Jim Smart
December 1, 2000
Photos By: Mustang & Fords Archives

Step By Step

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Your car project should begin with a plan, then work the plan. When you disassemble the vehicle, take pictures and notes, which will be a big help when it’s time for reassembly.
Car projects are best when shared with a friend. This makes the going easier and provides a support system. What’s more, you both learn something valuable from the experience that can’t be put into words.
Whenever you disassemble an automobile, do it in phases and catalog every part, even the parts you intend to throw away. We suggest this because organization is vital to a restoration. All bags and containers should be labeled and carefully stored. Throw away those old parts when the restoration is complete. Recycle whenever you can.
Phases should be broken down into subphases. For example, remove both doors, then disassemble both doors before moving on to the next phase. Again, take pictures whenever possible before disassembly.
Car projects need protected work space. You’re going to need lots of room for parts and vehicle storage. And you’ll need lots of room to work on the vehicle. Focus on organization, which will make your project run smoothly.
Even if you think you’re going to throw it away, save and store all parts until the project is complete. Old parts teach us a lot about how the vehicle was put together. Plus, you never know what’s going to be available when it’s time to reassemble the car. And original parts are often better than reproductions, which means you may wind up restoring the original part. Salvage what you can and save money.
Car building is a messy task and someone’s gotta clean it up. Be mindful of good housekeeping all along the way. Properly dispose of toxic chemicals like antifreeze and lubricants. Clean up and properly dispose of old sealer, weatherstripping and other soft parts. Be environmentally responsible. Neatness means organization and a well-tuned project.
It’s an old cliché these days, but always recycle. Body panels, bumpers, anodized aluminum, iron, and aluminum castings are all recyclable. Old brake shoes, starters, alternators, water and power-steering pumps should be taken down to your favorite auto parts store and turned in for remanufacturing. Most auto parts stores will pay you for those rebuildable cores. This eliminates unnecessary waste and makes old things new again.
Stiffer springs and new control arms make the ride safer. Ride and handling are all about compromise. Super-stiff Shelby springs make the ride harsh. Stock GT springs yield a nice combination of ride and handling. Installation mandates extreme caution because springs can injure and kill.
Just imagine brand new steering gears from Flaming River. These steering boxes are identical to original equipment and they offer unequalled performance.
Stainless Steel Brakes offers the hobbyist complete front-disc-brake conversion kits for well under $1,000. If your budget is tight, opt for a set of used Ford Granada disc units from the salvage yard.
Prior to 1966, Mustangs weren’t fitted with dual braking systems, which isolate front and rear brakes. A dual system prevents total loss of braking should there be hydraulic failure in the front or rear system.
Swap meets yield an array of used differentials. Beware of deceptive packages. Even though some of them appear to be rebuilt, not all of them are. Close examination is vital.
With simple tools available from your local auto parts store, you can fabricate, form, and fit your own steel brake lines. All you need is a tubing bender and a dual-flare flaring tool. If fabrication isn’t your forte, Classic Tube offers complete preformed brake lines for older Mustangs.
Used transmissions are often a good bargain depending on price. We suggest staying away from automatics sold at swap meets unless you can remove the pan for a look inside. Likewise, you’re going to want to inspect the inside of a manual gearbox. In both cases, you’re looking for metal shavings, excessive wear, and other signs of abuse. If the seller won’t allow a look inside, move on.
Rebuilding an automatic yourself isn’t suggested due to its complex nature. We suggest finding a trusted professional locally to handle your transmission needs. Always opt for the best parts for long transmission life.
Your local salvage yard is a good source for rebuildable transmission cores. The most important issue is application. Mustangs, Falcons, and Comets all employ the same-length transmission, which makes more cores available for Mustang applications. Open these transmissions for a look inside before you buy. Remove the drain plug and examine the magnetic chip detector for metal shavings. Excessive amounts of metal are a bad sign.
Learn how to rebuild and tune an engine yourself, which will save you thousands of dollars. Leave specialized steps, like machining, to the experts. You can assemble an engine yourself once all of the machine work is complete. When you’re befuddled, look to the pros for answers.
Seat upholstery is something you can do yourself in the basement or garage. All you need are basic handtools and upholstery hog rings. Don’t forget the purchase of a heat gun or a hair dryer to warm up the vinyl for easy stretching.
Think “used” for your interior when the price of reproduction parts is beyond the budget. Swap meets are an excellent place to begin the search.
Think rewarding too. There is much satisfaction to be derived from tackling a tough job yourself and succeeding. Don’t be discouraged when the going gets tough. Just get going.
Eliminate dangerous modifications like this one immediately. Obviously someone has spliced in a temporary fuel-system hose where the line was damaged. But this is dangerous for obvious reasons. The fuel line could rupture all over the hot exhaust pipe.

If you’re just getting started on your first Mustang, excitement gets equal time with anxiety, especially if you’ve never touched an automobile before. Diving into your first car-building project is certainly exciting, but it has to be tempered with common sense. If you’re building a Mustang from scratch, you must have a plan and stick with it in order to finish the job successfully. Be prepared for setbacks along the way because there will be plenty of them. Raw determination and proper planning is what gets you through a restoration.

A car project is not for the faint of heart. At times, a restoration can be overwhelming. You’re going to need lots of emotional support for those times when things get rough—and they will get rough. You can count on it. There will be reproduction parts that don’t fit, bad chrome from the plating shop, an excessively worn or cracked engine casting you didn’t expect, rust in the floorpan, upholstery that rips or doesn’t fit, paint that gets chipped, a new windshield that gets busted, and automotive professionals who stand you up time and time again. If you believe it’s going to take a year to build your Mustang, plan on two. Nearly anything can and will get in your way.

Good body shops, for example, can set your project back because they always have a waiting list, and it’s rarely on schedule. A waiting list of more than a year is not unheard of with some of the best shops. The same can be said for reputable machine shops and engine builders. This is why advanced planning is so important.

If you live in an apartment and are without access to a weather-tight garage, forget car building until you’re at a station in life where you have access to one. Few apartment and condo complexes will tolerate major levels of auto repair in the parking lot. A car project entails major disassembly, including removing the engine and driveline, doors, fenders, interior, and more if you intend to do the job right. A project car needs a safe, secure location, just for starters.

But First—A Plan…
No car project should begin without a plan and a budget. Too few car projects begin this way. A plan keeps you on course, with deadlines and accountability. A budget keeps you focused and out of financial trouble. Be realistic about deadlines and budget or you’re bound to be disappointed later. Be prepared for setbacks not often thought about, like job loss, divorce (car projects sometimes cause these), termination of a lease, moving, natural disaster, illness, job transfer, you name it. Be prepared with Plan B. With Plan B in tow, your project stands a chance of survival or you become realistic enough to understand when to sell the vehicle and cut your losses.

Before you get started, we suggest investing in a Ford reference library. You’re going to need it. Buy a Ford Shop Manual for starters, available from California Mustang. These factory service manuals provide detailed information for restorers. Other publications also available from California Mustang will help get you through a restoration.

If you’re doing a full-scale car-building project, we’ve constructed an outline you should follow to achieve best results. This outline is very basic and can be revised to suit your individual needs.

As you can see, a car-building project has to follow a logical course or it leads to confusion and waste. We see this all the time—enthusiasm outweighs common sense and a car project wanders off course. This happens when we get bored with a particular phase and, before that phase is complete, we move on to something else, leaving a particular phase unfinished.

For example, if you intend to do bodywork and repaint the car, this phase should come first because it makes no sense to bolt new components onto a body you’re going to strip, work, and paint. Bolt on the new suspension first, and you’ll have filler dust and paint overspray all over those new parts. Dropping a fresh engine into a filthy engine bay doesn’t make sense either. And installing a new interior first doesn’t make sense because bodywork fallout will contaminate the new upholstery. Bodywork must always come first. It’s OK to piggyback some tasks while you’re working a particular phase. While the body is being worked, tear down the engine and haul major components to the machine shop. Take the transmission over to the transmission shop. Drop the differential off at the gear shop.

This handles these components while you’re working the body. By the time your Mustang is ready for paint, the engine, transmission, and rearend will be completed. Make the most of your restoration time with proper planning and execution. And resist the temptation to get in a hurry or deviate from the plan. Stay the course.

Safety First
Your primary focus, aside from building a good-looking car, is building in safety. When bodywork and paint are complete, chassis work should begin next. Invest wisely in a safe chassis, a Mustang that handles well, and stops in a timely manner. Begin with quality suspension components from Mustangs Plus. The beauty of a Magna Series suspension from Mustangs Plus is the simplicity. There’s nothing to think about. Let Mustangs Plus know what you desire for handling and ride, and they can dial in your needs in short order. Because ride and handling are important and something you will have to live with for a long time, knowing how to choose springs, stabilizer bars, and other suspension components is important. Mustangs Plus can help.

If ride is most important to you, then you’re going to want stock Mustang GT springs fore and aft. Stock GT springs offer a nice balance of handling and a smooth ride. If you want to stiffen up the ride a little, opt for KYB gas adjustable shocks. If handling is more important than ride, 620-pound Shelby coils will get the job done effectively. If you desire a lower ride height, you’re going to need mid- or reverse-eyelet leaf springs. Lowering blocks are also an option because they are available in various thicknesses. Each thickness lowers the body the same amount. Choose a 2-inch lowering block and you’ll lower the body 2 inches, and 1-inch will net you 1 inch lower.

Good handling also comes from solid steering input. You can rebuild your existing steering gear or order one from Flaming River. Steering gears from Flaming River are all-new from the casting out, and offer tight precision steering.

When it comes to the braking system, two important steps must be taken. First, front disc brakes. Second, a dual braking system. Front disc brakes will dramatically improve braking. A dual-braking system divides the front and rear systems, which prevents total braking loss should one of the systems fail hydraulically.

Feels Like The First Time
The beauty of tackling your first car project is taking on challenges you never have before. If fear of doing the job poorly overwhelms you, take heart because most of us have been there before. You’ll never know if you can do something until you at least try it once.

Engines, transmissions, and rearends are components you can rebuild yourself in order to save money. Of course, you’re going to need help with each of these segments, especially if you’ve never done it before. You can disassemble the engine and haul the components to a machine shop for cleanup and machine work. Because transmissions tend to be very complex, they need to be disassembled and reassembled in the same location at the same time for simplicity’s sake. The same tends to be true for rear axles.

If you’re going to tackle an engine rebuild yourself, there has been a lot written in our magazine and in books to get you headed in the right direction. There’s a huge library of affordable self-help books available from CARTECH that detail how to rebuild an engine properly. We suggest the purchase of a book dedicated to your engine type. If your engine is a small-block Ford, we also suggest purchasing Bob Mannel’s book, Mustang & Ford Small-Block V-8 from RPM Press. This is the most extensive book ever written on the 221/260/289/302 V-8. Although it’s priced at just under $50, it’s worth every penny in the detail it provides the enthusiast.

If your Mustang’s transmission needs rebuilding, you have a number of options. Manual transmissions tend to be easier to rebuild than automatics. If you follow your Ford Shop Manual and use the right tools, you can handle this chore yourself. Automatic transmissions are a mixed bag for the do-it-yourselfer. The C4 Cruise-O-Matic is a simple automatic to build because it needs no special tools. However, the C6 and FMX transmissions mandate special tools in order to accomplish the same thing. As a rule, automatics are best left to professionals who have the experience. Older automatics like the C4, C6, and FMX are simple transmissions for the professional and typically cost around $500 to rebuild. Always insist on the best parts and don’t cut corners here. Opt for a new torque converter with furnace-welded fins for durability.

When it comes to building a sound rear axle, it doesn’t always have to be a Limited Slip or a Traction-Lok. The use of a locking rearend depends largely on how the vehicle will be used. The occasional driver show car doesn’t need the cost of a locking rearend. If performance is your goal, then a locking rearend may be to your liking.

Most areas have shops that specialize in rear axles. The cost to rebuild a differential, not including parts, is around $150. Differential rebuilds don’t always call for the installation of a new ring-and-pinion gear. Bearings are what wear out most in a differential. New pinion, side, and axle bearings are all most differentials need to get back in action unless you’re planning to change axle ratio. At that, you can opt for used gears in good condition and save the high cost of new gears.

Be Ready To Learn
Building your first Mustang is about learning. Doing an interior is a natural part of that learning curve because this is something you can do yourself, including installing the headliner. If you’re intimidated by doing an interior, don’t be because nearly anyone can. To do the upholstery, including the headliner, you’ll need basic tools, a razor knife, a heat gun, 3M trim adhesive, and a whole lot of patience.

Doing an interior restoration is easy because parts vendors like National Parts Depot make it simple. You can purchase a kit for nearly every phase of interior restoration. Order seat upholstery, plus the foam buns for outstanding results produced in your home garage. Door panels and water shields can be installed in less than an hour. Although installing a headliner is challenging, you can tackle this chore yourself and save around $300. And just think what $300 will buy from National Parts Depot.

Think Improvement
When you tackle that first project car, always ask yourself how it can be improved upon. We’ve already addressed safety issues, like brakes and suspension. We haven’t addressed engine and driveline improvements that make a classic Mustang more reliable. When you become intimate with the engine, step up to hardened exhaust valve seats and a roller camshaft, just for starters. A cast-aluminum high-rise manifold and a deep-breathing four-barrel carburetor infuse performance into an otherwise vanilla engine. Dressy aftermarket valve covers make the most of the engine’s appearance. For safety’s sake, hard-line your fuel system between the fuel pump and carburetor, eliminating all hoses. We stress this due to fuel additives that are harmful to soft fuel-system parts today (primarily in California). Electronic ignition, like the PerTronix Ignitor from Virginia Classic Mustang, brings new life to old ignition systems. What’s more, you can install the Ignitor and throw old ignition points away in 15 minutes.

In recent times, there has been growing concern over fuel-system safety in classic Mustangs. If you’re concerned about fuel-system safety and you intend to drive your Mustang daily, there’s an increased accident risk as time behind the wheel increases. We have some pointers to help get you off to a safer start. Daily drivers should get the Fuel Safe fuel cell from Mustangs Plus. This safety cell is custom made for ’65-’70 Mustangs and virtually eliminates the fire risk associated with rear-end collisions.

Additional fire protection comes from the steel rear-seat barrier from Canadian Mustang. The steel barrier takes the place of that flimsy cardboard barrier installed to begin with. If you’re going to be spending time behind the wheel of your Mustang, think entertainment too. Custom Autosound offers the Mustang enthusiast an array of sound system choices ranging from perfect in-dash replacements to something new called Secretaudio, a virtually invisible sound system that allows you to keep the original AM radio in the dash.

Because we live in the world of restomod at Mustang & Fords, we encourage you to keeping thinking about improvement in the course of Mustang ownership. Building your first Mustang includes delving into the cool world of imagination. This means we’re going to get along just fine.