Jim Smart
August 1, 2008

Stock or restomod?
Vintage Or Fox-Body?
As incredible as it may seem, we've been doing this nostalgic dance with our readers for 30 years. When Larry Dobbs founded Mustang Monthly 30 years ago in his dining room as the Mustang Exchange Letter, he couldn't have envisioned that Mustang mania would still be alive and well three decades later.

In our publishing infancy, the trend was to restore to factory-original condition regardless of how mainstream the car was. Six-cylinder hardtops with three-speed sticks were right in there with K-GTs, Boss 302s, and Shelbys.

George and Kim Hatcher found this low-mileage, original paint '73 Mach 1 in Annapolis, Maryland. Kim celebrated George's 50th birthday with Magnum 500s, Goodyear Eagle GTs, and rechromed bumpers. These cars are unbeatable values for baby boomers who remember them when they were new.

In the long term, restoring to stock was a good trend because it brought us outstanding restored examples that remain true to factory-original today, preserving the Mustang's legacy. Make no mistake: There's still plenty of room for concours-restored Mustangs because Ford was right on the money with these cars from the beginning. People love them for what they were right off the assembly line.

In the mid '90s, the restomod trend began rumbling through the hobby like a California earthquake because it gave Mustang enthusiasts newfound freedom. Bored with restoring to stock, enthusiasts began investigating what else they could do with a Mustang as long as rarity and value weren't issues.

Danny Banh of D.B. Performance Engineering was one of the first to roar onto the scene with his Canary Yellow '65 Mustang hardtop with fuel-injected 5.0L power, a five-speed, and 16-inch American Torq-Thrust wheels. A short time later, Mustangs Plus introduced us to the Ronster, a hardtop-turned-roadster with 5.0L power, AOD, and incredible amounts of imagination. In time, the Eleanor, the Ring brothers, and others have taken classic Mustangs where they've never been before.

Ford built 5,262 20th Anniversary GT350 hatchbacks and convertibles 24 years ago. Because few people know what these cars are today, value is currently soft. In time, they will become good investments. This '84 20th Anniversary turbo convertible is one of only 104 produced. It recently sold for less than $10,000. We expect these cars to become good investments as Generation X grows older and more nostalgic.

What kind of Mustang should you buy and what should you do with it? There are as many answers as there are cars and enthusiasts. What you do with a Mustang boils down to personal taste, model type, and budget.

The first issue you should address is budget. We know from experience that it takes a lot of money to purchase and restore a classic Mustang. Cost going in depends on what you want. If you have your eyes on a Boss 302, Shelby, or Cobra Jet Mach 1, the car will not come cheap in any condition. If you're comfortable with a 289-2V hardtop, it's easier to get into one for less money.

Right now, we're facing tough economic times, and as a result there are classic Mustangs out there for sale due to economic necessity. People are out of work, at war, in foreclosure, laden with debt, and still grieving over the demise of disco and cheap gasoline. If you're fortunate enough to be standing in high cotton, there are good deals out there. There hasn't been a better time in more than a decade to find and buy the Mustang of your dreams.

Best Buys and Builds
The most affordable deals haven't changed much in 30 years:

  • '65-'73 Hardtops (base six and V-8)
  • '69-'73 SportsRoof and base Mach 1
  • '69-'73 Grande (sleepers are 390 and 351C-4V)
  • '75-'78 Cobra II with V-8
  • '78 King Cobra
  • '84 20th Anniversary Edition GT350
  • '87-'04 Mustang GT and Cobra

Rarity and appeal have a direct effect on price and availability. Then, as now, the most common Mustangs are less expensive than the limited-production cars. As you shop, you must be cognizant of curve balls in the form of outrageous prices for commonplace Mustangs. Just because it's 44 years old with a fresh paint job and new interior doesn't necessarily make it worth more.

A '66 Mustang hardtop with a 289-2V and standard interior isn't rare nor is it a hot collectible. It's still worth less than $10,000 unless it's a full-scale concours restoration with matching numbers, chalk marks, and a Mustang Club of America national champion grille emblem. A paint job, a new interior, and an engine overhaul don't make a classic Mustang worth a large dent in your second mortgage. These are bullets you should dodge when you're searching for the Mustang of your dreams. Don't get caught up in the emotion of believing the car you're interested in can't be found again.

'85 Saleen

If a plain Mustang hardtop isn't doing it for you, perhaps some imagination will. Look at a Mustang hardtop and envision what can be done with it. Picture it showroom-new in Candyapple Red or Emberglo with Styled Steel wheels. Lower it. Install 17-inch wheels. Give it a stroker small-block V-8 with Flowmaster mufflers. Feel a five-speed at your fingertips. Imagine whiteface gauges or a JME instrument cluster. Mentally build the car any way you want and see if it works. You don't need special software or a 500-gig computer to figure it out, just your imagination.

The Eleanor trend seems to be waning, but look at what Stang-Aholics built from a plain '67 convertible.

This brings us to another important point. There are Mustangs you modify, and there are Mustangs you restore to factory original condition. The Mustangs to modify include:

Here are Mustangs you shouldn't modify-or modify so much it wouldn't be practical to return to stock. If your modifications don't require cutting and include simple bolt-ons, such as wheels, a crate engine, or a high-performance suspension, have a ball. Keep the original parts on the shelf for safekeeping.

Yes, you can modify a limited-production Mustang, but do it tastefully with nuances that work with the car. Shelbys and Bosses should have modifications that put them in the period they were built. Stick with period wheels and performance modifications common to the '60s. Billet pieces, outrageous graphics, and fancy electronic devices just don't gel with a Boss or Shelby.

'79 Mustang Indy Pace Car

Despite classic status and some element of rarity, '69-'73 Mustang Grande models aren't as popular as the Mach 1, Boss, and GT. Therefore, they remain a good value. Unless it has a 428 Cobra Jet, it should be reasonably priced. This is a car you restore to showroom condition because it doesn't always lend itself to restomod.

Which brings us to another important issue: Not all Mustangs are suitable for modifications. The Grande is a good example of what looks good right off the assembly line. It doesn't have a high-performance demeanor, even with a Cobra Jet engine. They're luxury touring cars, so treat them that way. If you're going to build a Grande restomod, you need special vision for how to make it into a luxury touring car, not a pimped-out ride jacked up in the back like a drag racer.

'70 Boss 302 restomod

A car like the Mustang Grande needs to be luxurious with comfortable seating and three-point safety belts. You can have plenty of power with a snappy V-8, AOD transmission, and 3.50:1 gears. Think keypad security system with power locks and windows, a sound system with the latest technology, and a lot of sound-deadening. Remember to keep wheel size conservative; when you reduce tire sidewall height with gigantic wheels, you sacrifice ride quality.

If you're modifying something like a Boss 302, make constructive improvements to Ford's best-looking fastback. Opt for period-correct goods such as Mini-Lite wheels, side-exit exhausts with throaty mufflers, a more aggressive mechanical roller camshaft, Weber carburetors or Cross-Boss induction, and lower ride height. Don't change the original Boss graphics; stay close to that SCCA Trans-Am/road race demeanor.

The '69-'70 SportsRoofs are plain in factory clothing. However, here's what you can do to change that.

Hot Collectibles To Keep Stock
What are hot Mustang collectibles, and should you invest in one? Although it's hard to lose money on a collectible Mustang, you should know what you're doing when it's time to write a check. In a soft marketplace, some sellers believe their classic musclecars are still worth what they were three years ago. Well, the musclecar boom is over for the time being, much like it was in 1991. This doesn't mean it won't take off again. Now is the time to find a musclecar bargain.

Cash tight? Go for the humble-yet-striking '65-'66 hardtop with six or base V-8. It doesn't have to stay humble; imagination can take you anywhere.

Buying a high-end classic Mustang is like investing in prime real estate or blue chip stock. At times, values are going to be below par, and that's when you buy. Hard times can create opportunity and the chance to find and buy what you've always dreamed of owning because there's always someone out there who has to sell. Here are some of the best Mustang investments:

Never count out the fastback. Although the Eleanor craze ran prices through the roof, prices are again under control thanks to the current economic recession and the passing (finally!) of the Eleanor trend.

Hot collectibles aren't always obvious. Any rare Mustang can easily be termed a collectible because they're challenging to find. Low-mileage, unrestored original cars can also be designated as collectibles. Other interesting cars include the '69 Limited Edition 600 SportsRoof and the '66 Sprint 200 hardtop. These were limited-edition dealer promotions with cool colors and graphics, as well as economical six-cylinder engines. Rainbow of Colors cars for '68-'69 in California fall into the same category. These kinds of cars make great investments and conversation pieces because they're unusual.

Others, like the '84-'86 SVO, are collectible because they're rare with a unique history. Yet resale values tend to suffer because few know what the Mustang SVO is today. The same can be said for the '84 20th Anniversary GT350, '94 30th Anniversary Indy 500, and even the '03 Ford 100th Anniversary and '04 40th Anniversary cars. These are the cars you buy and enjoy for modest cash outlay today and put away for tomorrow. As with any investment, there's no guarantee of what they will be worth in 20 years. Much depends on the economy and demographics of an aging population eager to relive its youth down the road.

Box stock or tastefully modified, nothing beats a classic hardtop for eyewash. This Wimbledon White '66 hardtop with accent stripes, Styled Steel wheels, and 289-4V V-8 is simply elegant. These remain one of the best Mustang values going because they will always hold their worth.

Best Builds
Great Values For Show & Go
Ford has provided us with 44 years of Mustangs. Some are expensive while others are cheap, and you get to choose. If you must have a classic Mustang but are on a limited budget, go for what's timeless and plentiful. If faced with choosing between '65-'66 and '67-'68, choose the latter for its wider track, smoother ride, and more deeply sculptured lines. The most affordable classic Mustangs out there are unrestored '65-'73 hardtops with sixes and standard V-8s.

Enjoy The Ride
Somewhere between disco and the Hillary/Obama campaign, we forgot the main reason to invest in a Mustang-to enjoy them. In this Wall Street-crazed, investment-obsessed era, we've forgotten how to have fun and enjoy the journey between puberty and retirement. An automobile's primary purpose is transportation. Its secondary purpose is recreation.

That said, what is your core reason for wanting a Mustang? If it's investment-motivated, buy real estate. But if your core reason is the rush of owning and enjoying a Mustang, get in the groove by purchasing a Mustang fun car. Classic Mustangs have long been the industry standard. However, '79-'98 Mustangs are becoming classics right before our eyes. If you want top-down wind through your hair, consider an '87-'98 Mustang GT convertible. These rate among the best Mustang values because Ford built so many of them. There are thousands of potential parts cars out there with four-cylinder and V-6 engines. Buy one cheap to get the parts you need, sell the parts you don't need, and call a salvage yard for the rest because steel has become a precious commodity.

Classic Mustang hardtops are still out there for the taking. Here's a '67 hardtop we found in San Diego for chump change. It's rough around the edges, but a great value nonetheless. Look at what you can do with a car that was once rough around the edges. Bob Harris turned his once humble hardtop into a freeway traffic stopper.

If you think the '79-'93 Mustang isn't a good investment, consider this: You can pick up a '94 Mustang GT convertible for well under $5,000. John DaLuz recently picked up a pristine '94 Mustang GT coupe with 85,000 miles for $2,500. He gutted the car and sold all the parts, including engine and driveline, for more than $2,500. He then built himself a race car for the American Iron Series. Basically, John got the car free.

Stock Or Modified?
We've already discussed the cars to modify and the ones to leave alone. Now it's up to you. Stock or modified depends on what you prefer. Find comfort in having a combination of stock and modified. Safety should be your first priority, which calls for constructive modifications. Opt for front disc brakes and rebuild the suspension with the best parts. Forget bias-belted tires and install radials. Add three-point restraints. These are stealthy improvements to enhance safety and your quality of life.