Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
April 1, 2005

There are many ways to enjoy a vintage Mustang these days. Some owners prefer to take the restomod route and maintain the vintage appearance while improving comfort and performance with modern components. Others are fanatical about originality; they go to great lengths to obtain new-old-stock parts in the quest for Mustang Club of America recognition. The more adventurous among us drive our older Mustangs every day, while the majority tend to save their prides and joys for weekend cruises and shows.

How you intend to use your Mustang will dictate how you build your Mustang. Circumstances may play a role. Maybe your Mustang is your only car. In that case, you're looking at a daily driver, otherwise it's a long walk to work. Today, most stay home during bad weather and go out to play on nice weekends.

We suspect you already own your Mustang, or perhaps you've got your eye on one to purchase. And we imagine you've already pictured yourself driving into the office parking lot every day or stepping up to the podium to receive your show trophy, so you know which way you're leaning. We've got some ideas and suggestions that can help make your Mustang ownership, whether you're driving daily or strictly showing, a more pleasurable experience.

No matter which way you go with your Mustang, you need to have a solid undercarriage and body. Rust problems won't go away on their own-they only get worse with time. Before you drop in that 5.0 powerplant or pay a couple of grand for a stereo system, replace the rusty sheetmetal or frame components. It will be expensive, but it should be your first priority. Otherwise, you could have a nice little Mustang with doors that pop open every time you pop the clutch, or you could experience wet carpet and feet whenever it rains thanks to a leaking cowl vent.

Daily DriverIt takes a brave person to drive an older Mustang every day, and fewer and fewer Mustang owners are subjecting their cars or themselves to the challenges of maintaining a 35-40-year-old car on an everyday basis. Maintenance alone can be frustrating on top of typical aging problems like leaking window seals, rust, and frayed electrical wiring. While today's new cars have electronic ignition and fuel injection, vintage Mustangs came with ignition points that wear out and carburetors that get dirty and clogged. Unless the Mustang has been subjected to a full and thorough overhaul or restoration, many of the components, such as ball joints and steering gears, are old and worn, possibly making the Mustang not only uncomfortable to drive but also unsafe.

We assume you're a safe and careful driver, especially when you're driving your prized Mustang. But no matter how careful you drive, you can't be certain about the idiots sharing the road with you. Tailgaters, speeders, red-light runners, and SUV drivers who think they own the road are all a threat to your Mustang, and when you drive it every day, you're putting it in harm's way on a daily basis. Not only should you make sure your brakes, steering, and suspension are in good shape for those evasive maneuvers, it's also a smart idea to install three-point safety harnesses and a rear-seat barrier (for early hardtops to prevent injuries from a gas-tank explosion during a rear-end collision) for your own safety.

Driving an older Mustang on a daily basis also makes it more visible and available for theft, so it's a good idea to install an alarm.

Weekend WarriorThe weekend street driver is by far the most common Mustang out there. These cars could be driven every day, but the owners prefer (and are able) to preserve their cars for weekend shows and Saturday night cruises. They aren't concours show vehicles by any definition, so there is plenty of room for modification and personal touches. Check out any local show and you'll see the weekend warrior with performance spark-plug wires (usually yellow), engine dress-up kits, chrome wheels, Shelby-style LeMans stripes, mudflaps, and fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror. No worries, mate, because even if the judge does stop by with his white gloves and clipboard, the owner of a weekend warrior doesn't fret. He had more fun last night bench-racing with his buddies than the concours competitor who spent all evening detailing his Mustang's undercarriage for a judge's scrutiny.

Weekend warriors are similar to daily drivers, and should be prepared like a daily driver because they're driven frequently. They should start reliably and drive safely. But weekend warriors have the luxury of staying in the garage during inclement weather. Wear and tear are less, and paint and interior vinyl stay nicer because the car isn't constantly subjected to the hot sun or damaging environmental matter floating in the air.

Based on our observations, owners of weekend warriors have more fun than owners who torment themselves over originality, detailing, correct paint daubs, and cleanliness, all in the quest of adding trophies to the garage display. Nothing wrong with any of that-to each his own, we say. But while the concours and show Mustangs get most of the glory (including features in this magazine, we admit), the owners who do it their way with weekend drivers are having the most fun.

RestomodThis is a growing segment among vintage Mustang owners. A few are daily drivers, but the vast majority fit into the weekend warrior category. By definition, a Mustang restomod looks like a mostly original car with all of the classic Mustang lines, but it has been improved with modern upgrades like power disc brakes, rack-and-pinion steering, fuel-injection, bigger wheels and tires, overdrive transmission, comfortable seats, and a powerful stereo with a CD changer and larger speakers.

Added performance is always a restomod goal. Most early Mustangs came with small-blocks, and today's owners prefer to stick with a 289, 302, or 351 because they can make good power with the right aftermarket performance equipment. Also, they aren't as heavy as a big-block, which aids handling. Stroker small-blocks are extremely popular because they add displacement without adding size or weight; they're available from a number of engine builders. You can go with either a traditional four-barrel carburetor and aluminum intake manifold, or you can drop in a fuel-injection setup from a late-model 5.0. A popular restomod swap is a complete 5.0 engine from an '87-'95 Mustang.

There's nothing wrong with a big-block, either. A huge 428 Cobra Jet between the shock towers looks impressive, and the available tree-puller torque is a blast on the street. On the downside, changing spark plugs can be a challenge and the added weight over the front wheels only enhances the Mustang's inherent understeering characteristics. If you're thinking about adding headers, don't call us to help.

No restomod is complete with without an overdrive transmission, either an AOD automatic or a five-speed manual. Conversion kits are available from a number of manufacturers. With the overdrive, you can go with deeper rear gears, like 3.50s or even 3.91s, for improved acceleration, yet still maintain a comfortable cruising rpm.

Of course, restomod also means comfort and convenience, and there are a number of ways to add to both. For seats, we've seen everything from late-model Mustang buckets to aftermarket racing-types. If it feels good and fits, put it in. Brand new are the Classic Sport seats from TMI Products for '65-'66 Mustangs. They look like the popular Pony seats and fit the factory bucket-seat frame, but the foam is contoured for comfort and fit. If you prefer to stick with the factory seats, leather upholstery is available as a luxurious upgrade.

RestorodA few years ago, this wasn't even a category in the Mustang world. It's a step beyond restomod, incorporating street-rod influences into the classic looks of older Mustangs. With the emergence of eBay's FastForward Fastback by street-rod builder Troy Trepanier and the fantastic pair of wild creations from the Ring brothers, the Mustang is quickly becoming fodder for this growing automotive trend. In fact, the GT-R roadster from Mike and Jim Ring was one of five finalists for the coveted Street Rod of the Year award from Goodguys.

Building a restorod requires skill and creativity. It isn't something for the rookie or hobby mechanic, unless he has the money to commission a build from someone like Trepanier or the Ring brothers. Like street rods, the goal is to build something different, not a copy of something that's already been done. But the rewards can be great, with possibilities of magazine articles, Best of Show awards, and maybe even a spot on a TV show.

The difference between restomod and restorod is in the sheetmetal. With a restorod, the builder can take more liberties with the shape of the car by opening up the grille, reshaping the instrument panel, cutting out the shock towers for a 4.6 Cobra engine, and adding larger fender flares for bigger wheels and tires.

Concours ShowFor many early Mustang owners, the challenge comes from making an old Mustang look just like it rolled off the showroom floor. Satisfaction is achieved by subjecting the car to expert judges at Mustang Club of America national shows, where every little scratch or incorrect hose clamp deducts points from the Mustang's total score. For some, part of the fun is the chase for correct parts, like N.O.S. shocks, tires, and wheels, all of which are becoming harder to find with every passing day. Then you've got to have the correct finishes for bolts and brackets, date-coded belts and windshield, the right paint daubs for the driveshaft and other components, and just the right amount of overspray on the undercarriage. All that and the money to get them; and more than likely you can't or won't drive the car, which also means you'll need a trailer and an F-250 diesel to pull it with.

But when a concours Mustang is restored just right, it's a thing of beauty and a snapshot of what the car was like when it was brand new.

When it comes to concours shows, the days of polishing the alternator and slapping some flat-black paint on the undercarriage are over. This is serious business, with owners shelling out thousands of dollars for rare N.O.S. parts, and tens of thousands of dollars for a rotisserie restoration from a restorer who specializes in concours Mustangs. High-performance Mustangs, like Shelbys, Bosses, and Cobra Jets, are particularly popular subjects for concours restoration. But their rare parts, including the emissions equipment that original buyers tossed in the trash almost immediately, are among the most expensive restoration parts-if you can find them.

Even if you're lucky enough to find an extremely low-mileage Mustang, you're saddled with the responsibility of preserving the car.

These days, there are two ways to obtain a concours Mustang: buy one already restored (and show-proven) or have one restored. More than likely, you'll enlist the talent of a restoration shop, which can handle everything from farming out the media-blasting and paint to replacing rusty floorpans and bolting everything back together. Or, if your mechanical abilities allow, you can restore the Mustang yourself, farming out only the parts you can't or don't have the equipment to handle. Either way, unless someone gave you the car or you're restoring a rare and desirable model, don't be surprised if the cost of the restoration exceeds the actual value of the Mustang.

But, hey, it's your hobby-better than spending all that money on tee times.

Daily Driver Survival KitPerTronix ignition: No points, no problem. This easy-to-install electronic ignition kit eliminates skipping, hard starting, and no starting caused by worn-out ignition points.

Larger radiator: Nothing's more frustrating more than an overheating Mustang. Larger-than-stock radiators are offered by all Mustang parts vendors. Three-row factory-style radiators are a big improvement, but the aluminum versions are even better.

High-flow fan: Continuing the cooling theme, dump that chump factory four-blade fan and replace it with either a flex-type fan or an electric version. Flex-types with the clutch hub conserve horsepower at higher engine speeds, while electric fans require no horsepower to run at all.

Coolant: Use a quality brand and check the level frequently. Never use just water.

Hoses: Inspect them often, and make sure the lower hose has a spring inside for support. At higher engine speeds, lower hoses can collapse and cut off coolant flow to the radiator.

Heater core: Unless it's relatively new, it's going to blow at some point, so be prepared for leaking coolant on the passenger-side floor. In a pinch, you can cut one of the heater hoses and bypass the heater core by looping the hose from the outlet to the inlet on the water pump.

Brake lights: Check the brake-light switch for proper operation and adjustment. You'd be surprised how many don't operate or engage properly. The last thing you need is an F-150 pickup in your trunk.

Ball-joint grease: Unless you have a boom-box stereo to hide the annoying squeaks, you'll want to keep the ball joints greased. Lubrication also prolongs ball-joint life.

Battery cables: They're cheap, so replace old ones. Otherwise, make sure the connections at the battery terminals are clean. Most no-start problems can be traced to a bad connection between the terminals and the cables.

Battery: If it's over 4 years old, replace it.

Air filter: Change it often, or clean it often if you have one of the cleanable performance versions. An open-element housing, as used on the 289 High-Performance, breathes better and allows you to inspect the condition at a glance.

Tool kit: Be ready for anything, because if it's an old Mustang, anything could happen.

Insurance: Make sure it's adequate and paid up.

Restomod Must-HavesThere are a lot of restomod modifications, but you can't have a true Mustang restomod without these upgrades:

Rack-and-pinion steering: Got to have it for modern steering feel and performance.

Disc brakes: Fronts are good, four-wheel is better.

Power brakes: Master Power has booster kits that fit most '65-'70 Mustangs.

Sixteen-inch or larger wheels: Take your pick of a million choices, but Torq-Thrust IIs remain a favorite.

Electronic ignition: From PerTronix to aftermarket systems from MSD or Mallory.

Fuel-injection: Might as well drop in a complete late-model 5.0.

Overdrive transmission: Late-model AOD for automatics, T5 five-speed or T56 six-speed for the shift-it-yourself crowd.

Suspension kit: Modern handling is the goal.

Comfy seats: We really like the new Classic Sport seats from TMI Products.

Upgraded steering wheel: A factory woodgrain wheel is an improvement over the plain-Jane installed in most Mustangs. From the aftermarket, Grant Products offers a number of wheels that provide the right look and feel.

Tilt-steering column: Just right for obtaining the perfect steering position.

Sequential taillights: Simply cool, and easy to install too. Mustang Project now offers a wider, Shelby-style version for '65-'66 Mustangs.

Air-conditioning: Gotta have it in a restomod. Classic Auto Air offers several systems, from stock and original to daily driver.

High-zoot stereo: Custom Autosound offers a number of head units that fit the early Mustang instrument-panel openings, but from there you can add a trunk-mounted CD changer and speakers, including CA's kick-panel versions and Rear Seat Driver for hardtops with 10-inch woofers and an amp.