leap into a potential restoration project. Examine the body thoroughly for crash damage and rust. Although a project may be cheap to get into, there is usually a reason. You can rarely get something for nothing and that includes buying a classic Mustang. A pile is a pile is a pile. If you have to perform a lot of sheet-metal repair and panel replacement, it isn’t a bargain. Move on.
Build a Technical Library
Dave Stribling, Dave Stribling Restorations, Crawfordsville, Indiana
Before you begin your restoration project, build a good technical library containing books specific to your project. Clockwise from top right are good ones to have. A set of Jim Osborn Reproductions factory assembly manuals is an absolute must for any restoration project. The Mustang Recognition Guide from California Mustang remains a restoration favorite, though it was originally published quite some time ago. We suggest purchasing Ford factory Shop Manuals (don’t rely on the auto-store books, as these Ford manuals are available as reproductions in print or digital form from California Mustang). I use the AMK Guide to Ford Fasteners 1955-1973 in conjunction with the Jim Osborn assembly manuals. The Mustang and Ford Small Block V-8 1962-1969 by Bob Mannel remains the best book ever written on small-block Ford identification.
Choose a Shop You Trust
MSSD | Mustang Shop San Diego
If you’re considering farming out your restoration project to a restoration or body shop, do extensive homework beforehand. Check out a shop’s reputation online and through word of mouth before committing. Get a thorough estimate and be sure to get it all in writing. You should receive both a solid understanding of what’s expected along with a timeline of when it will be completed. When you deliver the vehicle, perform a complete inventory of all parts before leaving. Cell-phone pictures of the car are always a good idea. Stay in close touch with a restoration shop while the work is being accomplished. Out of sight, out of mind is never a good thing for the customer or the shop.
Choose the Best Paint-Stripping Method
Paint removal is one of the first steps in a restoration once the body is stripped to the bone. The best method of paint removal is mechanically, via sanding or soft media blasting. Walnut shells, plastic, and glass beads are among the kindest to steel, aluminum, and die-cast because they run cooler and don’t peen the metal. You wind up with raw steel ready for any repair and primer coat. Two other forms of media blasting are baking soda and dry-ice blasting, though, they can be more expensive.
When you begin a restoration, start at the front end and work your way aft, cataloging all parts, putting them in marked containers, and making a prompt decision about their destiny. Keep old parts as reference sources for vehicle assembly, and dispose of these items once your restoration is complete. Take liberal pictures of your Mustang as disassembly ensues and store these images in a safe place.
Use the Right Tools
Restorations call for a number of specialized tools designed to make the going easier, such as this windshield-wiper arm removal tool and windshield molding tool, which are available from any number of tool-supply houses like Harbor Freight. Arm yourself with the right tools before getting started. Some tools you can rent locally, especially if you will only be using them once.
Look What You Can Do With a Bottle Opener
Beef up Your Mustang’s Floor Pan
Classic Tube, well known for custom and pre-bent tubing used for a wide variety of applications, offers restorers rear floor pan reinforcement panels for dual-exhaust conversions. If you’re performing a dual-exhaust system conversion in conjunction with your classic Mustang restoration, you can install these reinforcement panels while the body is in the raw. You can rosette weld them (plug and fill) or use an industrial adhesive as a bond. This is an easy modification to make, especially going into a restoration.
Bolt From the New
Northwest Pony Shoppe, Snohomish, Washington
During a visit to the Northwest Pony Shoppe years ago, we were shown a terrific method of restoring original classic Mustang hardware when your budget prohibits buying new or you prefer to stay with original. You can do this process at home, which involves a hot pan full of metal-prep that etches the steel and prevents rust formation. When the hardware has been rinsed and dried, Northwest Pony Shoppe suggests soaking it in WD-40 or similar penetrating lubricant. This isn’t a permanent solution to bolt rust. However, it gets your restoration off to a good start.
Brake/Clutch Pedal Support Tip
Bruce Couture, Modern Driveline, Caldwell, Idaho
A recent visit to Modern Driveline’s suburban Boise, Idaho, shop yielded the benefits of installing a roller bearing pedal support. Whether you are opting for your Mustang’s original Z-bar clutch release, a cable clutch, or a state-of-the-art hydraulic clutch system, these easy-to-install Scott Drake pedal support roller bearings reduce friction and improve load distribution, making clutch and brake pedal operation easier.
Reduce Heat, Make Quiet
When your classic Mustang restoration is freshly painted, yet still in the raw, now is the time to install an insulating noise-reduction system, such as Dynamat, Hush Mat, or any similar products. Sound deadening reduces road noise and keeps exhaust heat underneath the vehicle where it belongs. Noise reduction begins with stick-on sound deadening, then the padding shown here. This is a great investment in your restoration because it will deliver a new level of quiet when you hit the road.
Use Fuel Injection Hose
There used to be a time when you could walk into any auto-parts store and buy fuel hose for your classic carbureted Mustang. Because today’s fuels have harsh additives, especially in California, it is strongly suggested you use high-pressure fuel-injection hose on your restoration to reduce the risk of leakage and fire.
Classic Mustang door weatherstripping is fitted with these convenient pop-in clips that make installation a snap, but weatherstripping can work itself loose over time and use. These rubber and felt weatherstrips are equipped with a sheet-metal screw at one end, but they need to be fitted with a small countersunk sheet-metal screw at both ends to keep them secure. Try this on your next weatherstrip install and see how well it works.
Don’t Forget to White
Reproduction instrument bezels from California Mustang make dated clusters look like new. If you want even brighter instrument lighting, opt for a couple coats of flat white paint inside the cluster for optimum results.
Press, Don’t Pound
A lot of us tend to pound door panel clips during installation, but it only serves to damage and distort the panel. Install the water shield, then carefully line up all clips with the holes and gently press into place.
A Better Mount
One Mustang engineering issue early in its history was noise, vibration, and harshness from the marque’s petite Falcon style V-8 engine mounts. Ford engineers dealt with this issue by replacing the original bayonet-style engine mounts with a new broader surface, revised engine mount early in the 1966 model year. Opt for 1966 or 1968-1970 289/302 small-block V-8 brackets and mounts for your 19641/2-1965 Mustang and enjoy the improved harmonics. Reproduction 1966/1968-1970 engine-mount brackets are available from National Parts Depot for your first-generation small-block Mustang. Where it gets tricky is the stand-alone 1967 only 289ci V-8 engine mount and bracket, which was a different angle than 1966 and 1968-1970. They also fit the 1967 Mustang, if you want to escape the limitations of the 1967 mount.
Dress to Impress
Northwest Pony Shoppe, Snohomish, Washington
Great restorations result from close attention to pesky little details. When we were working with the Northwest Pony Shoppe on an engine-compartment detailing many years ago, they demonstrated the difference between an average detailing and a great one. Slag from factory welding technique need not remain, nor does lead. File or grind ragged edges smooth when you’re preparing the surface for primer and paint and see the difference.
Slip Slidin’ it On…
Transmissions Do Not Have to Leak
It is a popular myth that classic Mustang automatics leak by nature and what can you do? Without proper preparation, older C4, C6, and FMX transmissions will leak all over your garage floor. But here’s a hot tip. Have your transmission shop check all the mating surfaces with a straightedge and mill those surfaces as needed. These transmissions leak due to poorly mated surfaces and improper sealing. Your goal is perfect gasket and part mating surfaces. Use Permatex’s The Right Stuff in very light amounts on gasket surfaces and the outer perimeter of shaft seals. Generously lubricate the seal to shaft, slip yoke, and torque converter contact surfaces for a clean start-up.
Easy Service Drain Plug
JGM Performance Engineering, Valencia, California
When restored Mustangs sit and become weekend drivers, they need even more frequent cooling-system maintenance. That means, fresh coolant every two to three years, hence the need for a drain cock like this in place of the block plugs. Another suggestion is the use of Evans Non-Aqueous coolant from Summit Racing Equipment. Evans coolant never has to be replaced and corrosion becomes a thing of the past. If you use Evans coolant, don’t mix in water, just pure Evans coolant.
Jet Hot, Keep Like New
Ever wonder what to do with rusty exhaust manifolds and other really hot engine parts? Jet Hot Coatings offers this ceramic coating for hot manifolds and headers in a variety of colors, including cast iron, which prevents rust and never burns off. It stays like new and never loses its luster. You can ceramic coat any or all of your engine, transmission, and driveline parts, which makes them easy to keep clean.
Sizzle in the Steak
Spice up a restoration with optional Mustang trim appointments, such as rear deck lid molding (Exterior Décor Group) on a 1967 Mustang hardtop or convertible deck lid. Ditto for a 1965 Mustang hood’s leading edge and rocker moldings on a Mustang not already so equipped. These are affordable upgrades you may add during a restoration that put sizzle in the steak.
Let’s Get it Right
When it’s time to lay down engine color, you want to get it right. There are two Ford Blue colors used on classic Mustang small-block V-8 engines—a light Robin’s Egg Blue on 19641/2 260ci V-8s only and Dark Ford Corporate Blue, which came with the 1966 model year on all Ford engines. Dark Ford Corporate Blue was used on all Ford engines through the early 1980s.
If you’re seeking comfort and good looks, fatten up your upholstery plan and stuff as much padding as possible into your Mustang’s seating. Added bolstering adds richness to a classic Mustang interior and more padding between your posterior and the seat frame. Another option is TMI Product’s Sport Seat, which really ramps up the richness.
Wrap it, Protect it, Admire it Always
We’ve always wrapped wiring harnesses in electrical tape, but that’s so yesterday. Painless Performance offers two types of wire wrap: PowerBraid, as shown here, and ClassicBraid, a period-style harness wrap for classic cars. Whether you choose PowerBraid or ClassicBraid, the result will make your restoration stunning.
Powdercoat for Life
Scott Andrews, Andrews Powder Coating, Chatsworth, California
Performed properly and in the correct colors, powdercoating weaves durability and good looks into your restoration. You can powdercoat nearly any component or trim item in nearly any color and never have to fear chipping or fading. Yes, powder coating costs more than paint, but it will outlast paint by a wide margin.
A Windshield Without Leaks or Mess
There are many different approaches to windshield and backlite replacement, but only one right way. Use a flexible, permanently pliable classic windshield sealant between the glass and rubber. When the glass and rubber have settled into the frame with a full lip wrapped around the inside, apply a heavy bead of sealer around the outside perimeter of the rubber between rubber and body. Be certain the sealer fills all the voids. For extra measure, run a bead of sealer around the rubber seal again between the glass and rubber.