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25 Low-Buck High-Performance Restomod Tips
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We've sure been having a lot of fun with our vintage Fords in the new world of Restomod, which allows us the freedom to explore creativity with our Fords and Mercs. Restomod is a blank canvas each of us is free to experiment with, as long as our efforts are tasteful and loaded with good common sense.
The way we used to modify Fords is certainly different than it is today. If you are building a retro ride that reminds you of high school in the '60s, you're going to build something dated, but great fun to horse around with. But if you want a delicious mix of great classic styling and modern, high-tech performance, then restomod is for you. Disc brakes, better suspensions, electronic fuel injection, sound deadening, overdrive, limited slip, power windows, and a host of other productive modifications can make our classic Fords better than they have ever been.
That said, what would you like to do with your vintage Ford?
Front Disc Brakes
If you own a vintage Ford with the original four-wheel drum brakes, bolt a fresh set of disc brakes onto the front of your Ford and begin to feel safer immediately. Stainless Steel Brakes' disc brake kits from Mustangs Plus have everything you need to get safer in an afternoon.
When you are on a budget, Stainless Steel Brakes' four-piston Kelsey-Hayes front disc brakes get the job done nicely and for less money. If you are going to do any kind of high-performance driving, opt for a set of carbon metallic brake pads, which like the heat and perform better under the gun.
It's challenging to talk about brakes without next addressing the suspension system. Both work hand-in-hand in the interest of safe driving and vehicle control. Good brakes need a healthy suspension system to achieve good balance and control in any kind of driving. Even the tightest budget can afford genuine Grab-A-Trak suspension parts from Mustangs Plus for classic Mustangs and other vintage Fords. We're talking affordable suspension components that freshen up a suspension system and improve handling all at once.
If you are doing a factory original restoration, Grab-A-Trak suspension parts get the job done. If you are building a restomod, Grab-A-Trak holds the road there too with 620 front coils, five leaf springs, 1-inch front sway bars, KYB gas-adjustable shocks, and a whole lot more. When you have a new suspension system doing the tough job underneath, you can drive with confidence, knowing you're going to get there safely and have a ball doing it.
Double Up And Be Safe
Fords and Mercs prior to 1967 can certainly be improved with front disc brakes, but they need even more to be safe. Beginning in 1967, dual-hydraulic braking systems became federally mandated. Dual braking systems provide two completely separate hydraulic systems that work independently of one another. Master Power Brakes offers self-contained, power dual-braking systems for pre-'67 Fords and Mercurys. This enables you to bolt-in a power booster and dual-reservoir master cylinder in an afternoon. All you have to do is install the system, bleed the brakes, and get back to the action.
When you buy a vintage Ford, chances are good it's probably equipped with the original factory single exhaust system. At best, you can hope for a lame dual exhaust system with an 13/4-inch pipe and generic replacement mufflers. To improve performance, you need to improve breathing and exhaust scavenging. Popular wisdom is to go with the largest pipes you can fit underneath your Ford. However, your goal needs to be achieving a nice balance between large and small diameter, depending on your engine and the kind of driving you intend to do. The best pipe diameter is 21/4 to 21/2 inches if you are running a mild street performance engine. This provides a good compromise between unlimited breathing and the kind of back pressure you need to have on the street to make low-end torque.
The aftermarket is rich with a variety of headers, mufflers, and exhaust systems. As a result, you have a lot to choose from--long- or short-tube headers, dozens of muffler types, and pipe sizes as large as 3 inches. When you go as large as a 3-inch pipe diameter, you're going to lose backpressure and make your Ford's undercarriage confining. stick to the common sense approach--21/4- to 21/2-inch diameter.
Always connect both sides of your exhaust system with a balance tube, which improves both sound and pressure between both sides of the system. You can even give it a different twist with an X-pipe that changes the way the exhaust pulses from each bank of cylinders. At high revs, the X-pipe sounds completely different, making our all American V-8 engines sound more European in tone.
If you want to simplify your Ford's charging system and improve reliability, go with a single-wire alternator and throw away the voltage regulator. Converting your vintage Ford's regulator charging system may seem complex and hard to understand, but it is actually quite easy to do and can be done in about two hours. None of the factory wiring has to be eliminated. You can even leave the voltage regulator installed if you desire an original appearance.
When you install a single-wire alternator, you are going to an internally-regulated, high-amp alternator that will more than keep your Ford's battery charged, regardless of how much demand you put on the system. There are single-wire, high-amperage alternators available from Performance Distributors and Powermaster Motorsports. Each type comes with technical information and installation instructions.
Nothing dresses up a ride quite like a nice set of wheels. Long ago, we were limited to a modest selection from Cragar, Keystone, American Racing, and Kelsey-Hayes. In the past 20 years, the wheel industry has grown phenomenally, with more styles, types, sizes, and manufacturers than ever before.
Likely the largest wheel you can get under a vintage Ford is 18 to 19 inches. But there's always someone hell-bent to shoehorn something larger into those wheelwells. When you are selecting a wheel and tire for your classic Ford, remember to temper your imagination with liberal doses of common sense. Make sure the wheel styling works with your Ford's body style. Check offset and backspacing availability. Another important issue is brake clearance. Make sure the wheel you want clears the caliper and control arms.
Also remember that large wheel size means less tire sidewall than we are used to with old Fords. Overall tire/wheel height doesn't change much based on what you can get into the wheelwell. This means going with a larger wheel means less sidewall, which means a rougher ride. The sidewall is there not only to look pretty, but to absorb road shock. When you hit irregularities in the road with 14- or 15-inch wheels and tires, there is a lot of sidewall to take up road shock. When you pump the wheel size up to 17 or 18 inches, you have less sidewall to take the bumps.
The cool thing about larger wheel size is what it does for the appearance of our period Fords. Huge 18- or 19-inch wheels on a '63 Galaxie fastback thrust these slippery beasts into the retro-crazed 2000s. And what about large wheels on a '69-'70 Mustang SportsRoof? This third generation Mustang body lends itself to big wheels and brute ideas.
We tend to ignore the water pump as long as it isn't leaking or making noise. But the water pump is the hardest working part in your Ford's cooling system. This means your high-performance engine needs a high-flow water pump for adequate coolant circulation. Aftermarket companies, such as Weiand and Edelbrock, offer high-flow water pumps for small-block and big-block Ford V-8s. When you are buying a radiator, remember to shop for a high-flow water pump and the appropriate thermostat.
Overheating has been the lament of vintage Ford enthusiasts since these old Fords were new. Classic Mustangs, Falcons, and Fairlanes suffer from limited air-flow through the radiator support. Mix in one of those factory two-row core radiators with crusty tubes, and you have a formula for frustration and engine damage.
Vintage Fords with high-performance engines need high-capacity radiators that can keep you running cool even in the hot desert sun. Griffin makes some of the best aftermarket radiators in the industry, trusted by avid racers all over the world. Aluminum radiators weigh less and offer greater cooling capacity. The nice thing about these radiators is the weight they save you, and the heat they transfer.
Install a Hotter Cam
Camshaft swaps are as old as the four-cycle engine itself. Changing the camshaft changes the engine's personality. With a more aggressive camshaft profile, the engine's power output is increased significantly depending on the grind. If you're going to perform a camshaft swap, save your pop bottles and change to something even better--a roller valvetrain upgrade from Crane Cams.
Flat tappet camshafts did the job of making power for years. However, when we discovered the benefits of roller tappet camshaft technology in the '80s, all of that changed in the world of hot-rodding. We have learned how roller camshafts allow us to run a more aggressive profile without drawbacks. Roller cams also afford us a more civilized idle (with street cams), allowing the engine to come on strong when the throttle is opened. Roller camshaft technology also reduces internal friction considerably because the lobe and the lifter work together smoothly, with virtually no friction at the lobe.
While you are considering a roller camshaft, remember the area beneath the valve cover. Opt for roller-tip rocker arms, which wear better and operate with less friction. There are budget stamped-steel roller rocker arms from Comp Cams for those of you on tight budgets. If you are running a really aggressive camshaft, step up to forged aluminum rocker arms. Remember, it's important to buy matched valvetrain components designed to work together by the camshaft manufacturer. When you are considering a Crane camshaft, make sure the entire valvetrain is Crane for best results.
Seems like we've been looking at the same old method of coolant transport since mass production of automobiles began a century ago--the humble radiator hose. However, how we channel coolant inside our vintage Fords is changing thanks to Cool Flex, known as the perfect radiator hose. It flexes in just about any direction. It never wears out, and it looks sharp. Cool Flex also makes heater hoses for vintage Fords in 5/8- and 3/4-inch sizes.
Serpentine Belt Drive
It's no mystery that Ford has been using serpentine beltdrive systems since 1979. At first, serpentine beltdrive was hit and miss, available only on certain makes and models. Today, serpentine beltdrive is the norm. Serpentine beltdrive technology is solid and reliable. The belts last 75,000 miles, and they keep accessories turning no matter what the conditions. March Performance has a variety of serpentine beltdrive systems available for Ford V-8s.
Cheap, Effective Security
This groovy security device is cheaper than an alarm system, won't wake your neighbors at 3 a.m., and it can't be cut out of your steering wheel like steering wheel security locks can. It's called the T-Lock--a simple, easy-to-use, locking automatic transmission t-handle for vintage Fords with floor-shifted slush boxes. The T-Lock installs just like the stock shifter handle. Once it is installed, it secures with a special fastener. When locked, the t-lock prevents the shifter from being moved out of Park, making your ride a challenge to steal.
Got A Line On It
When you're eager to build a really hot restomod, nothing seems more uncool than the unexciting stuff you can't see or the unexciting stuff you see only occasionally, like brake lines and hoses. Few of us have ever heard anyone get excited over a brake line or hose . . . until it ruptures.
Going fast is certainly important, but getting stopped is even more important. That's why you need to inspect every square inch of your Ford's braking system, beginning with lines and hoses. If they are bad, look to Classic Tube for answers you can bolt onto your Ford in a matter of hours. Classic Tube manufactures all kinds of brake lines and hoses for classic Fords and Mercurys, including braided hoses. And if they don't have it on the shelf, they can make new lines based on the originals you send them.
Fast Super Fix
We have been watching the automotive aftermarket for a long time, and we've seen a lot of innovative ideas that have improved the quality of our automotive lives. However, none has had a more positive effect on reliability and performance than the Ignitor from Pertronix.
When you buy a vintage Ford and aren't interested in spending a lot of money initially, but you want it to run better, the Ignitor will get you there in 30 minutes. Simply pop the distributor cap off your Autolite or Motorcraft point-triggered distributor, remove the points and condenser, install the Ignitor or Ignitor II, set the air gap (you do this only once), reinstall the cap, set the ignition timing, and forget it. The most you will ever have to do again is change the rotor, cap, and wires when they wear out. The Ignitor will likely never have to be serviced or replaced.
Put On a Happy Face
Thanks to the graphics technology we enjoy today, manufacturers have been able to bring us new ways to look at old things. Take classic Mustang instrument panels, for example. We have experienced a virtual renaissance when it comes to them. There's JME Enterprises with its billet custom aftermarket instrument panels for '65-'70 Mustangs. The same can be said for Haneline Products with its more affordable custom instrument panels.
But what if you can't afford these replacement custom instrument panels? What can you do to spice up the factory instrument panel? Here are some ideas that won't cost you much. Scott Drake Enterprises has these groovy white-face instrument panel appliques for '65-'73 Mustangs that can be installed in an afternoon and are guaranteed to change the demeanor of your Mustang's inner world.
This is one of the oldest hot-rodding tricks in the world, but it yields snappy, bolt-on power you can enjoy in a matter of hours. Take the factory carburetor and intake manifold, place them on a shelf wrapped in plastic, and visit the Internet for terrific aftermarket induction systems that will get your Ford hopping in short order.
When you upgrade to an Edelbrock Performer RPM or a Weiand Stealth manifold, you are improving the way your vintage Ford V-8 breathes. What makes these manifolds better than stock cast-iron is obvious . . . even if you have a four-barrel carburetor under the air cleaner. A cast-aluminum, high-rise intake manifold gets rid of unnecessary heat and weight. It also gets you larger ports and an improved plenum. What makes today's aftermarket intake manifolds clearly better than even those old Cobra high-rises is the way the runners are designed. Those long runners have higher ceilings for a greater torque curve that keeps your Ford V-8 pulling like stink across the rpm ranges. Those older high-rises were more for high rpm and with less low-end torque going on.
The Holley Street Dominator dual-plane intake manifold is virtually identical to a stock dual-plane four-barrel carburetor manifold. This is affordable four-barrel induction that will serve the daily driver well. Because this is a dual-plane manifold with long runners, it makes good low-end torque. Bolt a Holley 1850 600-cfm four-holer on top for a noticeable improvement in performance.
This is the Weiand 7282 dual-plane intake manifold for FE-series Ford big-blocks like the 352, 360, and 390. It is not recommended for the 406, 410, and 428ci engines due to port sizing. This manifold will shave a lot of weight off the front end of your FE-powered Ford. Opt for a 650-cfm Holley 4160 on top. Don't forget a 1-inch carb spacer for improved torque and less heat at the fuel bowls.
Here's the Weiand X-celerator single-plane intake manifold. it isn't recommended for street use because it doesn't provide good low-end torque, but if you are going racing and need torque at high revs, a single-plane manifold is for you.
This is the Weiand 8011 high-rise, dual-plane manifold, similar to the classic Cobra high-rise manifold, which is based on the Edelbrock F4B high-rise manifold from the '60s and '70s. The F4B was a great manifold because it offered a nice torque curve that gave us grunt at all rpm ranges.
Here's the Weiand Stealth dual-plane intake manifold. Its runners are taller with smooth bends, which yields a terrific torque curve from idle to high rpms. Think of this manifold as a technological leap for dual-plane carbureted manifolds. The Edelbrock Performer RPM is in the same league.
The Holley 1850 classic street performance carburetor inhales 600 cfm with the butterflies pinned. This is a good, easy-to-service, street-performance carburetor designed for small-block Fords.
Here's the center-pivot fuel bowl Holley 4160 carburetor, which is more appropriate for combination street and strip activities. Most common sizes are 650 cfm and 750 cfm for small- and big-block Fords. Rule of thumb: do not over carburete.
Headers - Long or Short?
Bench racers love to debate header issues. Long or short-tube? Large-tube or small-tube? Equal length or random length? Chrome, painted, or ceramic coated? What kind of header should you choose and why? The type of header you choose should be based on how you intend to use the vehicle.
Unless you intend to go racing where split-hair seconds and quarter-mile slips count, it really doesn't matter what kind of header you choose. Choosing the right header is based largely on what you are comfortable with. Short-tube, or "shorty," headers are little more than tubular exhaust manifolds that are more user friendly than long-tube headers. But shorty headers don't make one bit of difference when it comes to actual power output based on dyno testing. In fact, if you test a stock exhaust manifold and a shorty header head-to-head, the real difference cannot be measured. They come outthe same. Choose shorty headers because you like the way they look, not because you expect gains in power.
If you're going with long-tube headers, choose them based on quality, proper fit, and ease of installation. If you want longevity from your headers, opt for ceramic-coated headers that radiate minimal amounts of heat and cool quickly after engine shutdown. You also want headers that will clear the spark plugs nicely and tie-in easily with the exhaust system underneath.
Tube sizing depends on what you want the engine to do. If you are running a high-displacement stroker, you're going to want to run larger tube sizes for good exhaust scavenging. If your engine's displacement is more conservative, such as a 289 or 302, you can go modest on the kind of tubing size, like we see with Shelby Tri-Y headers.
What About Fuel Injection?
Holley's Pro-Jection electronic fuel injection is a throttle body system you can bolt right onto your Ford V-8's carburetor intake manifold. Holley provides everything you need to get into fuel injection in a weekend. The nice thing about the Holley system is how well it hides underneath the air cleaner. You can hide the rest under the dashboard or in the fenderwell.
If you own a six-cylinder Ford and find yourself wishing you had a V-8, do not despair because Jack Clifford Performance has solutions for in-line performance. Did you know you can warm up the little Ford six (170, 200, 250 ci) with multi-carburetion induction systems, dual-exhaust headers, hotter cams, and more? Clifford has been the brain trust behind in-line six-cylinder performance since the '60s. The answer to six-cylinder performance woes isn't always a V-8.
Let's Have Quiet
Newer cars are much quieter than their antique counterparts; much of that can be credited to improved aerodynamics. However, the rest of it can be attributed to better sound-deadening. Gut your Ford's interior and lay down Dynamat where the paint meets the steel. Then, lay down plenty of insulation that both quiets your inner world and keeps unpleasant temperatures out.
MSD Means Durability
We promote MSD Ignition a lot in this magazine because we believe in their products. Look under the hoods of race vehicles anywhere, and you will see the MSD name because racers cannot afford the humiliation of a breakdown, especially when they are on the home stretch to the winner's circle. you need reliability when you go cruising or to the mountains for the weekend. In any circle, having a reliable ignition system is everything.
Whether you are building a new engine or are adding personal touches to your vintage Ford, the installation of an MSD ignition system will net noticeable improvements in performance and reliability right from the start. Park that old Autolite or Motorcraft distributor on the shelf and drop an MSD in the hole.
For as long as there have been Ford hot rods, there has been speculation over what type of radiator cooling fan to use. These days, you have a lot to choose from. Flex-A-Lite flex-fans flatten out and take less power to turn at high revs. They are quiet, moving large quantities of air with less noise.
There are also electric cooling fans that consume virtually no engine power and do a pretty good job of cooling, depending on the fan you choose. Always err on the side of overkill and opt for a greater capacity than you think you will need. Electric fans require a subelectrical system consisting of a fuse or circuit breaker and a relay for proper operation. They should operate only when the ignition is turned on.
The most efficient engine-driven radiator-cooling fan isn't a flex-fan or one of those six-bladed steel jobs--it's the thermostatic clutch fan that engages only when needed. The clutch fan uses the least amount of engine power because it comes online only when it is needed.
If you are looking for quick, bolt-on power, nothing quite does it like nitrous oxide injection. Nitrous-oxide gas works hand-in-hand with the air/fuel mixture in your engine's combustion chamber to make from 50 to 150 instant horsepower. Although this is a terrific idea (used as far back as World War II in fighter planes to help make more power), it doesn't come without a price. When you use nitrous, you are changing the way fuel ignites in your engine's combustion chambers. Too much nitrous and not enough fuel can and will cost you an engine due to extremes of chamber heat. This is where you have to temper your ego and watch how much nitrous you inject into your engine's combustion chambers. To get there safely, you have to determine proper carburetor jetting, fuel pressure and volume, spark timing, and more.
The Smoothest Path
One of the most common engine compartment shortcomings is the sloppy routing of ignition wires. Poorly routed ignition wires can cause crossfire and misfire, contributing to poor performance. Not only that, they look awful.
Made For You has quick answers for ignition wiring woes. Check out this Engine Wire Loom kit being installed by Mark Jeffrey of Trans Am Racing on Carroll Shelby's 427W stroker. These Made For You kits, as their name implies, make the task of ignition wire routing easy. What's more, they look terrific.
Sequential Turn Signals
Scott Drake Reproductions introduced sequential turn signals for '65-'73 Mustangs last year, and they have caught on like wildfire. This is an affordable, easy-to-install restomod item that can change the personality of your classic Mustang for the better. When you signal, it catches the people behind you by surprise. See Virginia Classic Mustang for this and other great restomod ideas from Scott Drake Reproductions.