Most of us know that it is a great accomplishment just to get your project up and running, let alone be able to drive it to the local cruise-in. You end up investing quite a bit just to get it to that point, and when project funds are hard to come by, sometimes having things work is more important than having them look good. With that said, we devised a budget-minded engine bay upgrade that is more about being neat and tidy than over-the-top glamorous.
We sort of stumbled upon this story as we searched for a test vehicle on which we planned to install Lambert Street Tech's (LST) new engine compartment bracing system. While the chassis stiffening system isn't what some might consider inexpensive, our subject vehicle gave us the opportunity for a quick and cheap makeover to complement it.
The '66 coupe seen here belongs to John Paolillo of Spring Hill, Florida, and the project is the very definition of budget. Starting as a $600 bare chassis, the Mustang is now complete thanks to the bartering and trading skills of its owner. John just has a few more things to do before it's ready to rumble down the road.
With a limited budget, this Mustang is more function over form. The engine bay was utilitarian in appearance. The rebuilt 302 got a fresh coat of Ford blue, along with some '85 Mustang GT valve covers and some fancy wire looms, but we needed to dress things up just a bit more to keep up with the nice machined aluminum components from LST.
1. Here’s what we started with; it’s clean with a few new and sparkly bits here and there, but it just didn’t pop and the wiring sprawled a little more than was needed.
2. Lambert Street Tech designed this chassis stiffening system for a Fairlane, as there were no other options. The company now offers the same trick setup for early Mustangs, and you can buy the whole system as shown, or purchase the export brace, Monte Carlo bar, and shock tower brace separately.
3. As cool as the ’85 vintage valve covers are, they were aged and wore a patina that wasn’t right for where this project is going. To brighten things up a bit, we ordered a number of items from Scott Drake, which included matching Cal Custom polished air cleaner and valve covers, an assortment of grommets and gaskets, as well as new headlamp and engine gauge harnesses.
4. To get started on the sheetmetal repaint, we dropped by our local parts store and picked up a number of items including high-build primer, semi-gloss black enamel, sandpaper, a few 3M Scotchbrite scuff pads, and a roll of painter’s tape. While most would use a dual-action sander (DA) for bodywork, we broke out our Ryobi Corner Cat as it’s unique shape and size work well in the tight confines of the engine bay.
5. Before we started any bodywork, we mocked up the Lambert export brace bracket on the firewall and drilled the necessary holes. You can see here that the holes didn’t quite line up, and you may have to open them up a bit. We dropped the bracket about half an inch, slid the fasteners in the holes, and were able to raise the bracket up to the pinch weld with no issues. We then marked the holes for the firewall bolts and drilled them out.
6. Next, we began pulling a number of components out of the engine bay that would make it easier to swing the spray cans around. What you can’t disconnect, simply unbolt from the fender aprons and set them on top of the engine.
7. A few garbage bags later and we were ready for sanding and painting. It’s not an ideal paintjob, but it’ll get us by until we’re ready for a full repaint on the chassis. We used 220-grit paper on the Corner Cat sander, and used the red scuff pads for the tight areas we couldn’t get to.
8. Some sanding and a few coats of primer will go a long way in turning out a relatively smooth finish. We dressed the high-build primer with some 400-grit paper prior to painting. We also utilized Klean-Strip’s Prep-All after the initial sanding, as well as after sanding the primer, to ensure a grease- and contaminant-free surface for the paint to adhere to.
9. After letting the paint dry for several hours, we got to work assembling the Lambert Street Tech chassis stiffening system, starting with the firewall bracket. Lambert includes all necessary hardware in stainless steel.
10. The shock tower brackets utilize the factory hardware and simply bolt under the stock shock bracket.
11. You’ll need to install these supplied aluminum blocks at the firewall bracket when you attach the tower brake arms.
12. There’s a matching set of aluminum standoff blocks for the shock tower brackets. Be sure to adjust the threaded rods until the blocks sit flat on the bracket.