Mustang Club Of America's Tips To The Winner's Circle - How To Win!
Go For The Gold With These Tips From The Mustang Club Of America's Top Judges
In sports, they say winning isn't everything-it's the only thing. Thankfully, in the world of Mustang Club of America judged show competition, everyone gets a chance to go for the Gold-or Silver or Bronze. These days, MCA concours Mustangs don't compete against each other for First, Second, and Third place prizes. Instead, the cars compete against a standard for Gold, Silver, and Bronze, which means several Mustangs in the same class at the same show can take home the top awards.
Competing in MCA judged competition is yet another way to enjoy your Mustang, just as some prefer weekend cruises or open-track racing. Show competition helps improve your Mustang by rewarding you for cleanliness, workmanship, and condition. While many people associate MCA judged shows with authenticity and originality, especially for the '65-'73 models, that's just part of it. In the Concours, Unrestored, and Thoroughbred classes, it's true that points are deducted for non-original parts and finishes, but in the Occasional Driven and Daily Driver classes, cars are judged primarily for cleanliness, workmanship, and condition. In the Modified class, authenticity doesn't count at all. In fact, you get points for your modifications along with quality of workmanship, attention to detail, innovation, level of engineering, use of custom components, extent of modifications, and degree of difficulty.
"There's room for everybody," says MCA National Head Judge Charles Turner. "If you look at the show statistics, we are heavily weighted toward the Occasional Driver and Modified cars. Concours and Unrestored cars make up only about 15-20 percent of the judged cars at our shows, so it's kind of a misconception when people think the MCA is all about concours."
Regardless of class, MCA judges note that there are plenty of things that show-car owners can do to improve their scores. At a recent MCA judges meeting, seminar presenter and Assistant National Head Judge for Shelbys Jeff Speegle mentioned the small things that people can fix for "$20 and 20 minutes." So we contacted Jeff and three other top MCA judges to learn about the common but easily corrected things that judges see all the time. "It's one thing if they can't afford a $1,000 part," Jeff told us, "but I hate to see people giving away equivalent points in silly stuff."
In addition to Jeff, we also talked with Charles Turner (National Head Judge for '65-'73 and '74-'78), Bob Perkins (Technical Advisor), and Shorty Brown, Assistant National Head Judge for Modifieds. Here's what they told us:
Read the Rules
"The most important thing I can tell people is to join the MCA and get the rules from the website," says Turner. At one time, the MCA printed a rule book, but with so many frequent changes and other dynamics, the rules, classes, awards, and other show details can now be found in the Member's Section of the MCA website, www.mustang.org. You'll need to have a membership to access the rules, but if you're planning to compete in MCA shows, you'll need the membership anyway. The rules alone are worth the $40 membership fee.
The rules explain all of the MCA classifications, which will help you decide which class is right for your Mustang. You can also learn about how points are deducted (Concours) or added (Modified), and the percentages required to obtain Gold, Silver, and Bronze awards. You'll also find descriptions for special awards, like Prestige, Platinum, Authenticity, and Pinnacle. If you're interested in the Concours classes, sections for the various Mustang eras ('64 1/2-'66, '67-'68, etc.) explain the point deductions for originality. For example, you can lose up to two points if you don't have the correct sun visors on a '64 1/2-'66 Mustang.
The website rules are separated into various categories in pdf form, so the specific information you need can be easily printed out on your home printer.
Once you get to the show, there's more to vehicle preparation than just parking in the right spot and wiping off the dust. Because the judges need to inspect all areas of the car, open the trunk and hood (except Daily Driver), raise the windows, and leave the convertible top up. Doors can remain closed but make sure they're unlocked. Be sure to remove your cleaning supplies, towels, etc. from the trunk. If you have displays that hide parts of the car, like a sign on the air cleaner, move them aside for the judges.
"If we walk up to a car and the convertible top is not up or the windows are down, we would like for the owner to be there to correct those things," says Turner. "Or we might skip the car and come back later."
MCA judges are discouraged from touching the cars, although most will carefully open the doors or lift up a floor mat to peek at the carpet underneath.
Many show competitors are under the impression that they aren't supposed to talk to the judges, but you should at least introduce yourself when they arrive to judge your car. "It's nice when the owner stays with his car and introduces himself," says Perkins. "If there's any non-typical production or oddball stuff on the car, that's a good time to let the judges know about it."
"That's very important," adds Turner. "When an owner introduces himself, I always ask if there's anything on the car that I need to know about, especially something different or weird. We recently judged a '68 hardtop in California that had painted wheels and full wheel covers. The rules say if it has painted wheels, it should have the small dog-dish hubcaps. So I asked the owner if he had any paperwork. And sure enough, the invoice showed a dealer-added option for full wheel covers. That's the kind of things we need to know about."
But while Turner and the other judges encourage owner involvement in the judging process, there's a point where the judges have to get on with their job. "We only have so much time," Turner says. "Owners are welcome to hover during the judging process, but if we get into a situation where the owner becomes belligerent or questions every deduction, then that becomes a problem. Owners can request a judging sheet after the show, and most judges put their phone numbers on there so owners can get additional feedback afterwards."
Turner also suggests making contact with MCA judges, either through email or one of the Internet forums, before taking your Mustang to a show, especially for the first time. "Utilize the available resources," Turner says. "There are few people out there who can build a car on their own and not ask a few questions to get a Gold. People need to understand that our judges are available. One of the reasons they signed on as judges is because they want to help owners improve their cars. We're not here just to take points off your car; we're here to help you improve it."
Every judge we talked to stressed that cleanliness, or lack of it, is the one area that most show owners can improve on, especially since cleanliness, along with workmanship and condition, accounts for large percentage of points. "Anybody can clean a car," says Charles Turner. "You don't even need a rule book for that."
Turner says the engine compartment is the number one place where cleanliness is an issue, mainly because of the environment under the hood and all the nooks and crannies, while the interior is more accessible and less likely to have issues. "However, people could spend more time on the doorjambs," Turners adds. "We see a lot of painted bolts and incorrect fasteners too. Door hinge bolts were never painted."
"You'd think when people go to a show they'd have their car clean," says Perkins, who goes on to say that cleanliness is not one of his pet peeves. "I don't look at that as being the fault of the car; it's the fault of the owner. I'd rather put more emphasis on details that are incorrect. An owner isn't going to learn anything about his car if you take off 20 points for a little dust. If it's something that happened at the show, like pollen or dust from an overhead air exchanger at in indoor venue, I don't get too concerned about it. But if you look down at the framerails in the engine compartment and you can see where they wiped all around but missed a big spot, then I would take off."
Don't miss the nooks and crannies, says Speegle. "Everybody cleans the exterior pretty well, except we sometimes still see wax in the cracks. We also see dirt in the doorjambs, up by the hinges, because that's more difficult to clean. Pull the spare tire and clean under it. Interiors are usually pretty good, but often we'll find dust on top of the fastback rear quarter trim. Any area that's hard to reach, like package trays, is something we're going to be looking at."
Another spot that qualifies as a "nook and cranny" is the area around the steering box. "Because steering boxes are down there with brake lines in the way, it's difficult to reach," Speegle adds. "Some guys have come up with their own tools and tricks, everything from 10-inch-long Q-Tips to one of those Swifter dusters. When it comes to cleaning, go to shows and see what other people are using."
The undercarriage is more difficult for judges to inspect, especially since they aren't allowed to use mirrors and/or flashlights, but if it's really dirty and oily, that's almost like an insult to the judges for the concours classes. "When it's really dirty, we have to wonder if the car is in the right class," says Speegle. "We expect these cars to be meticulous. If you've got an Occasional Driver and you prep the undercarriage like a Concours Driven, there's nothing wrong with that. You might put a big smile on the judges' faces. There's nothing wrong with impressing the judges."
In the Details
It's the small things that can add up to big-time point deductions. We asked our judges to point out some areas where car-show owners can pick up some points without a lot of effort.
Parts preparation: "I see a lot of cars in the concours classes where people don't take the time to prepare parts correctly," Turner tells us. "You'll see sanding scratches and even rust underneath paint. We also see missing clips, decals in the wrong places, incorrect paint stamps on the fenders, and poor spark plug wire routing. In the Concours Driven classes, you can take out the fender bolts and spray them with a little paint or refinish them in phosphate and oil. In the trunk, people seem to get the spare tire storage wrong-I mean, it's illustrated right there on the trunk lid decal. Another big thing is incorrect paint marks. A lot of times people copy what they see in a magazine or use someone else's car, which may be from a different assembly plant, as a guide. People go crazy on the green and yellow markings on the suspension but they need to spend more time getting the other stuff right before getting concerned about that."
Interior screws: "Often they are missing or the head size is wrong," says Speegle. "Most factory interior screws have a very small head but owners go down to the local hardware store and get these great big ones. It's obvious that they don't seat into the countersunk holes in the panels so they stand out. Also, make sure the screws are the same; every Mustang vendor sells screw kits."
Engine color: "No matter how many times we put the correct color and type of paint in the magazine, people still get it wrong," says Perkins. "I see engines with the wrong shade of blue all the time. And owners keep wanting to use spray bombs. It ends up costing more because it isn't as durable, and every time the manufacturer makes up a new batch, the color changes, so it's not good for touch-up."
Trunk filler board: "Make sure it's there," says Speegle. "And if it's supposed to be attached with screws, make sure it's attached with screws."
Chrome condition: "On '65-'68s, pitted vent window chrome is the thing we see the most," says Perkins. "It's a really difficult piece to rechrome but they're starting to reproduce them now."
Exterior paint: Turner says today's show Mustangs have better paint, but many Concours cars don't have the correct orange peel. "Usually that's by choice," he adds. "It's like Perkins says-originally, orange peel was really a flaw from the factory. So a lot of painters don't want to do it for that reason."
Valve cover bolts: "Often valve cover bolts weren't originally painted, even on engines with painted valve covers," says Speegle. "Check the rules. If your car isn't supposed to have painted valve cover bolts, just take them out and clean off the paint. It takes just a couple of minutes and you may pick up a point."
Trunk: The trunk is one area that is frequently overlooked by car owners. "We see a lot of workmanship issues in the trunk," says Turner. "We get one or two cars every year that show up with the entire trunk painted black. Or the sound deadener hasn't been put back on after replacing the quarter-panels. If you've got a $50,000 Shelby, at least put the right trunk mat in the car."
Speegle adds some tips for the spare tire: "The spare tire should look unused, so the rim shouldn't show signs of having been on the car. Lug nut holes shouldn't have bare metal around them and the rim shouldn't show signs of having hubcaps installed. Use a spray can of black paint to touch up those areas."
And don't forget the luggage protectors: "On the driver's side of the trunk, there's a pinch weld over the wheel housing," says Speegle. "Every Mustang had a little rubber strip over it to protect luggage and other stuff in the trunk. It's easy for the judges to see so they're not going to miss it. Reproductions cost around $7. Brush on a little yellow weatherstrip adhesive and cram it over the pinch weld."
Teflon tape: Judges frequently deduct points for Teflon tape on heater-hose tubes and other engine connections. "They didn't use it in the 1960s so it's incorrect for a Concours-type car," says Speegle. "White Teflon tape against a blue intake manifold stands out from 10 feet away. Cut it with a razor or brush it back with a toothbrush-do whatever you need to do to make it go away."
Shocks: "Instead of spending $800 for a set of NOS shocks, use a little creativity and semi-gloss black to paint your existing shocks," says Speegle. "That will at least get you some points. And if you don't do anything else with an aftermarket performance shock, at least peel off the decal."
Battery hold-down bolts: "If I want to go right down the line and take off one point from every car in the '67-'73 classes, I can do it for battery hold-down bolts that are too long," says Perkins. "The ones you get today, reproduction or even from Ford, are universal, so they're about 3/4-inch too long. All you've got to do is cut them off, round off the edges with a sanding block, and touch them up with phosphate. Anybody can do that and it doesn't cost a thing."
Oil filter: "At least paint it or use one of the reproduction filters," says Speegle. "Painting it block color should at least get you part of the points."
Hood and door bumpers: "It's not uncommon for first-timers to miss one or two," says Speegle. "Either they fell out or were never put back in during a restoration."
Tires: This is definitely a Perkins' pet peeve: "We allow reproduction tires, but owners should at least put the correct ones on their cars. You get two points for the correct size, two points for correct type (belted, etc.), and two points for the correct brand. I see a lot of Firestone white-letter Wide-Ovals on '69-'70 Mustangs, mainly Bosses, but Ford didn't start using them until 1971."
Pinch-welds:"Underneath the body, along the bottom edge from the front wheelwell to the rear valance, the pinch-welds are supposed to be painted black," says Speegle. "Just use a can of black spray paint and be careful where the overspray goes."
Firewalls: "Most of the time, cars don't have any or enough sealant on the firewalls," says Speegle. "Every opening, screw, and bolt that comes through the firewall should have some sealant. Most restorers are using 3M rubberized black undercoating. From the factory, it was a connect-the-dots thing, like they never shut the gun off as they went from one spot to another. What I find is that most owners can't bring themselves to do it because it looks so ugly. Sometime you have to build it up to make it look real."
Perkins also points out that the black firewall paint is typically too flat or too glossy. "The MCA rules are really lenient on the firewall," he says. "Some owners hate to put the sealer back on there after they've scrapped off all the old stuff. But if they give it a little blast in one area, that's usually enough to prevent a one-point deduction."
Weatherstrip adhesive: Perkins notes that a recent Mustang Monthly article suggested using black weatherstrip adhesive. "You can use black if you want to be incorrect for concours," he says. "Black is okay for a driver but yellow is factory correct."
Brake booster and master cylinder: "Paint them all black," says Speegle. "Use tin foil to block the overspray and just black everything out-master cylinder, booster, cap, and retainer on top. We've been letting people get away with natural caps because we're nice guys but we've known that's been wrong for years."
Antennas: Perkins says that one of the most controversial areas on concours cars is the antenna, mainly because they were supplied in the trunk and installed during pre-delivery prep by dealers, who sometimes got Mustang antennas mixed up with masts from other car lines. "Even though the original antenna may be on the car, just because the dealer installed it doesn't mean it's a Mustang antenna. It could be for a Galaxie. So if it's an Unrestored car, I wouldn't take off for it."
Fastener finishes: The MCA has always allowed natural-color paint, like cast black, for fasteners. But that may change for 2011 in the Concours classes. "We've proposed that we're not going to allow natural paint for fasteners and parts that originally had a natural finish," says Perkins. "If the hinges were phosphate and oil, then they need to be phosphate and oil. Clear cadmium fender bolts should be clear cadmium. You can buy most of the hardware with the correct finish from AMK, and anybody can do phosphate and oil at home if they want to. We're just trying to raise the standard."
Don't Forget the Decal
There's one easy point that many MCA show competitors overlook. As Shorty Brown points out, you get a point just for having the MCA membership decal on your windshield.
Jeff Speegle suggests that you get someone else, perhaps a judge from your area or an expert from your local club, to look at your car before entering it in a judged show. "That's free advice," says Speegle. "Years ago, we used to have 'tear-apart parties' where you'd invite all your judge friends over. Give them a hamburger for lunch and a sheet of paper, then tell them to tear your car apart. People would say they couldn't believe we did that, but it saves time, effort, and money because when the car goes to its first show, it's like it has been on the show circuit for a year. You've got to have a lot of guts because you're opening yourself up for criticism, but that's what you want."
In the Modified class, there are two major ways to earn points-take care of cleanliness and workmanship, and make plenty of tasteful modifications.
"Cleanliness and workmanship make up about 60 percent of the points in Modified," says Shorty Brown, Assistant National Head Judge for Modifieds. "In the engine compartment, you can be awarded up to a maximum of 20 points for cleanliness and workmanship. Many times when people don't earn an award in Modified, it's because their cleanliness is not up to par followed by workmanship. We look for the quality of paint, fit and finish, etc. One thing we see a lot is people not taking the time to strip their engine compartment before repainting. They just paint over the old paint-chips, rough surfaces, and all-and it stands out like the proverbial sore thumb."
Unlike concours classes where points are deducted for non-original parts, Modified rewards owners for their modifications by adding points, up to a maximum of 40 in each area of the car. That way, cars with fewer modifications still have an opportunity to win an award.
"In Modified, we don't care about what's original," Brown says. "In fact, if it's an original part, most of the time you won't get points for it. Points are awarded based on how much work you have to do to accomplish the mod. For example, a simple modification that clips or snaps on is worth three points. The next level is a minor modification that takes a little bit more work, maybe some disassembly or wire splicing, like an intake manifold or aftermarket electronic ignition. That gets you five points. A major modification is worth eight points; that's where you might have to do some sheetmetal cutting, extensive disassembly, or drilling holes. That includes an engine swap, Mustang II front suspension, or fuel injection on an early car."
Brown points out that you can earn plenty of points with simple modifications, like three points for a stainless steel license plate frame, a set of aftermarket valve-stem tips for the wheels, or a chrome radiator cap.
"The modification points only tally up to about 22 percent of the total," Brown says. "The balance is cleanliness, workmanship, and condition. That prevents someone from spending a ton of money on parts and winning even though the car is dirty and the workmanship is shoddy."
Good workmanship and attention to detail can also earn points in Modified. "If you add subframe connectors, make sure the welding is neat," Brown says. "When it comes to details, one thing that bugs me is owners of early Mustangs who don't take the time to tidy up the wiring in the trunk, like the taillight harnesses. You can buy inexpensive plastic tubing to dress up those areas."
Another easy way to gain points is to provide the judges with a list of the car's modifications. "Because there's no way for the judges to know all the conceivable modifications, we encourage the list by giving nine points," Brown notes. "All they have to do is have it on the car and available to the judges. It can be in a binder or as simple as something written on a piece of notebook paper."
Meeting of the Minds
For communication and discussion of the judging rules, classes, and consistency, the Mustang Club of America invites its judges to an annual meeting of the minds. In 2009, the get-together was held at Bob Perkins' restoration shop and museum in Wisconsin, a site that attracted a larger than usual gathering, no doubt due to Bob's collection of low-mileage Mustangs and rare parts. He's also a long-time originality expert, successful show competitor, former MCA Head Judge, and current MCA Tech Advisor, not to mention the author of Mustang Monthly's popular "Resto Roundup" column.
Instead of a round-table discussion like previous judges meetings, Jeff Speegle, long-time concours judges and current MCA Assistant National Head Judge for Shelbys, presided over the meeting in a seminar format, aided by Perkins and MCA National Head Judge Charles Turner. There were also hands-on sessions for the nearly 50 attendees, including an inspection of a '69 Mach 1 undercarriage, an alternator and driveshaft mini-seminar by Jack Brooks from Dead Nuts On, and a judging session on a couple of rental cars to stress consistency in judging standards.
"We've got a lot of judges who are scared to deduct points," Turner says, "and to be honest, that's part of the consistency problem. One recent example is a car in California that got a Gold at its first four shows, then got a Silver at the fifth. In the owner's mind, that's a problem. We're trying to fix those types of inconsistencies."
While the judges meeting proved helpful for those in attendance, Speegle realizes more needs to be done. "We'll need some follow-through because we've only touched a small group of people. At every judged show this year, we're going to have a short seminar explaining a standardized way of applying the rules."
Turner adds, "Owners should come to a show with an open mind and realize that the object of the judges is to give them constructive feedback to help them make a better car. We want them to do better next time. There's no such thing as a perfect car; there's always room for improvement."
MCA Judged Classes
Concours Trailered: '64 1/2-'10
As delivered to original owner without modifications. Reproduction parts acceptable as long as they fit, look, and function like OEM. Ford factory accessories acceptable.
Concours Driven: '64 1/2-'10
As delivered to original owner without modifications. Reproduction parts acceptable as long as they fit, look, and function like OEM. Ford factory accessories acceptable. Must be driven to and from show, from owner's home (proof is owner's responsibility).
Unrestored: '64 1/2-'10
As delivered to original owner, nothing rebuilt.
Reproduction or updated parts (including Ford or Motorcraft) accepted. Imperfection (paint, undercarriage, etc.) considered normal. Major dents, body rust, torn upholstery considered not normal.
Thoroughbred: '64 1/2-'89
Restored or original with correct era parts. Date codes on parts must be on or before car's manufacture date. No reproduction parts allowed.
Occasional Driven: '64 1/2-'07
- Driven occasionally (weekends, car shows, cruises, etc.).
- Judged for workmanship, condition, and cleanliness (including undercarriage).
- Must be driven to and from show, from owner's home (proof is owner's responsibility).
Daily Driver: '64 1/2-'07
- Owner's primary transportation
- Judged for workmanship, condition, and cleanliness (excluding undercarriage).
- Hood remains closed.
- Must be driven to and from show, from owner's home (proof is owner's responsibility).
Modified: '64 1/2-'10
- Points earned for modifications. Judged for workmanship, attention to detail, innovation, level of engineering, etc. Undercarriages may be judged or not judge.
2010 Mustang Club Of America Nationals
March 26-28, 2010
Gulf Coast National Mustang & All Ford Show
Pensacola Interstate Fair Grounds, Pensacola, FL
July 15-18, 2010
MCA Grand National and Mustangs Northwest RoundUp
Bellevue College, Bellevue, WA
August 13-15, 2010
Pembroke Mall at Towne Center, Virginia Beach, VA
September 3-5, 2010
Mustangs at the Mansion National
Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC