Marc Christ
Brand Manager, Modified Mustangs & Fords
September 16, 2011
Photos By: Team MM&FF

Appearance is everything. Here's how to improve yours!

It's no secret that you want your muscle Mustang or fast Ford to stand out in the crowd. There are boatloads of Ponies running around all over the country, and the last thing you want is to be mistaken for the guy up the street. Even though the Mustang aftermarket gives you a seemingly endless list of possible improvements and modifications to make your Stallion unique, it's getting harder and harder to make your ride lead the herd. Although you can spend thousands of dollars in modifications to change the looks of your ride, there are also some little things you can do to improve the appearance of your fast Ford. In the following pages we show you 15 tips to improve the aesthetics of your Pony. Whether it's having a few dents removed, adding an aftermarket hood, or wrapping your Steed in custom paint, there are ways to take your car's looks to the next level.

Paintless Dent Removal

1. Often considered a myth, paintless dent removal (PDR) is actually a widely used practice in the paint and body business. From hail damage to door dings, a few very skilled individuals are able to restore panels to their original glory. It's not magical, but it is impressive to watch-it takes years to hone this skill.

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To see it done, we called on Brian Wentworth of Dent Master International in Clearwater, Florida. He treated our '98 GT to a full-body PDR. He used long steel rods to push on the dings from the backside of the panel until the panel was flat again. If you search around, there are probably a couple of PDR businesses in your area. It saves time and money over conventional body repair, and you don't have to disturb the original paint.

Clay Bar and Wax

2. Something else misunderstood is the clay bar. Typically used on older paint jobs, a clay bar removes small particles that become embedded in the clearcoat. Sand, dust, and other contaminants that stay on the painted surface for an extended period of time will not wash off, and must be removed with a clay bar. Using a liquid wax or water on a clean car as a lubricant, the clay bar is rubbed over the surface, removing the small particles. It is then necessary to apply a coat of wax to protect the finish. The wax, in turn, helps prevent new contaminants from becoming embedded in the future. Wax also helps protect the paint from the sun. Contrary to what some people believe, wax will not restore damaged paint. For that, you need to wet-sand, buff, and/or polish the surface.

Wet-sand, Buff, and Polish

3. When your car's finish is scratched or oxidized, it's time to break out the high-speed buffer. Use a buffing compound for deeper scratches, or a polishing compound for very light scratches or oxidation. The buffing wheel removes the top layer of clearcoat, which is usually damaged over time by weather and wear. Matt Guida of Preferred Motors in Tampa, Florida, gave us a hand buffing on our '98 GT's surface.

Sometimes, though, buffing isn't enough. If scratches penetrate deeper into the clearcoat, wet-sanding is necessary. Using usually 1,000-grit or finer wet sandpaper, you rub the affected area very lightly until the scratch is gone. You must then buff the area with a compound and high-speed buffer to remove the sanding marks. Since you're using abrasive compounds and tools, much care must be taken when wet-sanding and buffing. It's easy to sand through the clearcoat when wet-sanding. Also, buffing in one area for too long creates heat, and can either burn through the clearcoat or create deep swirls. Swirls are common when buffing, and swirl-removing compounds are available to be applied with the buffer and a foam pad. Always apply a coat of wax after buffing. Products are available through Mothers, Meguiar's, and other car care product companies.

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Headlights

4. Over time, headlight lenses discolor. The deterioration of the headlamps is cause by exposure to the elements and UV exposure from sunlight. This discoloration can greatly diminish the amount of light coming from your headlights, which reduces visibility and also doesn't look good. Fortunately, there a number of options to get rid of the haze or add a custom look to the front of your car. Car care companies like Mothers or Meguiar's sell headlight restoration kits to polish the haze and discoloration away. These kits have varying levels of fine-grit sandpaper, followed by liquid polish to restore the clarity of the lenses. In some cases, you clearcoat the lenses to protect them once you're finished. If restoring your stock headlights isn't something you want to do, aftermarket lights are also available. These are offered in a variety of options such as clear or smoked, one- or multi-piece, and chrome or black backing. Some companies even offer projector or halo lighting for a custom look. Either way, restoring or replacing your old, discolored headlights is a great way to add a cool custom touch, and increase safety and visibility at the same time.

Interior Restoration

5. Often overlooked, the interior of your car is just as important as the exterior. It's where you spend most of your time with your car, and it's the hardest part to keep clean. After years of wear, your seats, steering wheel, carpet, and door panels start to show their age. Thankfully, there are solutions to this problem.

The first step to restoring your interior is cleaning. Not just vacuuming and wiping the dash, but deep cleaning and detailing. To show you what we're talking about, we took our '98 GT to Matt Guida at Preferred Motors in Tampa, Florida. Guida's company is a web-based auto dealer, owned and operated solely by Guida himself. And when he buys cars from auction or otherwise, he has to prepare them himself. He took one look at our GT and without hesitation said: "She's gonna clean up nice!" We removed the seats, shampoo'd the carpets, and cleaned all of the panels and trim. Guida uses paint brushes with short bristles (usually done by cutting them down with scissors) to clean in between cracks and inside the A/C vents. He used all-purpose cleaner to clean the panels, and even had a leather repair specialist patch and re-dye the worn leather on our seats. Sometimes cleaning and repairing doesn't work, and you have to resort to companies like Latemodel Restoration Supply, National Parts Depot, and AmericanMuscle.com for new seat covers, carpet, or-like our GT-a steering wheel from FRPP.

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Weather-stripping and Trim

6. As your car starts to get older, neglected items like weather-stripping and exterior trim start to fade, crack, and decay. Often made of plastic or rubber and not coated with a protective coating, seals and trim begin to lose their effectiveness. Often simple to change and readily available from almost every advertiser in this magazine, replacing these items is a great way to improve the appearance of your muscle Mustang.

Door, hatch, and hood seals are probably the most common to wear out and fall apart. However, you can't forget the door glass weatherstrip and dew wipes, which usually start to decay after about ten years. Another common problem are the quarter-windows on Fox-body Mustangs. Look to Latemodel Restoration Supply or National Parts Depot for replacements.

Window Tint

7. It goes without saying that window tint is cool. There's something mysterious about people not being able to see who's inside your car or what they're doing. Not only does it look cool, but it also repels UV rays, keeping the interior of your car cooler on hot summer days.

Stay away from rainbow or reflective tint, because it draws too much attention to the glass and away from the car as a whole. Unless you're a professional window tint installer, don't attempt it yourself-leave it to the professionals. Jagged edges or bubbles under the tint can cause it to look worse than it did before you tinted the windows.

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Replacement Panels

8. For cars kept out in the elements, especially in the north or near the ocean, rust is a serious issue. In bad cases, rust can leave holes in panels like doors or fenders. In extreme cases, it is easier and less expensive to simply remove the old panels and replace them with new sheetmetal.

Replacement body panels are also a good idea if dents or light body damage has diminished the looks of your muscle Mustang or fast Ford. With replacement panels as cheap as $100 in some cases, its quicker and easier to swap a fender than repair it.

The Fox-body restoration market is growing very rapidly, and more parts are becoming available almost daily.

Body Kit

9. Aftermarket body panels are a great way to change the overall look of you Pony. Front or rear fascias, hoods, or spoilers can add a super-aggressive look to any project or daily driver. Companies like Mr. BodyKit or Cevini's Auto Designs offer custom body kits to transform your ride into a custom cruiser. If you're after a different OEM look, like the California Special or any of the SVT Cobra variants, companies like Latemodel Restoration Supply offer the parts you need.

Repaint

10. If you are to the point where the paint on your Pony is faded beyond repair by waxing or wet-sanding, a few fresh coats of paint may be your best option. The sun can damage your car's finish, and over time, the shine can transform to a dull luster-a flat, lifeless finish. When things get this bad, the only way to bring back the shine is to respray it.

While repainting your car can bring the life back to a stalled project or revive your daily driver, you get what you pay for. A cheap respray will give you cheap-looking results. You don't have to spend $10,000, but know that better materials, equipment, and higher-skilled painters will leave you with a higher-quality finish.

Custom Paint

11. Few things set a car apart like custom paint and graphics. Though not an inexpensive way to make your ride stand out, custom paint is a great way to personalize your Mustang, and most good painters can help you come up with a design that will look great and turn heads everywhere. Custom paint schemes can be amazingly over the top or completely subtle. It comes down to the look each owner is trying to achieve, which makes it a great way to make your car unique.

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Vinyl Wraps

12. Intricate custom paint jobs can quickly become extremely expensive-after all, you're paying for the skill and time of a good painter. An easy and less expensive way to achieve a similar look is with a vinyl wrap. Wraps give you the ability to add the most intricate graphics in a less-permanent form. The wrap is a sheet of vinyl with the graphics printed on them. The vinyl covers the car like a huge sticker, with glue that is designed to not harm the paint underneath.

Emblems

13. Emblems are a cool, yet subtle way to set your ride apart. Emblems, or the lack of, can add a slick retro or clean look to the exterior of your muscle Mustang or fast Ford. The introduction of the new 5.0-liter Coyote brought a redesigned "5.0" emblem to the side of the '11 Mustang GT. As soon as the emblems became available, Fox-body enthusiasts began swapping them for the original 5.0 tags. On the other hand, enthusiasts have also been known to add emblems from the '60s and '70s Ponies to their late-model rides for a cool retro look.

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If a clean profile is what you're after, removing the emblems all together is the way to go. With the holes filled, the emblem-delete look takes all distraction away from the car. Either way, you can't go wrong!

Invisible Bra

14. Though not a way to really improve the current looks of your car, an invisible bra is a great way to protect it from future rock and bug damage. Undetectable from more than a couple of feet away, the semi-permanent clear vinyl adheres to the painted surfaces on the nose of the car, providing a layer of protection against small rocks or insects.

Typically installed (by a professional) when the car is new or when the paint is reasonably fresh, the film can be removed if necessary. Once installed, simply treat it like the rest of your car's finish.

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Stance and Wheels

15. While talking about the overall appearance of your ride, you can't leave out wheels and stance. Wheels are an easy way to change the overall look of your ride, which is why it's usually one of the first mods people do. Although the stance is a little more complicated, suspension components can change the attitude of your ride by lowering the ride height, which will help handling, but also adds an aggressive look.