Jim Smart
December 1, 2008

Over the years we've had the good fortune to work with some of the best Mustang restoration experts in the world. Some of these professionals are world renowned and even legendary. Others are self-taught home garage restorers with natural ability and talent. Regardless of how they got there, these are people who have turned out show-winning national champions.

So what does it take to build an exceptional Mustang?

For this article, we've talked with professionals and successful amateurs alike to learn more about what it takes to perform a top-notch restoration-tricks of the trade that deliver outstanding results. We talked with familiar restorat ion shops such as SEMO Classic Mustangs and Glazier/Nolan Mustang Barn, but we also checked in with a number of passionate builders who restore Mustangs in their home shops. Some of the best restorations we've ever seen came from two-car garages. For example, John Murphy is a seasoned restorer and Mustang enthusiast who has always treated knowledge as a treasure to be shared. He's a self-taught professional but will tell you he's nothing of the sort; he says he's just crazy about Mustangs.

Don't Make a BoneHead Mistake
Jan Byrd
Byrd's Body Shop
Percy, Illinois

Southern Illinois' Jan Byrd has performed plenty of restorations over his lifetime, including a low-mileage Grabber Green '70 Boss 429, which was featured in the Oct. '08 issue of Mustang Monthly. Restoring a low-mileage original is actually more challenging than a basket case because you must remain true to the car's authenticity.

Although Jan could be termed an amateur builder because he doesn't restore classic cars every day, he has an eye for detail and liberal amounts of horse sense. Jan's tricks of the trade are pretty cut and dried, designed to keep us out of trouble.

Always do a mock-up before paint. Assemble all body parts while your Mustang is still in raw steel like street rodders do, even when you're working with genuine Ford parts. Few things are more discouraging than parts that don't fit when you're already in paint. Catalog and bag all parts and throw nothing away during disassembly. Keep everything until you are finished. Even then, hang on to some parts you may need later.

Plan ahead. Set goals. If you don't, your Mustang project will flounder.

No shortcuts. If you don't have a budget for a restoration, never kid yourself. Without cash flow and time, you will never get it done.

Recognize when you are tapped out emotionally. Leave a stubborn situation, such as a rusty bolt or busted heater core, for another day.

Keep a checklist. "The worst thing that could ever happen is when you are on the home stretch and make a bonehead mistake," Jan stresses. Closely inspect the things that are easily overlooked, such as loose electrical connections, hose clamps not tightened, the fuel sending unit you forgot to install, a transmission left in gear when you crank the engine, and dozens of other potential disasters that can set you back.

Glad To Share
John Murphy
Pawnee, Illinois

John Murphy doesn't have a 5,000 square-foot restoration shop, nor does he have access to a huge talent pool of technicians. John is a Mustang hobbyist with a passion. As a result, he has been studying them for as long as they have been around. With each of John's personal restorations, he has closely examined how these cars were put together. He has combed salvage yards, taken pictures, scribbled notes, and walked thousands of car shows studying classic Mustang nuances.

When you live in the country like John, you get resourceful quickly because there isn't always someone around to help. John has discovered how to dodge those restoration bullets that leave so many of us hanging.

Radiators installed at the San Jose assembly plant came from a different supplier than Dearborn and Metuchen. Look for a square tab bracket soldered to the top tank. Also look for numbers, including date code, reverse-stamped in the top tank.

When glass-beading exhaust manifolds, plug the 1/4-inch choke heat tube passages. Otherwise, media can jam your automatic choke and could damage the engine. Media can severely damage cylinder walls, valves and seats, and other moving parts.

When disassembling the body panels, remove one bolt at a time. Then drill a small 1/8-inch alignment hole beneath the bolt washer. This enables you to achieve correct factory alignment by lining up the holes. When the fastener is installed, no one knows the hole is there. You can do this with hood and door hinges, too.

Nearly every Ford distributor has an alignment mark. It has a corresponding mark on the block relative to the No. 1 cylinder rotor positioning. If you get timing marks at top-dead-center (No. 1 compression stroke with both valves closed) and these reference marks together, your engine will start the first time. Always check timing with a timing light once the engine starts.

Dearborn, Michigan, and Metuchen, New Jersey, radiators have rounded tabs on top and Ford part/engineering numbers stamped in the side brackets.

Transverse mufflers are not supposed to be parallel to the pavement. They're supposed to have an 11-degree tilt from vertical, which is an important detail generally ignored by restorers. That said, most Ford exhaust systems had a small alignment notch that enabled factory workers to install exhaust systems with great accuracy. Where possible, study these notches, blocks, and spot welds in order to install your exhaust system correctly. "Tiny details like this separate the best cars from the good cars," John adds.

For '65-'66, radiators are plant specific. San Jose radiators are different from those of Dearborn and Metuchen; they were provided by a different supplier. Date codes on San Jose radiators are reverse-stamped in the top tank. Part and engineering numbers are stamped into side brackets on Dearborn and Metuchen radiators. If you place these radiators side by side, you can see the differences. Top mounting tabs on San Jose radiators have square corners while Dearborn and Metuchen are rounded.

Did you know your Mustang's original seat material is still available? All you need is the correct material and TMI Products, which will manufacture your seat upholstery using original factory vinyl.

Known To The Pro But Not The Novice
Richard Porter
Woodbridge, VA

Richard Porter is the "go-to" guy for restorations in the Washington, D.C. area. An active member of the National Capital Region Mustang Club since its founding over 30 years ago, he serves as the club's '65-'78 head judge. His Dark Ivy Green Metallic '66 K-GT fastback gets plenty of attention wherever it goes. And Richard will tell you-he drives it.

Removing interior paint from '65-'68 Mustang doors. Instead of paint stripper, Richard suggests using lacquer thinner, which takes paint right off. Then prime and paint the doors. But don't overdo the paint, which can cover the grain.

Cutting the door opening. If you're installing replacement doors on a '65-'68 Mustang with the Interior Dcor Group or factory stereo and need to cut holes for courtesy lights and/or speakers, make a template from the old doors using newspaper. Then use a dye grinder to cut the holes in the replacement doors.

Got an old Mustang horn that will not sound? Richard suggests removing the horn adjustment screw and squirting WD-40 inside to loosen things up while you're tapping on the horn with a hammer. A car horn is an electromagnet with vibrating contacts and discs inside. When you energize the electromagnet, the discs vibrate and make a sound. Richard tells us WD-40 can work wonders depending on the horn's condition. Also, when you mediablast car horns, always seal the opening to keep media out.

Don't give up on your classic Mustang clock. Use a point file or fine grain abrasive paper to clean up the contact points. When they make contact, they energize the rewind solenoid to rewind the clock. Vintage car clocks are nothing more than wind-up clocks that are electrically rewound when the contact points touch. Corroded contact points don't get the job done.

Cylinder head rocker arm studs pulling out. Richard suggests pinning those press-in studs or installing screw-in studs. Pinning press-in studs is cheaper and just as effective.

When changing a clutch, use hydraulics to remove a stubborn pilot bushing/bearing. Simply fill the cavity behind the bearing with grease and insert a clutch alignment tool in the bushing. Tap the tool with a hammer. The grease will push the bushing out.

Don't waste time and money on a bucket of bolts, Arnold Marks suggests. Spend your money wisely and buy a solid original car, which means less time and money performing a restoration. Buy a rust bucket to save money and you will wind up spending more than if you had just bought a solid original.

If You Become Obsessed With Saving Money, You Will Wind Up Spending More
Arnold and Garrett Marks
Mustangs Etc.
Van Nuys, CA

Arnold Marks was born in Detroit and raised in Los Angeles. This by itself makes him an authority about car culture in America. His father was a car guy by nature and by trade. Arnold learned a lot about cars from his father, then practiced what he learned as an automotive shop instructor before opening Mustangs Etc. in the '70s.

Arnold tells us he's never been fiercely loyal to any particular nameplate. He just loves fine automobiles from our uniquely American past. His personal collection includes everything from old customs to classic Mustangs to a pre-war Lincoln with V-12 flathead power. Something struck a chord with Arnold more than 30 years ago when he took a liking to classic Mustangs and made them his occupation.

Arnold's son, Garrett, also turned his hobby into a profession. His specialty is new-old-stock Ford parts. Like his father, Garrett is also quick to suggest spending more on a good car to begin with and saving the most important element of all-time. He also says to use original Ford parts where you can to both preserve authenticity and enjoy ease of installation.

Don't waste time and money on a bad car. Pay more for something solid to begin with that will take less time and money to build. Good cars are a better investment in the long run.

Garrett Marks has two schools of thought on replacement parts for classic Mustangs. If you are building a daily driver or a restomod, go with reconditioned used or reproduction parts. If you are doing a showroom original, opt for N.O.S. Ford parts where possible. Concours restorations deserve Ford parts. Just be prepared to pay for them.

Never buy a Mustang based on "gotta have it!" emotion. Always be prepared to walk away.

Never view, much less buy, a Mustang at night. What you can't see can hurt you.

When you start a Mustang project, stay focused and get it done. When you bury it under a car cover, chances are you will never touch it again.

When in doubt about a part, check it out with someone more experienced. Never be afraid to ask for help. Always get a second opinion.

Always opt for the best parts and don't do it on the cheap. When you become obsessed with saving money on a restoration, you will wind up spending more.

Whenever you need a professional, such as a body shop or engine builder, interview several shops and get references. Keep in mind you could lose your Mustang and/or its parts to a shop that goes out of business overnight. Know who you are doing business with.

Don't be afraid to walk away from a frustrating problem. Get back to it tomorrow when you are fresh.

Complete Your Vehicle's History
Bob Fria
Collector, Restorer, Historian
Los Angeles, CA

I call Bob Fria "Captain Bob" as a result of his distinction as a retired pilot from United Airlines. Aside from his love of flying, Bob has a personal obsession with vintage Fords. His collection includes Thunderbirds, Mustangs (including 5F07U100002, the first production hardtop, and a '94 30th Anniversary Pace Car convertible), and a '63 Galaxie convertible. He just sold his '84 20th Anniversary Turbo convertible to free up some space.

Bob has restoration and research down to a science. He has solved some of the big mysteries surrounding Mustang production start-up in early 1964. Here are some of his valuable restoration tips.

Bead-blast, don't sandblast. For large body parts, plastic mediablasting is best for paint and rust removal.

Use Eastwood's Blackening System on natural metal parts. In less than a minute, you can restore a piece to a factory original finish that will last.

Before you install an engine, fit the block with drain cocks. You can open them for flushing and draining. A radiator petcock is perfect for this purpose because it is the same size.

Stainless exhaust. Install stainless steel exhaust pipes and mufflers where possible because they will not rust out and are easy to keep detailed.

Go with silicone. Use DOT 5 Silicone brake fluid on your new braking system. Silicone fluid will not harm paint if spilled. However, expect a spongy pedal and reduced braking performance.

You can't fix by pouring. Don't use engine additives (such as cooling system stop leak), oil additives, and the like to "fix" a problem. As long as you change oil regularly and take care of the cooling system, you should never have a problem. When there's a problem, such as a radiator leak or an engine that burns oil, correct the problem.

Get rid of those mismatched headlights. There are too many show cars out there with headlights that do not match.

Mediablast exhaust manifolds. Then dress them with a high-temp finish to prevent rust. Jet-Hot coating in a cast-iron finish is another solution.

Your Mustang Is Usually The Best Restoration Guide
Charles Turner
National Show Judge
Apex, North Carolina

National judge Charles Turner says to use as many original Ford parts as possible. New-old-stock may cost more, but it's worth it if you have the budget. Some N.O.S. items, such as soft parts, should be passed over for good reproductions because soft plastic and rubber parts tend to deteriorate over time.

Charles Turner has been working with classic Mustangs for over 15 years. His interest dates back to a Seafoam Green '68 six-cylinder hardtop and has grown from there. He is committed to extraordinary restorations and has become a national show judge in close touch with how restorations are done. Charles calls The Heart of Carolina Mustang Club home, just outside of Raleigh. Here are some of his thoughts on how to produce a high-end restoration.

Pictures, pictures, pictures. Charles says to take lots of pictures of everything before disassembly begins. A typical restoration can encompass more than 500 images.

Use your resources. Including Ford documentation, photos of original cars that have never been apart, online and offline resources and forums, show judges, and experienced restorers. The Internet yields a wealth of valuable information as does Mustang Monthly and our online website at www.mustangmonthly.com.

Restore as many original parts as possible. Items such as trim, bumpers, die-cast pieces, and the like can be replated and restored to original condition. It's nice to have a mix of reproduction and original parts because not all original parts, such as rubber and plastic trim parts, can be restored.

Use your Ford Shop Manual. And the Assembly Manual, as reproduced by Jim Osborn Reproductions. Nothing quite like getting your information from the horse's mouth.

Leave jobs you are not comfortable with for the pros. Bodywork, engine and transmission rebuilding, and even upholstery work are sometimes better left to professionals who do them all the time.

Build your classic Mustang to drive and make it as safe as possible. Even if you're building a trailered show car, build it to run as well as it looks so you can drive it anywhere.

Stick With Original Parts Where Possible
Laurie Slawson
Gold Card Judge
Tucson, Arizona

Laurie Slawson was there for the original Mustang mania that swept the nation 45 years ago. Her father, Lou Slawson, was a Ford sales executive who knew all about the Mustang when it was being developed during the early '60s. In June 1968, Laurie took delivery of a Sunlit Gold Mustang hardtop from a Detroit-area Ford dealer. That car remains with her today.

When it's time for engine installation or anything else in the engine compartment, Laurie buries fenders, aprons, the radiator support, and the firewall with heavy padding to protect the paint.

While Laurie's passion for the Mustang dates back to the '60s, it didn't catch fire until the early '80s when her hardtop started growing older and she wanted to keep it like new. She became determined to learn about classic Mustang restoration and how to do it herself. Today, she is a Mustang Club of America Gold Card judge who also serves on the MCA's Board of Directors.

Bag and tag. Whenever you start a restoration, catalog and account for every part, even if you intend to throw it away.

Restore original parts. If you have a choice between original parts and reproduction, restore the original part where possible in the interest of authenticity.

Because FE big-blocks in Mustangs are a bear to work on, Laurie suggests using high-end exhaust header gaskets and fasteners for security and longevity.

Lacquer thinner works best for removing paint overspray.

Restore wiring harness to like-new condition. Use hand cleaner with lanolin to refresh insulation before wrapping with electrical tape. Lanolin works on old vacuum hoses and weatherstripping, too. It softens and makes things flexible again without making surfaces shiny.

Use a toothbrush for detail work. "A toothbrush is one of the handiest tools you can have when restoring a Mustang," Laurie comments. Use it with Simple Green to remove grease and oil film from hard-to-reach areas.

Use a clay bar to bring old paint back. Clay bar removes embedded dirt and other contaminants from the paint, leaving a smooth, shiny finish when you thought all hope was lost.

Fine (000) steel wool. It removes stubborn water spots from glass. It also restores chrome that is not peppered with rust and pitting.

Although Laurie has long been a purist, she decided to build a '68 Mustang restomod to accent her Sunlit Gold stocker. One thing Laurie did was clean up the engine compartment, routing all wiring inside the framerails where possible to get it all out of sight.

Remove all traces of grease and oil film. When restoring parts, use Spic & Span in water followed by a wipe down with a degreaser. Don't touch the part with your bare hands because skin oil will hinder the paint's ability to stick.

Make screw holes. When installing an interior, use an ice pick or scratch awl to poke console screw holes in the carpet. Then use a soldering iron to burn/melt permanent screw holes for easy location.

If you're building a restomod, hide all electronics where possible. Route wiring inside framerails and under inner fender aprons. Opt for the best quality electrical components available. For example, don't use a cheap distributor cap with aluminum terminals. Go with brass or copper along with the best insulating material.

Tired of losing seat mount fasteners in the seat pan? Use a short section of paper towel roll stuffed in the seat mount hole for perfect access without fastener loss and rattle.

Don't use cheap exhaust gaskets. Spend money on the best header gaskets you can find. Then use locking header bolts to keep things secure.

Use The Best Parts And Don't Cut Corners
Fred Glazier and Dan Nolan
Glazier/Nolan Mustang Barn
Souderton, PA

Fred Glazier and Dan Nolan teamed up four years ago to merge their respective talents. The result has been a terrific business relationship rooted in integrity and producing some of the best restorations in the country. Dan runs the restoration shop, which was founded and operated by Fred for close to three decades.

Fred got into the business through his passion for the breed that dates back to 1964 when he bought a new Rangoon Red '64 1/2 Mustang hardtop, a car he still owns today. Fred's chosen profession wasn't restoration; he was originally a pharmacist but decided he liked classic Mustangs and restoration better than filling prescriptions.

Glazier's Mustang Barn was founded 32 years ago in Fred's backyard in an 18th century barn. Over the years, Fred and his team of professionals have turned out hundreds of exceptional restorations. Four years ago, Fred sold the restoration shop to Dan Nolan while he continues to run the parts side during something he calls retirement.

Perform your restoration in phases. Never try to do it all at once. And never jump around from phase to phase. Finish one phase before moving to the next.

Opt for the best quality parts. Even if you have to spend big bucks on N.O.S. Ford parts. Any way you slice it, if you can use original Ford parts, they are the best choice in the long run.

When performing major structural repair, such as framerail, torque box, or floorpan replacement, do one side at a time. If you do both sides at the same time, your Mustang could experience structural failure. Always make sure you have good support.

Use the best materials. Such as 3M sandpaper and adhesives or quality paint from PPG, House of Kolor, or SEM. By doing it on the cheap, you could wind up using more product-or worse-having to do it all over again.

When doing structural work, do one section at a time. For example, never replace both rocker panels at the same time. When you do both together, you weaken the structure. The same is true for torque boxes and floorpans. If you're going to replace the entire floorpan, weld in a temporary crossbrace for support.

Replace torque boxes in two pieces. Glazier/Nolan was instrumental in getting Dynacorn to produce torque boxes in two pieces instead of one. Installation is easier in two pieces.

Become acquainted with the best parts stores in town. An exceptional parts person knows what you need before you realize you need it.

Fatten your seats with a thin layer of foam. Place it over new seat buns and your seats will feel and look better.

Install windshield, rubber, and trim work before final block-sanding. It eliminates any chance of paint chipping when you install trim.

Use AMK Products hardware kits. Everything's there and you won't wind up empty-handed. Resist the urge to open packages until you are ready for assembly.

When replacing inner fender aprons, install the export brace before removing the old pieces. It confirms dimensions and ensures accuracy when it's time to weld in new steel aprons.

Gas tank template. Use the top of an old gas tank as a structural support jig when performing trunk floor repair or replacement. Of course, make sure there's no fuel in the old tank when cutting.

Windlace as a retainer. When installing a headliner, use short strips of windlace to retain the headliner until the adhesive sets.

Smooth the wrinkles. Use a heat gun at a safe distance to work the wrinkles out of your headliner.

Straight stripes. Construction lasers, available from home improvement stores, can be used to align body stripes.