Jim Smart
August 1, 2008

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.