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.

Assembly
It's a big day when the paint job is finally finished, and you can begin car building. The third step in our restomod recipe is general vehicle assembly. In this step, glass is installed, electrical wiring goes in, mechanicals go on, trim gets snapped into place, and interior parts go in. At this juncture, work becomes exacting because it's so easy to scratch and nick a new paint job.

Some car builders think it is acceptable to nick and scratch paint during vehicle assembly. that's nonsense. Go to great pains to protect your paint. Cover vulnerable surfaces. Mask edges with blue masking tape (for easy removal) to protect them from nicks and chips. Bury the body in blankets if you have to. If you store your car outside under a car cover, remember that car covers will chaff the paint in the wind. Cover the body with blankets and soft terrycloth towels, especially at the edges, to protect the paint.

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Engine and Driveline
The fourth step is where powertrain building and installation occurs. This includes the engine, transmission, and rear axle. You may return all components to stock condition or install enhancements as interest and money allow. Scour the swap meets and car shows for bargains. Used high-performance parts are a good alternative to new in-the-box hardware. watch out for overpriced used parts that aren't any cheaper than new.

When you are planning and building the engine, build for reality. Build your engine for planned driving conditions. If you're going to drive it daily, go easy on the valvetrain. Don't opt for a radical camshaft that will beat the daylights out of your valvesprings, guides, and valves. A lumpy idle is cool for a cruise night or at the racetrack. however, you will hate it during the morning commute. By the same token, carb for planned driving conditions. You don't need an 850-cfm Holley double-pumper for a mild-mannered 302. Build for reliable transportation in your daily driver. Install an electronic ignition. Think about a mild hydraulic roller camshaft. Install a dual-plane intake manifold for good low-end torque. Spend the extra money for ceramic-coated headers for a cooler, corrosion-resistant operation. Go with the best gaskets and seals money can buy. Tune not only for performance, but also for cleaner emissions and fuel efficiency. If you can install electronic fuel-injection, do it.

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This is also an opportune time to consider transmission options. If your car is equipped with an older two- or three-speed automatic transmission, consider installing an automatic overdrive, which is a Ford four-speed automatic with overdrive, first introduced in 1980. Three- and four-speed manual transmissions are easily substituted with a Tremec T-5 five-speed gearbox for those of you who like to pound gears. The fifth-gear overdrive feature is nice to have because it reduces engine revs at freeway speeds, making it the best of all worlds. Six-speed transmissions sound exotic, but execution is simple: two overdrive ranges instead of one. The downside to a six-speed is the space they consume in the transmission tunnel. Sometimes, it can be a tight fit.

Step four also includes the rear axle, which is easy to overlook because it's just not as exciting as the rest of the car. If you've gone with a larger engine or a big power adder, that 8-inch peg-leg differential probably won't survive the additional power. If you're converting a six-cylinder Ford to V-8 status, the integral carrier rear axle designed for the six will never stand up to the torque of a V-8. At the very least, you will need the removable carrier

8-inch axle. Ideally, there will be budget for a 9-inch heavy-duty Ford axle. Sources range from a lucky salvage-yard find to a brand-new piece from Currie Enterprises.

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Suspension and Brakes
The fifth step involves safety elements crucial to any car project. New suspension components should top the list here. A new steering gear and replacement steering linkage are strongly recommended at this time. Rebuilt steering gears are available from a wide variety of sources. Because parts to rebuild old Ford steering gears are hard to come by, you are money ahead just buying a rebuild unit ready to install. Flaming River has new Ford steering gears for a variety of applications.

You may wish to use an aftermarket rack-and-pinion steering system on your project, but rack-and-pinion does not come cheap. It isn't always easy to install either, depending on your application. Rack-and-pinion steering improves control and eases driving effort, making a huge difference in how vintage Fords feel on the open road. If you can afford it, do it.

If you're like most of us with a modest budget, your objective needs to be safety you can afford. New and rebuilt steering gears have already been addressed. However, there's more to steering than just a worm and sector. Tie-rod ends, the center link, Pitman arm, and idler arm all require your close attention. Control arms and upper-and-lower ball joints also represent safety issues. Coil springs don't always need to be replaced, but it's a good idea if you have the budget.

In back, leaf springs, bushings, and shackles nearly always need to be replaced in the interest of proper ride height, handling, and ride comfort. While you are at it, opt for new shock absorbers. A good rule of thumb: regular gas shocks and stiff springs for a nice combination of ride quality and handling. If you want killer handling and don't mind a firmer ride, opt for KYB gas shocks or Koni adjustable racing shocks.

Brakes are an area we cannot stress enough. You can have all the power in the world, but if you cannot control the power, it becomes dangerous and ineffective. Minimum, you should have front disc brakes and a dual-braking system. For street drivers, stock front disc brakes are plenty. Weekend racers may need larger aftermarket disc brakes. Rear disc brakes are necessary only if you love the way they look through the wheel spokes, or if you're going to do some serious racing.

What's Inside
The sixth step encompasses the inner world, beginning with repainting any interior surfaces that were originally painted. Next, upholstery and new carpeting with padding underneath make a huge difference in ride quality. Whenever you are replacing weatherstripping or rebuilding door hinges, take an accounting of what's inside the door. Does it work properly? Replace or rebuild window regulators. Clean and lubricate lock mechanisms. Check and adjust window travel. Get your restomod feeling good for not only yourself, but for anyone taking a ride with you.

Opt for the best upholstery quality. You want something that's going to last. Cheap upholstery does not last. Rebuild the instrument panel, installing new bulbs, and cleaning and lubricating the speedometer head. Make sure the speedometer cable turns freely. All gauges must work. Each of the gauge needles needs to be an easy-to-read color.

The transmission shifter/selector, glove-box latches, ash trays, courtesy lights, and the turn-signal switch need to be in proper working order. Not only should they look good, they need to function properly.

There is no real magic in building a cool restomod. What it takes is looking at what the most talented people are doing, taking your time, and not being afraid to try it again. Restomod isn't just about building an exciting automobile; it's about following the journey that gets you to the place you've dreamed of.

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