October 31, 2005

Building that first Ford restomod is a milestone in the life of every blue oval enthusiast. The list of Ford cars that make good restomod projects is a long one. It includes, but isn't limited to, '65-'73 Mustangs, Fairlanes, Torinos, Falcons, Rancheros, and full-size cars like the Galaxie, big Mercs, and, certainly, the Edsel. Just when we think we've seen everything, someone will show us yet another excellent example of a restomod we had not thought of.

Before you start on a vintage Ford restoration and modification project, you will need to closely estimate your budget and abilities so your project doesn't fall on its face halfway to completion. Take stock of your financial assets up front because they will influence how you choose a project car. How much money you have to spend, as well as your individual preferences, will play an important role in your final decision. You'll need space in your garage or in a project shop where the car can sit and be worked on over an extended period of time. Don't be one of the many who get off to a fast start, but underestimate the cost and commitment involved in taking on a restomod project. When the time comes to choose a car, you'll need to have your ducks in a row concerning space, money, and ability.

This '65 Thunderbird hardtop is a striking automobile featuring an outstanding finish and close attention to detail. Before you aspire to own a refined restomod like this T-Bird, you've got to have a good financial plan, facilities, and skills.

Ford made millions of potential restomod project vehicles in many different models, so your choice doesn't have to be a Mustang. Each type of car has its merits and weaknesses. Let's look at some of our favorite restomod project vehicles. There is no ironclad rule to what a good restomod project is. We would suggest avoiding four-door versions of some Fords and Mercs (e.g., Falcons, Fairlanes, and Galaxies) because they just don't appeal to most of us. One exception is some of the four-door station wagons, which can make good restomods. Two-door wagons are especially rare and very popular as restomods. But we know there are some who love four-door incarnations; in that case, the field is wide open to you. Build a restomod grocery-getter that will make you happy and forget everyone else's opinion.

Some folks like to doll up Country Squire wagons or even the late-'50s Edsels. For our discussion, big cars aren't out of the equation because we love Galaxies as much as we do Mustangs and Falcons. Early-'60s Galaxies have a colorful NASCAR racing history that intrigues many enthusiasts. Some of the greatest examples of Ford styling lived through the big Fords and Mercs. And don't rule out Lincoln in your thinking. Old Lincoln "suicides" ('61-'69 four-door convertibles) make excellent restomods. Other good ones are the '69-'71 Mark III and the '72-'74 Mark IV.

For many a Ford fanatic, it has to be a Mustang. You can still get into the game for less than a king's ransom and enjoy a great restomod with '65-'68 Mustang hardtops. Although '69-'73 hardtops are not as popular, we have seen some really sharp restomods from this generation. These humble coupes are cheap and plentiful. Put your own twist on one and be different.

With the popularity of the Mustang, other cars with great restomod potential sometimes get overlooked. Many of Mercury's offerings make great vintage projects, and they'll give you a restomod that's something a little different. People go for Cougars in a big way, and it's easy to understand why. You could get your cat with almost any of the optional engines, including the 390 and, later, the 428 Cobra Jet.

Buying And Building Smart
No matter the vintage Ford you choose, the first area to survey is the body. Bodywork expenses add up faster than any other aspect of a restoration. Given a choice between a car with a perfect body and a blown engine, or a car with a rough body and healthy engine, we'd take the former anytime. A new engine will cost less than straightening or replacing body panels and a paint job. Buy a complete car so that you won't have to spend a lot of time and money chasing missing parts.

Simply put, buy a nice car in the first place and save both time and money later.

Vintage Fords outside the Mustang make great restomod projects. This highly modified '64 Fairlane 500 sports coupe is a good looker and great performer, powered by a Shelby all-aluminum FE 427 big-block.

When your purchase arrives home, you should have an organized plan you can stick to. Organization means doing things in deliberate stages with realistic goals, which for purposes of our discussion we can divide into six steps or categories. The first step is careful disassembly of your car in preparation for paint and bodywork. It's a good idea to take photos of everything before disassembly so you'll know how things go back together. Store each part in a labeled container and group small items like fasteners in labeled plastic bags. When it's time for reassembly, you'll be glad you did a disciplined job of identifying components. Pull the engine, transmission, and rear axle for clean up and service.

Body Beautiful
Once the car is disassembled, the next step--bodywork, paint, and detailing--begins. This is undoubtedly the toughest phase of any car-building project because it consumes the most time. For premium results, you've got to strip the body down to bare metal to see the true extent of any body repairs needed. This is when sheetmetal replacement should be done. This is also the time to check the fit on body panels, such as doors, hood, and trunk. The best time to handle body-panel fitment is when the body is in primer, which prevents skin oil and moisture from causing rust. Use latex gloves whenever you are handling bare steel panels. This prevents surface rust.