Hoofbeats August 2013 Donald
Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
January 6, 2014

Is "budget restoration" an oxymoron? Can you restore a vintage Mustang on a "budget"?

As my wife has reminded me so many times over the years, a vintage Mustang restoration, even if it's just a new part, is a "want," not a "need," so the meaning of "budget" can change depending upon disposable income. While one owner may be struggling to find the funds to replace his six-cylinder's slipping fan belt, another owner down the street may be negotiating to trim a couple of grand off the $100,000 estimate for the total restoration of a Shelby. "Budget" is a relative term when it comes to Mustang restorations.

In the early days of the Mustang hobby, essentially the mid '70s to early '80s, a "restoration" was really more like a "fix-up." We repaired a previous owner's damage, rebuilt and repainted the engine, and replaced worn out suspension parts. While the engine was out for the rebuild, we pressure washed the engine compartment and resprayed it with rattle-can black from the nearest auto parts store. No one cared that it was gloss black, not satin. Shiny new hose clamps sure looked better than those crusty originals; never mind that we threw away the clamps with the correct stampings and codes! I even remember buffing my Boss 302's original valve covers to a glossy shine!

Today's Mustang restorations are much more complete and elaborate. There are two major expenses—replacement parts and labor. Thanks to the Mustang's popularity and the sheer number of cars available for restorations, vintage Mustang owners are lucky when it comes to common replacement parts. Flipping through a current parts catalog, I see reproduction bumpers for around $100, ball joints for $13, and full-length floorpans for just over $50. In most cases, those parts fit everything from a basic six-cylinder hardtop to a Shelby. However, prices tend to spiral when you're searching for those rare high-performance parts. For that reason, "budget" and "Boss 429 restoration" don't work well in the same sentence.

Those '70 Boss 302 valve covers that I ruined by buffing out the factory aluminum finish? Today, a pair of good originals can sell for upwards of $1,000.

Replacement parts contribute much to the cost of a restoration, but shop labor can push the tally into the stratosphere. With restoration shops often charging $50 or more per hour, it doesn't take long to rack up a big bill, especially for often-needed sheetmetal replacement to repair rust or accident damage. If you can do the work yourself, you can substantially reduce the cash out-lay. Unfortunately for people like me, there's a certain amount of skill, talent, and mechanical aptitude required, not to mention the equipment and space needed for welding and paint. Restorations are certainly way better than they were in the '70s, but I haven't progressed beyond "fix-up" mode.

Which brings us back to the original question: Can you restore a Mustang on a budget?

Relatively speaking, it depends on your budget.