Mustang Taillight
Jim Smart
April 28, 2015

What is it about buying a Mustang that’s both exciting and nerve-racking at the same time? The exciting part encompasses putting your hands on the ride of your dreams. Yet it is unsettling because you surely don’t want to be stuck with someone else’s problems. Not enough of us think through a potential buy before laying down the cash. Most buys are the result of impulse rather than in-depth thought and planning. We lie to ourselves when we want a Mustang badly. If it’s a full-scale restoration project, we kid ourselves about available time and budget. If it’s a fully restored or low-mileage original ride, we talk ourselves into something we cannot afford. The key to success when you’re buying a classic Mustang is an educated decision.

The good car buying news today is affordability. There has never been a better time to buy a classic Mustang because prices have stumbled with a bad economy, high unemployment, and millions of foreclosures—bad news for sellers, great news for buyers. You may actually be able to buy the car of your dreams right now. Before you go shopping, set spending limits and be honest with yourself. How much do you have to spend? This means purchase price as well as an expensive restoration. How much time and resources do you have to invest in a full-scale restoration? No matter what you may think, restorations are neither simple undertakings nor do they come cheap. They always cost more than you think they will and take three times as long as originally planned, even under the best of circumstances. Add extensive body damage and rust repair and you have the time and expense of sheetmetal repair and replacement.

Perhaps automotive restoration isn’t your thing, making a fully restored Mustang a more viable option. There are plenty of restored examples out there, especially in a rough economy. But beware; there are glistening examples that look terrific at first sight, yet are hiding serious issues you won’t want to deal with once you’ve spent a lot of money. Watch out for the fast buck turnout sale—flipper cars in search of unsuspecting buyers with history that cannot be tracked. Adding insult to injury is the restoration you have to perform all over again because substandard body repair was performed beneath all that fresh paint and new upholstery.

Classic Mustangs remain the most popular buys on the market. However, an aging Baby Boomer population isn’t as interested in restoration as it was 20-30 years ago. Sometimes, Boomers want something they can buy and drive right away without all the inspiration and perspiration of a restoration. However, if you live to restore, here’s an original 1965 Prairie Bronze Mustang hardtop in Los Angeles eagerly awaiting a buyer. Although there’s some minor body rust, it’s a solid, original catch. But also think about what you want to do with the car—drive it, show it, or both? Restored or needing a restoration? What’s your total budget, including purchase and restoration? How much time do you have to invest in a restoration? Do you have the resources—body shop, engine builder, transmission and rearend shops, upholstery shop, and parts sources? How much are you able to do yourself and save money?

This nicely restored 1966 Mustang convertible for sale in Springtime Yellow looks great at first glance for $18,000. However, what kind of restoration did it receive? A lot of them are little more than bump and grind jobs with a lot of hidden flaws. Resist the impulse buy without first doing your homework. Is the seller willing to allow a thorough inspection?

Because classic Mustangs enjoy such a large following, every seller believes they have a rare collectible that everyone wants, but many are overpriced and under-restored. A coat of paint, fresh upholstery, and a valvejob does not constitute a restoration. A restoration means restored to showroom-original condition. Don’t let a paintjob, new interior, and rebuilt engine fool you. Also remember your safety, and the safety of others, is at stake here. Don’t be so taken in by classic Mustang lust that you become blind to flaws that can cost plenty.

Does a Mustang you’re considering have good bones? At first glance, is the body straight? You don’t have to be an autobody expert to see wavy quarter-panels with dimples, highs and lows. Is the beltline in perfect alignment meaning fenders, doors, and quarter-panels? Is the tail panel straight with just the right amount of convex? What about quarter-panel endcaps, decklid, and headlight doors? None of these cars had a perfect factory fit, but it should be within a window of proper fit. A body loaded with filler is easy to see if you’re paying close attention. Look for missing body lines hidden by filler. Hint: Examine as many perfect specimens as you can before shopping. Take a seasoned Mustang buddy with you when it’s time to shop.

Crawl underneath and examine a Mustang’s bones. Accident damage not visible above the rocker panels can nearly always be detected underneath via wrinkled and banged up framerails, floorpans, and wheelhouses. Look for non-factory welding techniques such as wire-feed, plug and fill, and brazing. Mustang assembly plants did use some brazing at the windshield pillars along with wire-feed MIG welding, but look for seams where there should not be seams. Seek evidence of a front or rear clip, which is the front or back half of one Mustang welded to another. If there’s a lot of heavy undercoating, look closer. Don’t be afraid to ask a seller to allow you to have the car inspected by a professional. If they’re resistant to inspection and road testing thank them for their time and walk away.

We’ve seen it all at Mustang Monthly. We’ve seen re-bodied Mustangs, altered vehicle identification numbers and warranty plate codes, fake GTs and Shelbys, deeply hidden accident damage and rust repair, bogus engines, front and rear clips, and more. The problem with all of this is what it can do to unsuspecting buyers who wind up with bad buys they become stuck with. This is why you must be a detective when you’re shopping for a classic Mustang. You must inspect casting numbers and date codes from bumper to bumper to ascertain authenticity. Sheetmetal stamping date codes should jibe with the vehicle’s scheduled assembly date code, especially if the seller tells you the car is all original and never been in an accident. If the seller tells you the engine and driveline are original, you should be able to inspect casting numbers and date codes and come up with dates and identification codes that match.

Much depends on the kind of Mustang you would like to have. If authenticity isn’t important, focus on vehicle condition. If authenticity is important, focus on the elements die-hard Mustang buffs know all about. Contact local Mustang experts who know their oats and can tell a fake from the real thing. Never be afraid to contact local clubs and some of the better-known Mustang shops, such as Mustangs Etc. in Southern California and Mustang Restorations in the Chicago area. Both are a wealth of great knowledge and experience, with guys who can keep you out of trouble.

What to buy and what not to buy? Some Mustang generations pose challenging questions such as where to find parts or good low-mileage originals. The 1974-’78 Mustang II is likely the toughest generation to find restoration parts for. Opt for a low-mileage original or a concours-restored example where the hard part has already been done for you.

Unfinished Mustang projects always seem like a bargain but you have to be sure of what you’re getting for your money. An unfinished project like this looks like a bargain and great fun, but there are a lot of hidden costs, including very expensive bodywork and any remaining rust repair.

When we say “good bones” this is what we’re talking about. At first glance, this is a straight Mustang body void of filler with good fit. Notice the fender to door to quarter-panel belt line in perfect alignment. This 1965 Mustang enjoys good fit from bumper to bumper because it has good bones. Vintage Burgundy sheetmetal hangs nice and straight. This is the kind of “already restored” you want for your money. Ideally, you find a Mustang that has never been wrecked or has been restored to factory specifications by a professional.

Again that “good bones” stuff—a diamond in the rough at Mustangs Etc. in Southern California. This is an original paint Southern California car that has never been wrecked and is free of rust. Notice how straight the body is despite the decaying factory finish. If you’re buying a Mustang to restore, this is the type of car you want—it eliminates the cost of sheetmetal replacement and massaging.

We spotted this 1965 GT Hi-Po hardtop at Carlisle with an asking price of $3,500. Though this looks like a winner at first glance, note all the mismatched sheetmetal. The first question to ask is why all the replacement sheetmetal? Replacement sheetmetal indicates a wreck, rust, or a theft recovery. Take a longer look underneath for rust and body damage. A bargain isn’t a bargain if there’s a lot of sheetmetal repair or replacement to be done.

Lowball Mustang rides are out there, such as 1969-’73 hardtops, which are not in high demand but cheap and long on possibilities, given imagination and budget.

Small rust problem? Don’t bet on it. When doors are rusted through, it indicates moisture accumulation and corrosion issues you cannot always see on the surface. Be prepared to look underneath and pull up carpets. Check for cowl vent leakage and rusted out floorpans and torque boxes. Any irregularities in surfaces are cause for closer inspection. Bubbled paint is a strong clue of deeper rust issues.

If you have a concourse restoration in mind, powertrain originality is important. Look for matching casting numbers and date codes that jibe with the car’s scheduled (warranty plate or certification sticker) and actual build date codes (buck tag or sheetmetal stamping date codes). Despite the car’s overall poor condition, this is a factory original matching-number 289-2V V-8 with C4 Select-Shift transmission.

The Lasting Sting of a Bad Buy

Arnold Marks of Mustangs Etc. in Van Nuys, California, has seen many a bad investment in more than 35 years in the classic car business. One example is this 1968 Mustang hardtop purchased by a Mustangs Etc. customer long distance from an online auction for $8,000. When the customer took delivery, they became concerned over issues never mentioned by the seller, who gladly took the cash and ran. When Arnold examined the car thoroughly, he was shocked at how bad it was for eight grand, and that’s when he called Marks. This is one example of a paint, flip, and sell scenario where, had the buyer seen the car in person prior to purchase, they never would have bought the car.

We will add that this isn’t even a good parts car because there’s not one salvageable piece of sheetmetal, which makes for a mighty expensive project when you include its worn out engine and driveline. We’re going to take you through this very expensive flip and sell Mustang hardtop that was ultimately chopped up and scrapped because it was not salvageable. The owner had to cut their losses and find something else. Here’s what Arnold found.

Arnold Marks walks us through an online auction car sting—this black metal flake 1968 Mustang hardtop, which turned out to be nothing more than a very expensive scrap pile. Purchase price? An unsettling $8,000, plus the cost of shipping it from Texas to California.

That looks like a solid quarter-panel, doesn’t it? Beneath a budget metal flake black paintjob is a gallon or more of solid body filler slapped over a badly damaged quarter-panel. Trunk inspection reveals a crushed floor and wheelhouse also damaged in the accident.

Noisy upper control arms inspired someone to torch holes in the shock towers for grease zerk access. Problem is, they compromised shock tower integrity and didn’t solve the problem. Cracked shock towers come from seized upper control arms that must be replaced. Look at the heat-damaged wiring and hideous butt connectors.

How’s this for mud? It’s a damaged headlight door buried in filler that should have been replaced.

The car also has a damaged wiring harness that should have been replaced. Instead, the largest collection of butt connectors we’ve ever seen.

Driver’s floormat staining indicates cowl vent leakage and a rotted out floorpan.

Front suspension damage, a bent strut rod, indicates someone tagged a curb hard, possibly doing framerail damage in the process.

Check this out, a rear shock mount patch, which likely happened when the right rear quarter-panel, wheelhouse, and trunk floor were hit. The impact pulled the shock right out of its upper mount. Also note that it’s an air shock, signs that the leaf springs are probably junk.

When Mustangs Etc. applies a grinding wheel to the quarter-panel, notice how deep the filler is—at least 1/8- to 3/16-inch deep in places across the entire quarter-panel.

When Marks puts the Mustang on a lift, what he finds is shocking for eight grand. The floorpan has been patched and the car is structurally unsound.

Mustangs Etc. technician Gil Roiz checks the 289’s compression, which is as unsound as the body. Two cylinders yielded zero compression. We have a worn-out 289, though it was numbers matching. This isn’t even a good parts car.

Does It All Add Up?

Another important issue to consider and confirm during the buying process is consistency. The first area of consideration is matching numbers, meaning vehicle identification number, warranty plate codes, body buck tag (where equipped), and windshield tag (1968-up). Do the vehicle identification numbers match? And, do the sheetmetal stamping dates, engine manufacture, and casting date codes match the warranty plate/certification sticker date codes? All should fall within a 1-2 month window of one another. The scheduled build date code on the warranty plate or certification sticker is only a scheduled build date, not always a firm date.

If your prospect is a 1967-’78 Mustang, a Marti Report from Marti Auto Works is mandatory, even if you don’t buy the car. It is money well spent in what it can save you. A Marti Report consists of accurate information from the Ford Motor Company database, which tells you all about the Mustang you’re thinking of buying. It shows exactly how the car was factory equipped, when it was assembled, and where it was delivered new. A Marti Report can save your bacon because forewarned is forearmed.

The warranty plate vehicle identification number and inner fender should match. If they don’t, the door may have been replaced. Don’t be surprised by mis-stamped warranty plates or inner fenders where the consecutive number is off by a couple of digits or engine codes don’t match. Factory mistakes did happen.

This is the body buck tag, which should match both warranty plate/certification sticker and inner fender. The body buck tag also yields the actual date of vehicle assembly.

Seems nearly everyone wants a rare and collectible Mustang, but there are only so many to go around. When you’re considering something like a Shelby or Boss, forget “money’s no object” logic because even the most collectible Mustangs have their limits. A badly rusted out or accident-damaged Boss or Shelby is a costly beast to restore. And in restored condition, what is it worth? You can spend upwards of $30,000-plus just in bodywork when a lot of sheetmetal replacement is involved.

Buying A Restomod

Buying a modified or restomod Mustang is a custom-made experience because each and every one is different. Although this may sound arrogant, be choosy about restomods because each is a matter of personal taste and not all of them are tastefully executed. Some are rather hodgepodge with incompatible parts and nuances. And some suffer from poor paint prep with buckets of filler. Restomods require closer attention than the concours stockers because with modifications sometimes come a lot of mysteries.

As with a stocker, a restomod should be inspected by a qualified professional or someone with solid knowledge of classic cars. Sheetmetal integrity should be confirmed, meaning has any of it been replaced and is any of it buried in body filler? Modifications like suspension, brakes, and traction devices should be compatible and work in harmony. Take a testdrive and evaluate how the car feels. Do the brakes begin to take hold at 1/3 pedal travel and are they firm? What kind of ride are you getting and how does the car handle? Are there any rattles, and if so, where do they come from?

How do the engine and driveline perform? How loud is the exhaust system? Excessive exhaust resonance at cruising speeds contributes to hearing loss and is just annoying. If noise is overwhelming, this means you will have to replace the exhaust system, which means you need to figure that into cost. Perhaps the aftermarket suspension is too stiff and rides like a brick. Figure that into cost as well. If there are too many negatives with a restomod you want to buy, it may be best to move on and consider another prospect. The thing is, if you’re drawn to a potential buy with “gotta have it” emotions, you need to sideline emotion and number crunch. Can you afford to buy it and make big changes?

If your dream consists of a high-end restomod like this Ringbrothers showcase roadster, prospects like this are generally trustworthy because professional car builders like these gentlemen deliver incredible craftsmanship from stem to stern. Thoroughly inspect and road tested before committing. Also keep in mind the kind of driving you intend to do. Some roadsters don’t have a convertible top, which can bite you when it rains.

Here’s another example of a high-end restomod with a 4.6L DOHC modular V-8 shoehorned between the aprons. The cool thing about late-model technology in a classic is fuel economy and driveability. You can hop in these and go anywhere.

How to get a Marti Report

A Marti Report is a vehicle order information report from Ford Motor Company’s database that reveals a Mustang’s exact makeup when it was ordered, bucked, and assembled. If you’re considering a Mustang buy, you will want the Standard Marti Report at $18. You can get information that’s never before been available in this form. Learn exactly how any 1967-’73 Ford Motor Company product was equipped from the factory. Have you ever wanted to buy a Mustang, but couldn’t be sure if it originally came equipped as the seller claimed? With a Marti Report on that potential buy you can be armed with the facts. The Standard Marti Report is money well spent when you want hard facts about a Mustang you’re thinking of buying.

The Deluxe report for $46, in addition to giving you the complete factory option list and door data plate info, includes a simulation of your door data plate. You also get a list of significant dates in your car’s order and assembly process, including the day it was sold. You’ll even learn how many cars were made like yours. They provide the statistical analysis for your car’s model year and body style, sorted by exterior color, exterior/interior combination, engine/transmission, DSO, plus any one option.

The Deluxe Report is printed in full color, so it will look great framed, either hung on a wall or proudly displayed at your next car show. And, because Marti Auto Works is Ford-licensed, you can be assured Ford stands behind all the information Marti Auto Works provides. The Elite Report for $220, in addition to giving you the complete factory option list and door data plate info, includes a reproduction of your door data plate as well. You also get a reproduction of the window sticker and personalized production statistics that show how unique your car is. All of this is mounted behind a Ford blue matte board and installed in a 16x20-inch black frame.

The Elite Report includes Production Statistics. You will learn how many cars were made like yours. Your Mustang is compared to similar models and then broken down how many had your engine, your transmission, your paint color, your interior, and then your options until Marti Auto Works determines how unique your car was. Most of the time you will discover no other car was made exactly like yours. The Elite Report is printed in full color and is already framed. It will look great either hung on a wall or proudly displayed at your next car show.

Today’s Mustang Values—Party Like It’s 1999?

When did buying a classic Mustang become more like buying a home? This phenomenon came of the rebirth of the muscle car mania in the ’80s and ’90s, when rare and collectible classic Mustangs started fetching outrageous sums of money at auction and in the classifieds. If you’re selling a collectible Boss or Shelby Mustang, the news remains good for your retirement portfolio because these high-performance rides are still hauling down good money—not always good news for the buyer. Boss and Shelby Mustangs are still commanding second mortgage-level prices in the $100,000 to $200,000 range unless they’re in really poor condition, which is where economics comes into play. You may be able to find an affordable unrestored Boss or Shelby in need of a restoration for $20,000, however, the brute costs associated with a restoration wind up shaking out the same or worse. What’s more, not all have matching number engines and drivelines, which mean you may have to search far and wide for these items. You are often better off buying a restored example and being able to enjoy it immediately. If you are lusting for a restoration project, an unrestored car may instead be the buy for you.

Average run-of-the-mill classic Mustangs are a buyer’s market based on what we’ve seen on eBay and in Hemming’s. Classic Mustangs are as affordable as they’ve ever been because there are so many for sale in light of tough economic times and an aging seller population trying to downsize. Even concours-restored and low-mileage unrestored classic Mustang sale prices are down. Modest six-cylinder hardtops don’t have the value they once did because most buyers want V-8s. In the minds of a lot of buyers, six-cylinder and even 289/302 V-8 hardtops are restomod projects they’d like to get into cheap and build to their dream restomod.

Rare and collectible Mustangs outside of the Shelby and Boss realm, such as California Specials, Twister Specials, High Country Specials, and the like, witness a broad range of prices, depending upon condition. At press time, there is an unrestored, original paint survivor 1968 California Special priced at $25,000 looking for a buyer. There are also California Specials in average condition waiting to be snapped up in the $12,000 range. What sellers are asking, and what the market will bear, are two different things.

There are a lot of unfinished Mustang projects for sale you can get into cheap because unfinished projects are a matter of necessity or boredom. In many cases the hard work, such as bodywork and paint, has already been done for you or is pending. Bread and butter inline-six and V-8 Mustang hardtops range in price from $2,500 to $8,000 depending upon the seller’s expectations, condition, and content. There will always be those who perceive their Mustang is worth more than it actually is. At the end of the day, pricing boils down to supply and demand. Average classic Mustangs are out there in great numbers for eager buyers, meaning they’re plentiful and cheap. And never let a seller fool you. Just because they’re asking an outrageous amount of money doesn’t mean the car is worth their asking price. Do your homework and keep aiming for your dreams.