Wayne Cook
February 12, 2010

Classic Ford Safety Upgrades
It's truly a great thing that so many advances have been made in vehicle safety since the '60s. Quantum improvements have been realized in many areas with energy absorbing vehicle structure, three-point seatbelts and air bags being just a few examples. One thing that hasn't changed is the fact that seatbelts are still your first and best line of defense against injury in the event of an accident and your classic Ford car should already be equipped with those. However, beyond seatbelts there are many things you can do to make your classic Mustang or other special interest Ford safer to travel in.

Besides being protected in the event of an accident, vehicle safety includes many things having to do with collision avoidance and operational security. To prepare this story, we asked questions such as: How safe are your travels at night with less than the optimum headlights on your car? If you live in a rainy weather state are those OE drum brakes really the best bet? The list of questions went on and on but the answer was always the same. The best way to avoid being injured in an accident is to not have one to begin with. Obviously for night-time driving the quality and quantity of light that your headlights can generate is a paramount consideration, and nighttime visibility will be a big part of our discussion.

Safety considerations also include reliability, so more questions arise. How safe are you on the side of the road because of overheating or a set of wiped out ignition points? What about tires? If you're going on a long road trip, the type and condition of your tires definitely has an impact on safety during high-speed operation. Our discussion will also include things that are intended to keep you rolling, because there are few things less fun and more dangerous than being stranded beside the side of the road.

The truth is that there are a whole host of things you can do to enhance the safety and comfort of your classic Ford travels. Let's walk around a few classic Mustangs and look at some of the things that you can do to keep out of an accident in the first place.

Visibility Options
The sealed beam headlights that came on a classic Mustang were standard equipment back in the day. At night it was fairly easy to out-drive your headlights, meaning the distance required to stop was greater than the distance that you could see. It's sort of going on faith if you will. In an early Mustang, a switch over to the brighter halogen sealed beams can be a big help. However, if your car has the OE headlight switch, the circuit breaker built into the switch can begin to overload and the headlights will flicker or go out altogether. Replacement switches with a higher rated circuit breaker are available and they will allow you to run somewhat brighter beams, but you're still limited by the factory wiring when it comes to running more powerful headlights.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Brake Break Down
Brakes are one of the most obvious areas of focus when it comes to safety. Good brakes are your best defensive tool, and it pays to have the best binders you can afford installed on your car. Disc brakes offer many advantages. They don't grab like drum brakes do, and the pedal on a disc brake set up has a much more modulated and controlled feel to it.

If you've got a heavy car or one with a big-block engine, then power brakes can also be a great safety upgrade. With power brakes there's no shortage of leg muscle when it comes time to slow down the wheels. Once installed, the booster will need to be connected to a vacuum source on the intake manifold. The new power brakes will seem sensitive by comparison and the light pedal effort will take a little getting used to. The booster kit ifrom Master Power Brakes retails for $429.

Interior Concerns
On the inside of the car, one area of consideration related to brakes would be the parking brake actuation. The system isn't truly an emergency brake system, but it is designed to be completely separate and independent of the main hydraulically actuated system. Many Mustang models have the parking brake lever that is inconveniently located underneath the dash behind the steering wheel. We've seen many cars that dispense with this arrangement and go with a tunnel mounted brake lever, for more positive engagement and no interference with the steering wheel during an emergency situation. This unit from Lokar makes for a sanitary installation. We found the handle for $89.95, while a cable kit to complete the installation underneath the car costs $99.

While we're still in the interior of the car, we thought we'd mention instrumentation. Although a complete set of gauges like this Auto Meter outfit might not seem like safety equipment, if it keeps you from being stopped by the side of the road it is. Gauges allow you to see a pattern of operation and make it possible to see a problem coming. A temperature gauge that creeps up slowly over time is telling you that there are cooling system problems on the horizon. A warning light simply tells you that the problem is already upon you. Plus, modern gauges are much easier to read and are more brightly lit than the 40-plus-year-old originals.

Most of the classic Ford cars we're concerned with came equipped with seats that were thinly padded by modern standards and lap-only seatbelts. Many enthusiasts we know are happier and more comfortable with more modern seats and a three-point seatbelt installation. Just such a combination upgrade has been accomplished on this classic Mustang. While installing late-model seats into a car such as this one usually isn't too difficult, the shoulder belt hard-point design has to be considered carefully. For racing, a more elaborate five-point design and roll protection should be employed.

Reliability Counts
As we have already mentioned, reliability of operation means safety. One of the most frequent difficulties encountered on the open road in classic cars is ignition problems. They usually arise when the breaker points become worn or otherwise come out of adjustment. Points may deteriorate over the miles but occasionally they will fail suddenly. The popular cure for this condition is an electronic ignition.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Suspension And Balance
Turning our attention to suspension, a lot of help can be had by adding a larger diameter front antisway bar, and even adding a rear bar as well. You'll get more positive steering response, and a safer and more controlled ride in sharp turns such as freeway cloverleaves. Front and rear bars cost about $100 each at Mustangs Plus.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery