Mark Houlahan
Tech Editor, Mustang Monthly
July 28, 2015

By and far, many vintage Mustangs sit in a garage for weeks, and sometimes months, at a time. Sure, there are those that hit a weekly cruise-in or fire the old fastback up every Sunday for a run to the local ice cream shack, but it is far and few that put serious miles on their Mustangs with multi-day trips. As we traverse the United States hitting some of the biggest Ford/Mustang events in the country like Fabulous Fords at Knotts, Carlisle Ford Nationals, and so forth, it is disheartening to see so few vintage Mustangs in attendance.

We’ve polled vintage Mustang owners at these events and asked them why they didn’t bring their Mustang. While a few answers fell into the comfort/convenience category (uncomfortable stock seating, no air conditioning, and so on) for the most part these owners were gun shy of driving several hours, if not multiple nights, to make it to one of these big shows. We can understand the trepidation, honestly, but with a little bit of pre-flight maintenance and a few additions to your vintage Mustang you should have no issues driving a couple of hours or clear across the country on the Hot Rod Power Tour. You have to stop thinking if you get more than 15 miles from your home your Mustang is going to fall apart and leave you on the side of the road.

Taking your vintage Mustang on a road trip of a lifetime (say perhaps the MCA’s 40th anniversary show in Indy in 2016?) is something that every Mustang owner should do at least once in their life. Forget the trailer and tow rig; just pack your essentials and hit the open road for an adventure you’ll cherish. All it takes is some planning, a bit of hands-on due diligence with your Mustang, and packing a few essentials to keep you, your passengers, and your Mustang happy on the road. So read on, take note of what maintenance bits you’ve been dragging your feet on, get out to the garage, and let’s get your vintage Mustang prepped and ready for that big drive. Your initial fear and trepidation will quickly be replaced by miles of trouble-free sightseeing and memories if you take our advice and heed these tips and warnings. Just remember, preparing for a trip of any distance takes time and knowing your Mustang inside and out. Don’t start on these inspections and tips a week before your trip, you won’t have the time to complete it all. We suggest six to eight weeks at a minimum.

One area that often sees little maintenance is the rear axle assembly. Pull both axles and check for axle seal wear or damage and replace the seals now. Be sure to check your differential fluid level, or better yet, drain the fluid and add fresh gear oil.
While the axles are out drop them off at a machine shop and have new axle bearings pressed on (or DIY if you have a decent press in your home shop). Now is the time to replace any missing, broken, or damaged wheel studs as well.
If you have a fairly steep gear, like a 3.50 or higher numerically, and especially if you don’t have an overdrive trans, consider swapping your centersection for something with a more highway-friendly gear like 3.00 or even a 2.80. It’ll only cost you some gear oil and silicone or a housing gasket and a few hours of your time, and your engine, your ears, and your gas tank will thank you for it.
Up front pull your rotors or drums and repack the wheel bearings, inspecting for any pitting in the bearings and replace as needed. While you have your tires off all around inspect your brakes and replace any pads/shoes and hardware as needed. That goes double for any rubber parts like brake hoses and wheel cylinder/caliper piston seals.
Go over your steering linkage from wheel to wheel. Inspect tie-rod ends, both inner and outer, for slop/wear and take a good look at your idler arm. Many times we find idler arms with bushings completely gone, like the old one shown here. The play this induces creates loose steering, poor return to center, and more. Any doubt, replace it.
Don’t put those wheels back on yet! Inspect your shocks, ball joints, spring perches, and control arms for any wear, slop, cracks, or anything that might become an issue on the road. If you need new ball joints it is often easier and faster to simply install new control arms.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of wheel locks, especially on a vintage Mustang that is stored in a locked garage and has 14-inch wheels on it (who wants those?). If you DO have some nice wheels and insist on using locking lug nuts not only ensure you have the key in your Mustang, but record the key code so you can get a replacement in an emergency. Plus, many well-stocked tire stores have a selection of keys and knowing the key code will help. Additionally, if your custom wheels require a slim-line or special socket, be sure to have one in your Mustang for any roadside emergencies.
Many of us are most certainly driving on some old tires. Just because your Mustang has only seen 5,000 miles over the last 10 years does NOT mean your tires are good. Treadwear is not the only indicator of a good tire. Tires age and after a few years they get hard, greasy, and will often dry rot. Check your tire’s date codes. The four-digit code is set up with the first two digits as the week of the year of manufacture and the last two digits as the year of manufacture. So a code of 2711 would be the 27th week of 2011. Anything more than five years old and you should seriously consider buying new rubber for your road trip.
Even with new tires you never know what the road is going to throw at you. While a spare tire is the best option, a puncture can be easily fixed with a roadside repair kit like this Fix-A-Flat Ultimate. This kit includes a latex sealant with a compressor with gauge. The compressor can be used separately as well to top off a low tire and there’s an included LED light.
Moving under the hood, be sure your battery and cables are secure and clean. Get your battery load tested and replace it if questionable. We’ve seen a lot of cables that looked good, but were actually severely corroded inside. When in doubt, order a new set of cables. Don’t forget the starter cable too.
Speaking of starters, the lowly starter is one of those items that seems to always pitch a fit on a long road trip. Pull yours and have it tested. Better yet, replace it with a PMGR mini-starter now and enjoy easier cranking that takes less from your battery.
While on the subject of batteries and starters, do yourself a favor and pick up one of these new mini battery jumpers. The Cyntur JumperPack mini has enough juice to jump-start a V-8 engine, and includes a flashlight and USB charging port for your phone, GPS, or tablet.
Hoses, like all rubber products, have a limited lifespan. Through years of heat and cool cycles, internal corrosion, and more, your hoses have probably seen better days. Replace all of your cooling hoses (yes, the heater hoses and the little bypass hose too!) with new hoses and use new clamps as well. If you’re not concerned with correct looks the silicone hose offerings are a better alternative. Accessory drive belts should be inspected and replaced as needed when doing your hoses too.
Even with new hoses debris can cause damage to a hose and leave you stranded. We’ve seen engine belts fray and slice a hose open. Something like Quick Fix Tape from DEI, which is a self-sealing tape, is a great item to have in your automotive “go bag.” The tape is simply wrapped around the leak to seal the hose and you’ll be able to make it to safety for hose replacement.
In other cooling system checks make sure your radiator is up to the task of highway driving. A good radiator will have sufficient surface area and cooling tubes for the size engine it is cooling. Ensure the radiator is mounted correctly (not loose and rubbing where it can wear a hole in it) and if you’re using an engine-driven fan we highly encourage the use of the proper fan spacer and a fan shroud. A good electric fan with temperature sensor is a better idea unless originality is a concern.
Every little bit helps and we’ve seen cooling improvements with performance radiator cooling additives like DEI’s Radiator Relief. Drop a bottle in with fresh coolant/water mix after flushing your cooling system.
Moving onto your Mustang’s ignition, be sure the points are in great shape and gapped correctly, or as cheap insurance go ahead and replace them with new. If you really want zero maintenance on a long trip then upgrade to an under-cap electronic ignition setup like PerTronix.
Check and gap your plugs, or replace, and ensure your plug wires are routed cleanly and are not burned or cracked from age. Replace any wires you suspect are an issue or install a fresh wire set. An extra plug wire or two, a set of points, and possibly an ignition coil are all good add-ons to your travel bag.
Fuel systems can be real headaches on long trips. Questionable gas, crud in the tank, and so on can all lead to frequent roadside stops. Check your carburetor and rebuild it as needed. Small passages, like Holley metering blocks, can be troublesome. It’s best to clean them and install new gaskets now rather than on the side of the road. Check your fuel pump’s output capacity to verify it is up to the task and replace all filters in the system.
If you’re looking for more road time and fewer stops, a 20-gallon fuel tank upgrade from the stock 16-gallon tank found in the 1965-1968 Mustang is a simple bolt-in upgrade.
Lighting is an important upgrade to consider if you plan to do a lot of night driving on your road trip. LED tail/brake lights do wonders for people behind you and prevent rear collisions. Modern halogen headlamps are also a must to see any real distance at night as well.
Consider new LED illumination for your gauges and replacing old, cloudy lenses as well. The better lighting and new lenses will prevent eye fatigue at night, as the gauges will be crisp and easy to read.
There’s no sense carrying standard replacement parts easily found at a corner parts store (water pump, fuel pump) but if your Mustang is using a specialty part, such as a cable clutch conversion, consider purchasing a second cable to keep in your travel bag.
A fire extinguisher is something we consider a must in any vintage Mustang, be it a show car or daily driver, so we most certainly encourage that one is available and within easy reach for road trips. You can buy brackets to secure your extinguisher to your seat base, rollbar, console, and so on. However you mount it, be sure to have one.
A nice all-in-one tool solution, such as this GearWrench set, offers enough sockets, wrenches, and drive bits to get most basic jobs done in an emergency, yet is compact enough to store in your travel bag. You hope you never need it, but glad to have it when you do!
Speaking of travel bags, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. This is a basic black nylon Craftsman duffle bag in our 1966 Mustang that we use for road trips. Besides many of the items mentioned in our story so far this bag also includes a selection of fuses, spare wire, electrical tape, various sized tie wraps, duct tape, a small blanket to lie on for undercar work, road flares, emergency first aid kit, hand wipes, work gloves, a cheap multimeter, and more.
These last few things are more about driver (and passenger) comfort, but nonetheless should be considered for those long days on the road; first up, more comfortable seats. From add-on headrests and firmer seat foam with bolsters to complete aftermarket seat swaps, make sure you are comfortable when driving. Bad seats will make you tired faster and will cramp your legs/back in no time. Consider a three-point seatbelt conversion as well.
Whether you add them to your seats or order new seats with them included, consider heated seat elements. Not so much to keep you warm, but to stimulate blood flow and use them as a massaging heat. You won’t regret them, and if it is cold out, even better!
That old AM radio and single-dash speaker is going to sound older than usual when you have to listen to it for eight hours on the road. Upgrade to a modern direct-fit stereo with USB and Bluetooth options (along with decent speakers) and you’ll have great sound for your trip and all your favorite songs at your fingertips.
Make sure your cigar lighter in your dash or console is working and bring along one of these plug-in USB adapters. You can get them in single and dual port configurations and they will do wonders for keeping your cell phones charged, your wife’s e-reader, and so on.
After a long day on the road you deserve a good meal. Having a GPS in your car means you can easily find your favorite restaurant, a hotel for the night, or if need be the nearest auto parts store. Sure, phones today have this ability, but often long-term GPS use sucks up a ton of data and battery life. These windshield-mounted units are cheap enough, so just get one.
Lastly, if you plan to do a lot of long-distance driving and not just one trip every few years, consider adding an aftermarket cruise control unit to your Mustang. The unit mounts under the hood and only requires basic wiring skill to connect. You can use a turn signal lever (shown) with aftermarket tilt columns, or you can use a dash/console mounted button arrangement. Your right leg will thank you at the end of the day.