Jim Smart
August 1, 2003

Proper vintage-Mustang engine color seems to be a matter of opinion. But there is only one right answer for each situation. Too many of us are getting our engine colors wrong during otherwise outstanding restorations. Engine color is a lot more important than most know-and when it's wrong, it's apparent to those who understand what proper engine color is, most importantly show judges, who decide whether or not you drive home with a trophy.

Seasoned show judges and restorers know the proper shade of Ford Blue for a given model year. How many of you have seen the '64 1/2 Mustang's 260-2V V-8 in dark Ford Corporate Blue? And how many of you have seen a '69 302 in the light blue common to the earlier 260 V-8? Few things are more out of character than a '70-'73 351 Cleveland in '64 1/2 light blue. It just doesn't work because our Ford engines need to be painted the right color for the model year.

We're going to show you the correct engine colors for '65-'73 Mustangs. Plus, we're going to show you how to achieve a perfect paint finish when it's time to lay down the proper color. When you're finished, you can feel good about a job well done.

1964 1/2

Confusion abounds from the start with Mustang engine color because the first model year-1965-was more involved than the rest. Think of the '65 model year as two model years in one-1964 1/2 and 1965. We call '65 Mustangs from the first five months of production '64 1/2 Mustangs. These were the Mustangs fitted with a generator charging system and a choice of four engines-170ci six, 260-2V V-8, 289-4V Regular Fuel V-8, and the 289 High Performance. Each of these engines had black blocks, cylinder heads, and oil pans. Most of these engines had natural metal color hardware (nuts, bolts, and screws). Valve covers and air cleaners (except 289 High Performance) were specific colors that helped identify engines at a glance.

The 101-horse 170ci six had a bright red valve cover and air cleaner. The optional base V-8, the 260-2V with 164 hp, had a Light Ford Blue air cleaner and valve covers. The 210hp 289-4V was a low-compression small-block with a gold air cleaner and valve covers. Like the 170ci six and the 260ci V-8, the 289-4V had a black block, oil pan, timing cover, water pump, and cylinder heads. The 289 High Performance with 271 hp sported a black block, oil pan, timing cover, water pump, and cylinder heads, with the chrome dress-up kit that included valve covers and an open-element air cleaner.

One important issue to consider with air-cleaner color is the intake snorkel. Instead of being blue or gold, the snorkel is gloss black for 1965.

’64 1/2 Mustang Engine Color Quick Reference
Engine/Part Color Brand
170ci valve cover Red Duplicolor 1605
170ci air cleaner Red Duplicolor 1605
170ci block, head, oil pan Black Duplicolor 1635
(semigloss black)
Duplicolor 1613
(gloss black)
260ci valve covers Light
Ford
Blue
Duplicolor 1606
260ci air cleaner Light
Ford
Blue
Duplicolor 1606
260ci block, heads,
intake manifold,
oil pan
Black Duplicolor 1635
(semigloss Black)
Duplicolor 1613
(gloss black)
289ci valve covers Gold Duplicolor 1604
289ci air cleaner Gold Duplicolor 1604
289ci block, heads,
intake manifold,
oil pan
Black Duplicolor 1635
(semigloss)
Duplicolor 1613
(gloss black)
289 High Performance valve covers Chrome N/A
289 High Performance air cleaner Chrome Open Element N/A
289 High Performance block,
heads, intake
manifold, oil pan
Black Duplicolor 1635
(semigloss black)
Duplicolor 1613
(gloss black)

1965

Beginning in August 1964, the Mustang's engine lineup changed. Gone was the generator charging system; in its place was an improved alternator system. Standard power was the 200ci six with seven main bearings. Like the previous 170ci six with four main bearings, the 200ci six was fitted with a red valve cover and air cleaner. And like the 170ci six, the 200ci six had a black cylinder head and block castings. Everything below the valve cover was black.

The 289-2V V-8 replaced the 260-2V V-8 engine. Instead of the 260's light blue valve covers and air cleaner, for 1965, the 289-2V had gold valve covers and air cleaner. The 289-4V engine, with higher compression, four-barrel carburetion, and 225 horsepower, also received gold valve covers and air cleaner. If you have trouble remembering this, think of the 289 engine as the gold standard of Mustang power for 1965. The 289 High Performance for 1965 continued unchanged, with the exception of the alternator instead of a generator.

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’65 Mustang Engine Color Quick Reference
Engine/Part Color Brand
200ci valve cover Red Duplicolor 1605
200ci air cleaner Red Duplicolor 1605
200ci block, head, oil pan gloss black Duplicolor 1635 (semigloss black)
Duplicolor 1613 (gloss black)
289ci valve covers Gold Duplicolor 1604
289ci air cleaner Gold Duplicolor 1604
289ci block, heads, intake manifold,oil pan gloss black Duplicolor 1635 (semigloss black)
Duplicolor 1613 (gloss black)
289 High Performance valve covers Chrome N/A
289 High Performance air cleaner ChromeOpen Element N/A
289 High Performance block, heads,
intake manifold, oil pan
gloss black Duplicolor 1635 (semigloss black)
Duplicolor 1613 (gloss black)

1966

For many years prior to 1966, Ford engines were color-keyed to specific applications and carlines. For 1966, this practice changed, when all Ford engines were painted Ford Corporate Blue. Instead of color-keyed valve covers and air cleaners, the entire engine would be Ford Blue, like the Ford Blue Oval and the Ford Blue offset dealer signs popping up in 1966. Ford's message for 1966 and beyond was simple-if it is blue, it is power by Ford.

As in 1964-'65, Ford continued to paint the valve covers separate from the engines. Engine long-blocks, which included block, intake manifold, heads, and oil pan, were all painted Ford Blue, a darker blue that covered all hardware except the valve-cover bolts. Valve covers were installed toward the end of engine assembly using natural metal bolts with integral lock washers. We've learned through observation and conversation with restorers that Duplicolor's Dark Ford Blue (1606) is an accepted color for '66 and later Ford engine restorations. An alternative, when Duplicolor isn't available, is Krylon's Dark Ford Blue, which is also the correct shade of dark blue. Plastikote is another paint brand, Royal Blue (1134) an acceptable color for '66 and later

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1967

The engine lineup for 1967 didn't change much, with the exception of the optional 390ci High Performance big-block from the FE-series family. Ford Blue was again a mainstay for all Ford engines, including the base 200ci six, the base 289-2V small-block V-8, and the 225-horse 289-4V engine with a new carburetor design-the Autolite 4300. The 271-horse 289 High Performance returned for 1967 with mechanical lifters and a more radical camshaft profile than its 2V and 4V sidekicks. However, the biggest news for 1967 was the 325-horse 390, also clad in Ford Blue, with chrome stamped-steel valve covers and a chrome-topped high-performance air cleaner.

1968

Base power for 1968 was again the 200ci six, with either Thermactor or IMCO emissions improvement systems. Although we tend to associate the 289ci V-8 with the beginning of the '68 model year, it was offered and produced for the entire model year. New for 1968 was the stroked 302ci small-block that would ultimately replace the 289. The optional 289 High Performance was dropped after 1967. Contrary to fantasies, there never was a 302 High Performance with a mechanical camshaft and special heads. The most we can dream about there is the 302 Tunnel Port High Performance V-8 Ford produced only for Trans-Am competition that year.

Back was the 390 High Performance with chrome-steel valve covers and air-cleaner lid. The 390 returned virtually unchanged for 1968. The biggest flash for 1968 was the 428 Cobra Jet introduced mid-year on April 1, 1968. One engine we rarely hear about is the X code 390-2V V-8 installed in a handful of Mustangs for 1968. What do all of these engines have in common? They're all blue-Ford Blue-from air cleaner to oil pan.

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1969-'70

In case you haven't figured it out, Ford became committed to Ford Corporate Blue after 1965. It was an engine color people could identify with; if it's dark blue, it must be a Ford powerplant.

The 1969 Mustang was redesigned from bumper to bumper, with twin-set headlamps and a mouthy grille. With that came a greater lineup of engines. Base power was, again, the 200ci six, with a taller deck 250ci six and 155 hp, added to the option list.

A bright spot for 1969-'70 was the standard 302ci V-8, 220hp work-horse. Spanking new for 1969 was the raised-deck small-block displacing 351ci. It was a wider small-block, with the 302's 4-inch bores but a longer 3.50-inch stroke. With optional four-barrel carburetion, the 351 made 290 hp. Back for 1969 were the 390 High Performance and 428 Cobra Jet V-8s-both producing more than 320 hp.

For 1969-'70, two high-performance V-8s debuted that would change the world of Ford performance forever-the Boss 302 with 290 hp, and the hemi-head Boss 429 with 375 hp on tap. Both were short-lived and available only in limited quantities before it all came to an end in late-'70.

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Whether your '69 engine is a Boss 429 or a short-stroke six, it has to be Ford Corporate Blue in color.

For 1970, a new 351 thundered onto the scene with plenty of torque and the largest ports ever from a Ford powerplant. The 351ci V-8 introduced for 1970 was a completely different small-block from the '69 351ci. Place the two engines side by side and you can see the differences. The '69 351 looks like a 302 on steroids. It's wider, yet sports the same valve covers and valvetrain. The newer 351 has wider cylinder heads with poly-angle valves and wedge chambers. It's clearly a different engine.

Because Ford introduced two different 351 engines just one year apart, things were a tad confusing. To identify them, Ford gave each an identifying name. The '69 351 would become known as the 351 Windsor, named for its foundry and plant in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. By the same token, the 351ci V-8 engine introduced for 1970 would become known as the 351 Cleveland, named for its foundry and plant in northeastern Ohio.

What do the 351 Windsor and 351 Cleveland have in common with the 200ci and 250ci sixes, 302ci small-block, 390 High Performance, 428 Cobra Jet, Boss 302, and Boss 429? Yep, they were all painted Ford Corporate Blue.

1971-'73

We are grouping these model years together because they have a lot in common. When the Mustang grew in size for 1971, it needed greater amounts of power. Standard power was the 250ci six, as the the smaller 200ci six was deleted from the lineup. Base V-8 power remained the same-a 302ci with two-barrel carburetion. From 1971-'73, you could expect to find a 351 Cleveland two-barrel underhood, although there is evidence that 351 Windsor 2-Vs were installed in some cars. If you had to have four-barrel power, Ford sent you a 351 Cleveland with Autolite 4300 carburetion for 1971, followed by Motorcraft 4300 atomization in 1972-'73. In 1971, when Ford fitted the 351 Cleveland with a mechanical high-performance camshaft and 4300D Autolite carburetion, it became the Boss 351 with 330 hp.

The last year for a big-block Mustang was 1971, the year of the 385-series fat-block 429 Cobra Jet. With a mechanical camshaft and Holley carburetion, it became the 429 Super Cobra Jet. Both were fitted with cast-aluminum valve covers.

As you might have guessed by now, all these '71 Ford engines have one thing in common: They're all supposed to be the darker Ford Corporate Blue.

For 1972, Ford dropped most of its heavyweight powerplants. The Boss 351 disappeared, replaced for a short time by the 351 High Output with lower compression. In 1973, the era of mighty Mustangs drew to a close, with snappy 351 Cleveland power remaining a valuable option. The Ford engine color that year was again Ford Corporate Blue, with all engine hardware, including valve-cover bolts, in the blue hue.

Blue Be Gone

The traditional Dark Ford Blue engine color was discontinued after 1981. Beginning in 1982, all Ford V-8 engines were painted a battleship gray color, known at Duplicolor as Ford Gray (1611). Later, Ford stopped painting engines entirely, leaving them in bare iron, except valve covers, which were either semigloss black or cast aluminum.

How To Paint Your Engine

Few restoration tasks are more challenging than painting an engine, especially if you intend to leave the engine installed. To do your best engine painting, you must be patient, and you must be prepared. All vulnerable areas, like the ignition system, carburetor, and the like, should be either removed or masked to protect them from the cleaning process. You don't want water inside the engine either. Completely degrease and clean the engine before removing valve covers and the like.

All engine surfaces to be painted must be clean and void of grease and dirt. This involves an engine spray-can degreaser, like Gunk, to do the initial cleaning, followed by a scrub-brush cleaning with dishwasher detergent and water. Dishwasher detergent is a great grease cutter. Use a toothbrush to get into those nitty-gritty locations. Mask areas you don't want painted, such as engine mounts, distributor, brackets, and other bolt-on engine hardware. Accessories like the alternator, power-steering pump, and air-conditioning compressor should be unbolted from the engine and masked for protection. Disconnect the battery before getting started.

We're going to show you how to clean, prep, and paint visible engine parts with the help of Dave Toth of John's Mustangs and Classics in San Diego. These folks have a number of outstanding restorations to their credit. Dave is going to show us how to get it right.

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