Mark Houlahan
Tech Editor, Mustang Monthly
October 15, 2013

When it comes to modifying their cars, vintage Mustang owners can pretty much do it all. Thanks to a huge aftermarket that caters to one of the largest vintage models ever produced (remember, Ford built over a million Mustangs in less than two years when it first went on sale), you name it and you can find it in a catalog for '65-'70 Mustangs. You'll even find some parts for the '71-'73s, which are gaining traction in the restomod world!

We surely appreciate concours-style show cars and how they strive for the utmost in originality and correctness. However, there's no denying that the Mustang was designed and built for modifying in some way, shape, or form. From the original, and lengthy, list of dealer installed options to any number of factory and non-factory specialty modified builds like Boss Mustangs, Shelby Mustangs, and the like. Ford parlayed this thought directly into their marketing strategy, stating the new Mustang was “the car designed to be designed by you.”

Over the years we've seen styles and modifications fade in and out of fashion. The early years were awash with disc brake conversions and PerTronix Ignitor electronic ignition conversions (both of which are still very popular today). As technology and tastes changed (along with the average age of a vintage Mustang owner), we began to see more modifications for safety, comfort, and convenience, all without losing the timeless Mustang body shape. Sure, there have been some bleeding edge builds that you might have to squint to recognize the Mustang styling cues, but these cars are more styling exercise than mainstream modified—if you will. Today we have it all: Mustangs that look like Mustangs but have modern modifications to improve handling, braking, performance, safety, styling, and function. These are the cars that can be almost timeless without being part of a fad. Careful consideration to the styling aspect and not overdoing it (few want a vintage Mustang with more electronics than the space shuttle) are keys to having a Mustang that is admired and enjoyed by Mustang enthusiasts and not pointed at and ridiculed.

Today, modifying your vintage Mustang doesn't have to entail permanent changes to your vehicle like cutting or drilling holes (usually). Most modernized update hardware is designed to bolt into or use existing bolt holes, structures, or body openings so that owners can always revert back to stock if they wish (though we hardly ever see an owner do that, to be honest). From the ever-popular power brake upgrade to modern conveniences like power windows, these parts are designed to bolt on with a minimum of fuss, which means most owners with a half-way-decent set of tools can tackle the upgrades in their own garage. We've looked at the most popular modern upgrade ideas for vintage Mustangs and have come up with these top ten products most Mustang owners enjoy having as modifications to their vintage rides. It is far from the end-all-be-all list of upgrades, but ones we feel are worth being a priority for those cars driven on a regular basis. They are listed here in no particular order.

1. LED lighting

From dash gauges to taillights, many new cars use LED (light emitting diode) illumination for bright, clear lighting that takes much less power and outputs little in the way of heat when compared to incandescent bulbs. For vintage Mustangs, you can literally convert every lamp in your car to LED technology. Shown here is a standard 1157 brake/turn/tail lamp in LED. Sequential turn signal models are very popular as well.

2. '85-'04 Mustang Seat Swaps

When it comes to driver comfort, the stock short-back '65-'68 Mustang seats leave a lot to be desired. Upgrading to a modern high-back seat with integral locking seatback for safety has been so popular you can now order OE vintage-look seat covers for late-model Mustang seats, just like these '87 Mustang seats that look like '65-'66 “Pony” seats.

3. Electronic Ignitions

A popular drop-in upgrade for well over a decade now, electronic ignition kits like the PerTronix Ignitor help owners ditch their points for reliable contact-free ignition control with more power and a hotter spark. Today you will find several options for under-cap upgrades as well as complete drop-in distributors that feature electronic control with just the connection of a few wires.

4. Disc Brakes/Power Assist

It may have been acceptable 49 years ago to equip a car with manual drum brakes, but with today's highway speeds, congested traffic, and distracted drivers, we can easily see why front disc brakes with power assist has become such a popular modern upgrade for vintage Mustangs.

Power assisted braking usually means a large diaphragm-style vacuum brake booster is installed. However, on vehicles with low-vacuum situations or with engine conversions that take up valuable real estate, the new kid on the block is hydraulic brake assist via power steering fluid pressure. It doesn't get much more modern than that. This kit from Hydratech Braking is a direct bolt-in for '67-'68 Mustangs thanks to their billet firewall adapter and threaded offset brake pedal connection.

5. Tilt-Wheel Steering Columns

As we mentioned in our lead photo caption, tilt-steering columns are flying off the shelves right now. With the ability to bolt in directly with no cutting (on short-shaft steering boxes mid-'67 and up) and options like collapsing body, Ford spline shaft to retain stock Ford steering wheel, and other features (depending upon manufacturer), these tilt-wheel columns offer driving comfort, ease of entry/exit, and more.

6. Electronic Fuel Injection

Whether cruising your vintage Mustang on long trips or simply driving it to work every day, electronic fuel injection (EFI) has made life easier for many a vintage Mustang owner. Nothing says modern like EFI and there are several ways to accomplish this upgrade. If you're looking to keep a retro look with a carburetor-like vibe under hood, consider one of the square-flange bolt-on throttle body units, like this FE big-block is running.

For a bit more low-end torque and better fuel atomization, direct-port EFI is the answer. Using an OE Ford or aftermarket EFI manifold is the ticket here. We've found the '94-'95 Mustang intake, while disparaged by the late-model racers, is a great fit for the vintage Mustang engine bay.

7. Roller Camshafts

When Ford upgraded the venerable 302 small-block in 1985 with a roller follower camshaft, performance enthusiasts with flat tappet cams took notice of the great idle quality, low-speed torque, and rpm abilities. Roller cam conversions have been popular since the early 1990s but have been gaining traction the last few years as vintage Mustangs get older and finally need a rebuild—or their owners do not want to deal with oil additives or hunting down special oil that still has ZDDP in it. Convert to a roller cam and use your favorite oil without fear of camshaft wear.

8. Coilover suspension

While some may not consider this a “modern” upgrade, as coilover shocks have been around for decades, it fits our description when it comes to vintage Mustangs as the coilover conversion is but a decade old (give or take a few years). We're not talking about helper shocks with springs here, but true coilover adjustable shocks to allow suspension tuning and ride height adjustments to get your Mustang handling just how you want it and the stance right where everything works best.

9. Electronically controlled A/C

Adding air conditioning to a vintage Mustang has long been a way to increase driving comfort, resale value, and sometimes even just to get the wife to go to a show with you! Today's cars have fully electronically controlled systems with pulse-width modulated fans with electronic controls that do not use cables or vacuum. You can use the same technology in your vintage Mustang from all of the big aftermarket A/C companies, saving you the headaches of cable routing and adjustment. Many even offer new control heads with electronics ready to bolt into your dash for an easy installation.

10. Gauge Conversions

As we age, our eyes take longer to focus on things and night vision often suffers. Many people we know just about refuse to drive their vintage Mustangs at night due to the lousy gauge illumination. While LED bulbs can help, upgrading to modern gauges that illuminate the gauge face from behind with a fully illuminated gauge pointer (just like the '87 to current Mustang) is the ticket to reducing eye strain and seeing your gauges clearly day or night.

Honorable Mentions

As we stated in our story, these top ten are what we feel have been the most popular upgrades we've seen at events and talking to owners. That doesn't mean there aren't some great modern updates that don't deserve an honorable mention for their ability to help us enjoy our vintage Mustangs more. These additional modern upgrades include such things as:

High-flow aluminum radiators
Electric cooling fans
Adhesive backed/lined sound deadening products
Heat control products
Plus-sized wheel and tire packages
Auto-dimming rearview mirrors
Back up cameras
Overdrive transmissions
Power windows
Power door locks
Bluetooth hands-free cellular phone connectivity
Three-point seatbelts (when used with high-back seats)
Cable and hydraulic clutch conversions
Direct-fit high-amperage alternators
TXL wiring harnesses with extra capacity ATO fuse boxes

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