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Best Vintage Fords to Modify
When Your Car Building Plans Don't Include A Mustang
When we were cruising the Carlisle All-Ford Nationals last June in the heart of Pennsylvania, we were certainly intrigued by the turnout of Fords, Mercs, and Lincolns. Mustang & Fords Editor Larry Jewett and I walked the show, conceived ideas, and became supercharged by what we saw out there. Power by adrenaline! The Fairlanes and Falcons excited us. Rancheros got us truckin'. Wouldn't mind cruising to work in that old Lincoln Mark III (Can't you see a 5.4L DOHC Mod motor with an AODE under that long hood? Coil-on-plug ignition? Let's rock!). Check out the hams on that Galaxie sport top'427 power too! It was good for us. Now, how can we make it good for you?
Gospel truth: It doesnt have to be a Mustang. Nor does it even have to be a mainstream Ford. What are the best Fords to modify? Great question, and with even greater answers. Choosing the best Ford to enlist for your car-building project takes advanced thought and planning. Failure to plan can mean the disillusionment of a false start and a For Sale sign in the window because it doesnt pan out to be what you wanted.
Alternative restomod is any Ford car project outside the Mustang arena. This gives us a large playing field to work with. Well begin with sage advice. The more unusual your alternative restomod, the better. Does it get people talking? Good! What about a 58 Edsel convertible with an FE big-block? Ford fitted the Edsel with a 361ci FE big-block. But what about a 428 Cobra Jet in its place?
Those mid-50s Crown Vics make terrific restomods. Envision a '56 Victoria in two-tone paint with billet wheels, an injected 5.8L small-block, a five-speed transmission, 9-inch with 3.55:1 gears, lowered to handle, comfortable threads inside, and more. Let's toss in the added twist: Build a two-door station wagon. If budget is your main concern, then opt for a two-door sedan or even a four-door station wagon. The wagon makes an excellent cruiser for the entire family.
It doesn't get much more slippery than a '60-61 Ford Starliner fastback sporting lots of twist under the bonnet. Ford fitted these gems with the 352ci FE big-block. This allows you room for bore and stroke up to 428 ci. If you're lucky enough to find a 427ci block, drop in a 428 crank for a Chevy-spanking 454 ci.
But did you know you can go Modular V-8 power in that vintage Ford: a 5.4L DOHC Navigator V-8 secured from the salvage yard, bolted to an AODE or even a five-speed? The 5.4L DOHC is a fat momma with those huge heads perched atop a taller Modular V-8 block. But big Fords yield plenty of room for high-tech, fuel-injected power. If money's no object (yeah, right), call the Perogie boys and order up a 427 Cammer just for fun.
Likely the most popular Fords of the '60s are the '63-64 Galaxies. Make ours a '63-½-64 sport top, again with the flexibility of an FE-series big-block. We'll take a 390, but a lot can be done with a 352, which has the benefit of a shorter stroke and higher revs. What's more, it will accept an Edelbrock Performer 390 top end-heads, manifold, and carb. Because the FE-series big-block is dimensionally the same externally, you can fit up to 428 ci in there.
Mercury yields plenty of options too, like the '63-64 Marauder fastback or a '61-63 Comet sedan. These Mercs look sharp because they employ more chrome and sculptured sheetmetal. The fullsize Mercurys were fitted with everything from a 240ci inline-six to the 390 FE big-block. There's room for the imagination up front, including the 385-series 429/460 engines.
Comets are Mercury's Falcon, perfect for the installation of a 5.0L EFI High Output mill. Just imagine-efficiency and performance in a classic Merc. Because the Comet shares the Falcon's underpinnings, you can go wild with Mustang-style suspension tricks and ride height. Falcon and Comet differ from Mustang only in terms of width and exterior sheetmetal styling. This means you can install bucket seats in a Comet/Falcon sedan. And because the floorpan is similar in dimension, the shifter comes up in the same place (the shifter handle just needs to be longer).
Another popular vintage Ford restomod isn't a car at all, but a truck. The '57-78 Ranchero remains one of the most popular Fords to restomod because it serves double-time as a car and truck. It can haul, and it can haul ass. Falcon and Fairlane Rancheros are among the most valued, but when these guys price themselves out of your league, look to the post-71 Rancheros for ideas and answers. These roomier Rancheros are comfortable and their engine compartments yield plenty of room for 4.6L/5.4L SOHC power (check your local smog laws first). When a high-tech, overhead cam V-8 doesn't float your boat, brute big-block power should. The 385-series 429/460 big-blocks fit the '72-78 Ranchero perfectly because there's factory hardware available to make it work.
Alternative restomod is becoming more and more things to different people. At the All-Ford Nationals in Pennsylvania, we saw new twists on older rides we never dreamed would see interest. People tend to sigh when you mention the '70-73 Maverick and Comet ('74-77 Mavericks and Comets had big, ugly bumpers). But these humble little two-door compacts are developing a following. Why? Because they're cheap to get into and build. There's also nostalgic value in these cars today. Those of us who grew up with them are seeking the memories now without having to seek a second mortgage.
Like we said earlier, your Ford restomod project doesn't have to be mainstream or popular. Start a trend with something different, really different. Ford's cute little Pinto wagon has a lot of potential as a cruiser with room for four and a big cooler in back. We especially like the peek-a-boo, limited-production Pinto panel wagons with the port holes (remember those at the drive-in?). Where we see potential in the Pinto is affordability and provisions for V-8 power. We're pretty convinced '75-78 Mustang II V-8 engine and transmission mounts will accommodate the 289/302ci small-block. The greatest challenge may be radiator-to-fan clearance, just to name one problem. The Vulcan 2.8L V-6 was available in Pinto wagons for a time in the '70s. This is a bolt-in alternative to the small-block V-8.
Around the time the Pinto was fading away, Ford introduced the Fairmont and Zephyr compact sedans and coupes. The beauty of these compacts is interchangeability with the '79-93 Mustang and Capri. They accept all of the trick suspension mods the five-oh guys like, including subframe connectors. What's more, 5.0L EFI power fits under the hood like a glove bolted to a five-speed stick and an 8.8-inch rear axle. The most popular Fairmont restomod is the fastback coupe available in '79-81. But we can envision a '78-81 two-door sedan lowered in back with huge late-model Mustang wheels and a throaty Flowmaster exhaust system. We can afford all of this because the Fairmont didn't cost us much to begin with.
Are you beginning to see our point about alternative restomod? It teaches us to take another look at Fords we never considered building before. Perhaps you've never considered building an Edsel or a Maverick. But both marques have great potential from a creative standpoint. Just add imagination. Our message here is simple: Build something few other people have and you will stand out and save money because most are easy to get into for not much money. So what are you waiting for? The Sunday classifieds are waiting for you.