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.
After surveying the engine bay, we came to the conclusion that a quick repaint of the firewall and fender aprons would be the first change on our list. Ideally, you would pull the drivetrain, bodywork the panels, and then get some quality chassis black enamel from a company like Eastwood or have it professionally painted. However, our man John just dropped the drivetrain in and recently got it running, so we're not looking to go backwards. A few bucks and a few hours of labor will liven things up, however.
With engine detailing, it's the individual details that add up to make the overall package stand out. You can have a killer-looking engine between the shock towers, but untidy wiring and dress up components that have seen their best days long ago will take it down a notch or two. If you're building a sleeper, that's the goal, really, but the majority of us want things to look nice.
After giving the sheet metal a quick sand and spray, we next looked to update the dress-up package, and make everything work safely and reliably with new engine bay wiring harnesses. For those items, we went to Scott Drake, as we knew that the components would be of high quality and fit correctly. That's a time saver, which can be a money saver in and off itself.
A few choice parts, some paint and a bit of modern wire loom made a substantial difference in just a couple of days of work. Read on to see how we gave this budget project a quick and easy makeover.
13. The Monte Carlo bar is next. To make sure it cleared everything, we attached the shock bars to it and then positioned it to where it cleared the radiator hose and distributor. If your engine bay has already been painted, you can protect the surface during mock up with some tape on the backside of the bracket.
14. The Monte Carlo bar brackets uses these steel supports on the backside of the fender apron. The firewall bracket has a similar one that mounts inside the car on the interior surface of the firewall.
15a. Here you can see the before and after wiring jobs. Forget the cheap corrugated plastic wire loom and spring for something modern like this Classic Braid from Painless Performance. It’s a much nicer and up-to-date option, yet still has a factory look about it.
15b.We also utilized some leftover Power Braid on a few of the wiring runs that were less apparent. We had initially contemplated hiding the harnesses altogether, but our slightly nostalgic car owner was content with running the harnesses exposed using the factory wiring holders—that, and our deadline really didn’t allow for the extra time!
16. The nice thing about a factory replacement harness is that everything is color coded for easy hook up. After connecting the blower motor wires, we tucked them inside the Classic Braid to let them blend into the engine bay.
17. With the engine gauge harness, we had to swap out the factory coil stud connector for a male spade connector for the MSD ignition connection.
18. We also procured this firewall-to-hood gasket and brackets from Scott Drake as well. It’ll have to come back off once the car is painted, but we suspect this restomod is going to see quite a few miles on the road before that happens. We can hear the Flowmasters thundering already.
19. Simple and inexpensive (in this case, free) modifications can help clean up the engine bay. Whenever possible, rotate the hose clamps for a cleaner look.
20. Next on our mod list were these polished aluminum valve covers from Scott Drake. The Cal Custom pieces (PN C5ZZ-6A582-AF) give us that vintage appearance, but with a clean, non-logo look.
21. We ordered a set of new valve cover bolts so we didn’t dress the new polished valve covers down with old hardware. To our surprise, the Cal Custom covers came with their own high-quality Allen-headed fasteners. We went with these and scored a bonus when we realized that they dropped right in the aluminum spark plug wire looms that we would later use.
22. The Cal Custom air cleaner lid (PN C5ZZ-9600-AFK) is a trick piece that matches the look of the valve covers without the need for a wing nut to hold it on. You just need to adjust the height of the threaded rod in the carb for the perfect fit.
23. Cut-to-fit spark plug wires will help you tidy up the engine bay by making sure that the wires fit snugly and evenly, or in some cases, allow you to hide the wires altogether. We used these aluminum wire looms to route the wires neatly to the plugs.
24. With this finished shot of our engine bay makeover, you can see how covering the wiring allows it to blend into the overall picture; it also allows the powerplant to stand out, which is ideally what you want. While going the extra mile to detail the engine bay can sometimes come at the price of accessibility or maintenance, this is a fully functional, hands-on type of look. Need to trace a wire or jumpstart the car from the solenoid? Have at it!