25 Ford Mustang Restoration Tips
Cool solutions for your greatest resto challenges
We’ve been restoring older Mustangs for the better part of 35 years now and it seems we can’t get enough of it. We’re always looking for fresh ideas and easier ways to accomplish what we’ve been doing for close to four decades. At Mustang Monthly, our job is to show you the best possible approach to each phase of a restoration. We also want to show you the stealthy improvements no one sees that will improve your classic Mustang driving experience.
1: Clutch Player
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If you don’t want to give up your Mustang’s original clutch feel but would like to avoid the heavy pedal, there is a solution from two sources — Modern Driveline and Barillaro Speed. Modern Driveline can provide a Superior diaphragm-style clutch, which minimizes clutch pedal effort. Toss the old high-effort three-finger clutch and cancel your knee surgery. The Muscle Z-Bar from Barillaro Speed takes your clutch pedal’s linear motion and turns it into quick clutch release action without binding and malfunction. Both are stealthy resto tricks you cannot see once installed.
2: Single (Wire) And Loving It
Here’s a subtle restoration upgrade that will keep your battery happy. What’s more, you can keep the non-functioning factory voltage regulator and harness. Install a single-wire Ford 3G or 4G alternator and get 100-200 amps of charging power capable of keeping up with any accessory. This is the Mr. Amp single wire “3G” alternator from Performance Distributors sporting everything you need for installation.
3: Tank Protection
Whether you’re sticking with your ’65-’69 Mustang’s factory fuel tank or upsizing to a larger ’70 tank (see “How To: Extended Range Fuel Tank” in this issue), don’t forget Tank Armor protection while you’re at it. The Tank Armor not only puts a heavy-duty steel plate between the tank and the passenger compartment, it also reinforces the trunk. Install a rear seat barrier at the same time for the ultimate in safety.
4: Fatten It Up
When you’re reupholstering seats, don’t forget new seat buns and plenty of padding. Have your upholstery shop fatten up your seat foam for additional comfort. If you’ve ever traveled hundreds of miles in a classic Mustang with original bucket seats, you understand how uncomfortable they can be. Stuff as much foam in there as you can without ripping the stitching. Use silicone spray on the foam for easier vinyl installation.
5: Classic Look, Modern Charge
If you’re baffled by a fluctuating ammeter and flickering lights, chances are good you have either a weak ground or a marginal mechanical voltage regulator. Go with a solid state voltage regulator and Autolite/Motorcraft cover from Mustangs Etc. No one will know the difference.
6: Proper Function
Ever seen a classic Mustang hand brake that actually works? Believe it or not, they can work given proper installation and adjustment. But never kid yourself—they will never work as well as a foot brake. Nonetheless, you can get the hand brake to hold on a hill if you have everything set up, lubricated, and in proper working order. Cable function must be fluid smooth through the guides and roller. Adjustment should yield plenty of cable tension just shy of shoes touching the drums.
7: Electable Electrics
Switches don’t just “go bad,” they stop making proper contact due to corrosion and pitting. Headlight switches fail when headlights cycle off and on due to corroded and dirty circuit breaker contacts causing resistance and high heat. You can carefully disassemble and clean these contacts or simply replace the switch. Mustangs Etc. has an inventory of remanufactured Ford switches of all types for classic Mustangs.
8: The Right Stuff
Few things drive us crazier than restorations screwed together with cheesy hardware store pieces that cheapen a restoration and make the restorer look clueless. Use factory style hardware, available from an AMK Products dealer or high-end hardware supplier. Never choose hardware on the cheap.
9: Don’t Be Shoddy
On a par with hardware issues just mentioned are pesky details like cotter pins and similar security fasteners. We saw this in a shop and could not resist taking a picture. Not only is it unsightly, but it is also unsafe and at risk of injuring an unsuspecting technician’s arm. Snip your cotter pins properly and be neat about it.
10: Improve Hinge Durability
We’ve seen a lot of concours restorations that were flawless until you opened the door, which was when the fantasy ended. If your Mustang doors require a lot of effort to close, it’s more than just bad adjustment or stubborn new weatherstripping. It can also be worn hinge pins and bushings. Worn hinge pins and bushings cause misalignment and door sag. The most ideal scenario is to have hinge pins and bushings made and machined to size by a good machinist. However, if you’re like most of us, your only choice from an economic standpoint is reproduction hinge pins and bushings from Mustangs Plus. It isn’t so much what kind of bushings and pins you choose, but how they’re assembled, that counts. When you rebuild hinges, secure the bushings to the hinge with a good industrial adhesive to keep them secure. Pack bushings and pins with an all-temperature chassis lube during assembly. Make sure door hinge checks rotate smoothly and replace as necessary.
11: Safer Belts
If you’re going to drive your classic Mustang daily and aren’t concerned with originality, we suggest you opt for three-point shoulder/lap belts in the interest of improved safety. RetroBelt is among several sources where you can purchase three-point safety belts for classic Mustangs. Some of these seat belt kits require minor modification where others require none. Shop the web and see which system is right for you. There are even three-point belt packages for rear seat use.
12: Longevity Can Be Automatic
A restoration should render your Mustang mechanically sound and ready to go anywhere. Although automatic transmissions are a mystery for most of us, function is quite simple, making it easy to build a rugged and dependable automatic. The C4, C6, and FMX transmissions, as three examples, are fiercely reliable automatic transmissions. The same can be said for the Automatic Overdrive (AOD) first available in the early 1980s. When you rebuild an automatic, go with the best parts available. Never try to save a few bucks building an automatic. Use the best frictions and seals. Replace all bushings and bearings. Choose a good street level shift improvement kit that will give you a firm shift without jarring your teeth. A firm shift means minimal clutch and band slippage, which means greater efficiency and longer transmission life.
13: Embrace The Sun
Replacing a classic Mustang dash pad can be quite a chore, especially if you’ve never done it before. Here’s a way to make it easier. Place the new dash pad in the sun for a half hour to allow it to become more flexible. This will make installation easier. You should do this with seat upholstery as well for the same reason. Obviously you will need more sun time in the winter.
14: Braid Raid
If you’re planning to drive your Mustang, electrical tape isn’t going to protect your wiring as well as some form of conduit. Plastic wire conduit doesn’t last or protect as well as some of the new wire braid kits available now. Painless Performance’s new PowerBraid wire protection does a fabulous job of preventing chaffing and deterioration. It also improves your Mustang’s electrical system appearance with a race-ready demeanor. PowerBraid is easy to install even on an existing wiring harness because it opens and wraps around the harness. It is available in a variety of sizes.
15: Strip Tease
Ever wonder why your Mustang’s glue-on weatherstripping falls off? Although weatherstripping is new, it isn’t ready for installation right out of the package. It must first be washed with soap and water, then dried completely before you apply adhesive. The adhesive must then be allowed to tack off (become sticky) on both surfaces before the weatherstrip is installed. It is best to gently close the door or deck lid and allow the adhesive to cure.
16: Double Protection
Few things are more frightening than an unexpected runaway Mustang at wide-open throttle. Ford originally equipped Mustangs with a single throttle return spring until ’69, when a spring-loaded throttle cable replaced the old-fashioned linkage. Throttle spring failure can cause your engine’s throttle to go wide-open without notice. This is why you should install two throttle springs at the wrap-up of a restoration. Summit Racing Equipment, to name one source, has dual throttle spring packages you can install at the carburetor as shown or at the linkage in back. Do this and feel safer.
17: Fan Shroud
When engines run hot, it is a natural knee-jerk response to assume the worst. However, overheating issues range from freeze plugs left in the water jackets during a rebuild to radiator size issues. Though a lot of Mustang applications don’t have a fan shroud, there are many which should have one. Air flow, in particular velocity through the radiator, is important to cooling. A fan shroud with the fan half way into the shroud will improve cooling. A standard “X” four-blade fan doesn’t call for a fan shroud. However, if you have a flex fan or thermostatic fan clutch, you must have a shroud.
18: Use Fuelie Hose
There was once a day when you could get away with using good old-fashioned fuel line hose in a restoration, but you can’t and shouldn’t anymore. Because today’s oxygenated fuels have harsh additives that contribute to cleaner air and octane enhancement, they tend to be hard on conventional fuel hose. It is suggested you use high-pressure fuel injection hose, especially if you’re going to drive your restoration. It can withstand low digit fuel pressure and will stand up to additives common in today’s fuels. Where possible, use heavy-duty fuel line clamps, especially underneath at the fuel sending unit.
19: Bring In Reinforcements
Does your restoration include fitment with dual exhausts? If so, you will want to know about these floor pan reinforcements from Classic Tube. They give your Mustang’s floor pan the strength it needs to support dual exhaust system hangers. You can weld them in or use industrial strength adhesive. In either case, you get strength.
20: Support System
One of the Mustang’s weakest links for nearly 50 years has been the brake and clutch pedal support. Plastic bushings and steel shafts just don’t cut the mustard when you have a manual transmission and a conventional three-finger clutch with a ton of spring pressure. This is why Scott Drake Reproductions offers a Clutch Pedal Roller Bearing Support Kit for ’65-’70 Mustangs. This kit takes the slop out of pedal function.
21: Purely Instrumental
While you’re restoring the instrument cluster, replace the instrument voltage regulator (also called the voltage limiter). If this guy sticks, instruments will max out. If it fails completely, instruments (besides ammeter) will stop functioning entirely.
22: Ceramic Coat Exhaust Manifolds
If you’ve discovered that most heat resistant paints don’t work long term, you’re not alone. Not all of them go the distance and eventually burn and flake off. Jet Hot has the solution to your exhaust manifold and header coating challenges. Ask for flat cast-iron ceramic for your manifolds and behold the result. Make sure your exhaust manifolds are not pitted, which will show up in the ceramic coating.
23: Do An Engine Mock-Up
Marvin McAfee of MCE Engines in Los Angeles strongly encourages you to do an engine mock-up—a test fit—before performing a final engine assembly. A mock-up allows you to check fit and clearances before the final stretch. This means installing pistons without rings for ease of mock-up with all moving parts lubricated. If you’re building a stroker, a mock-up becomes mandatory to make sure rod bolts clear cylinder skirts, oil pump and pick-up, and other critical areas. You want at least .060-inch of clearance.
24: Get Sprung
We get all kinds of arguments on this one, but there is but one truth—all lower radiator hoses must have an anti-collapse spring. Though common folklore is these springs were there strictly for factory fast fill, this doesn’t make any sense. The anti-collapse spring inside your Mustang’s lower radiator hose is there to keep the hose from collapsing at high revs. As the water pump whirls faster, it pulls coolant from the radiator faster than the radiator can deliver, causing the lower hose to collapse. This is why some of you experience overheating at highway speeds and cool down when you exit.
25: No Leak Bendix
Pity the poor old Bendix power-assist steering, which was original equipment on classic Mustangs from ’65-’70. The Mustang’s no-respect power steering struggles with leak issues to be sure, but not always from where you think. Leaks are rarely caused by seals, but instead improper line installation. All lines and fitting seats must be perfectly void of nicks and distortion. Even the smallest imperfection will leak. If the flare isn’t square on the seat, it will leak. Closely examine and install every hose carefully.