Miles Cook
December 9, 2003

It's evident that many of our readers have fully restored vintage Mustangs that have made the rounds on the judged show-and-shine circuit. That's all well and good, and we don't want it to change for a number of reasons, two of which are the preservation of Mustang history and retention of the core readership of this magazine.

This '69 fastback has several of our favorite restomod tricks: a T5five-speed, 16-inch wheels with 50-series radial tires, a PerTronixignition, and basic, but sound, suspension upgrades. With a littledetail work, it'll be an ideal and fun daily driven street car.

But what if you own such a car and want to do something different with it, like take it on a road trip or hit a string of weekend summer cruise nights? If you're thinking what we are, you're thinking about the best restomod ideas to turn your car into a more enjoyable driver. Most of what's presented here is well known. Enthusiasts have been installing better brakes, wheels, tires, transmissions, and lots of other bits since Hot Rod magazine began back in 1948. But, as applied to a classic Mustang, a review is in order for veterans and those who are relatively new to the Mustang hobby.

Many Mustangs are ideal candidates for modern upgrades, such as overdrive transmissions and safer disc brakes, the two most significant upgrades on the list. Of course, we don't advocate taking, for example, an all-original Boss 429 or a '67 K-code convertible and restomodding it to the max. But why not make improvements to a more pedestrian coupe, fastback, or convertible you'd like to drive to work more than once a month? Or even one that's been extensively restored? After showing a restored car on the judged show circuit for many years, what would be the harm in swapping in an AOD or a T5 trans and adding a set of front disc brakes so you can enjoy the car on the open road? We think, absolutely nothing.

In the final analysis, it's up to you. These ideas are presented to get your mind churning in case you want to take your car off the trailer and show field and put it on the road. We've tried to think of ideas that can be reversed easily or are nearly invisible on the outside, such as an overdrive trans. We don't think you should hot-rod a rare show car just for fun. But why not install a set of 16-inch Vintage 45 wheels and modern radial tires on your show-quality Boss 302 when you can go back to the original Magnum 500s and repop bias-ply tires in a matter of minutes? If you can change it back again, all the better.

In fact, the first five upgrades we mention are essentially invisible to the show judge's eye. A judge will never know you have an AOD trans, a PerTronix ignition, and a set of 3.50 gears in your '65 GT convertible unless he looks under the car or removes the distributor cap. Since this doesn't usually happen, you'd have the ideal dual-purpose car. We don't think you should trick show judges, but if the update is invisible and the car is more enjoyable to drive, there's certainly nothing wrong with that.

1. Overdrive Transmission

If your car already has front disc brakes, we think this is the best upgrade you can do to a vintage Mustang. If your car has an automatic, the best choice is an AOD from one of many aftermarket sources like Lentech Automatics or from an '86-'93 Fox-body 5.0 donor car. For three- or four-speed manual cars, a new or used Borg-Warner/Tremec T5 five-speed is a virtual bolt-in.

The advantages of having an overdrive-equipped automatic or manual in a vintage Mustang are numerous. Less engine wear, more relaxed highway cruising, and better gas mileage are just a few. We've owned two AOD-equipped '65-'66 Mustangs (and even a '64 Fairlane), and there's nothing like it. A '69 fastback that came with a Top Loader four-speed behind its 351W medium-block is currently owned by a staff member. Now sporting a freshly rebuilt T5 from National Drivetrain, the entire personality of the car is transformed. Its deeper First gear makes the car more lively off the line, and its .68 overdriven Fifth gear means we can easily keep up with the 75-80-mph Southern California traffic we encounter on a regular basis.

To get the necessary parts for a T5 or AOD swap, start with the following businesses: California Pony Cars, DB Performance Engineering, National Drivetrain, and Windsor-Fox Performance Engineering. And if you think it will be pricey, think again. If you shop around, the conversion can usually be done for under $2,000, especially if you start with a used transmission. Whatever the price, it's worth every dime. For one of the various methods on how to do a T5 swap, check out our July '03 issue.

This '69 fastback has several of our favorite restomod tricks: a T5 five-speed, 16-inch wheels with 50-series radial tires, a PerTronix ignition, and basic, but sound, suspension upgrades. With a little detail work, it'll be an ideal and fun daily driven street car.

2. Front or Four-Wheel Disc Brakes

No big surprise here; this is mainly a safety issue. If your daily driver doesn't already have them, a set of front disc brakes should be the first thing you do. Adding rear discs is another excellent upgrade since vintage Mustangs never came with them. If you're shopping for front or four-wheel disc brakes, check out Baer Racing, Master Power, and Stainless Steel Brakes.

3. Mild Suspension Upgrades

By "mild," we mean basic stuff that better connects the car to the ground and improves handling. Think gas shocks, slightly stiffer springs, larger antisway bars, accurate front-end alignments, and thorough inspection of your car's front shock towers after more than 30 years of wear. There are dozens of places to consider when thinking of suspension upgrades, including California Mustang, CJ Pony Parts, Dallas Mustang, Mustangs Plus, National Parts Depot, The Paddock, and many others.

4. Eliminate Points and Condenser in Distributor

This is a no-brainer. In the 21st century, why would you bother with points and a condenser in a regularly driven vintage Mustang? The benefits of this upgrade dramatically outweigh the effort and financial outlay required for the conversion. A PerTronix Ignitor or Ignitor II is ideal for any vintage Mustang street car, as it adds electronic-ignition reliability and simplicity all hidden under a stock-looking distributor cap. For details on how to install one, check out Senior Editor Jim Smart's review in our October '03 issue.

5. Gear-Ratio Change/Limited Slip Differential

Along with getting rid of the points and condenser in your distributor, this change really is invisible. A Limited Slip differential and a gear change will enhance the driving experience of any vintage Mustang. Currie Enterprises offers a Torque Sensing Differential (TSD) for any 8- or 9-inch rearend. Also consider gear ratios, especially if you upgrade to an overdrive transmission. For the typical street car, axle ratios in the 3.00:1-3.70:1 range are the best way to go. A 3.25, 3.40, or 3.50 gear in an 8- or 9-inch are good ratios to think about. For 9-inch pumpkins, more than a dozen ratios exist in the 3.00:1-4.00:1 range, so your choices are extensive.

6. Upgraded Driveshaft

If you opt for a lower (numerically higher) gear ratio, higher driveshaft speeds will result. Regardless of whether you go with an AOD or a T5, the gear ratio dictates the speed of the driveshaft. If you do an overdrive trans and freshen up your car's rearend with a Limited Slip diff, new gears, or both, upgrading to a better driveshaft will complete the drivetrain picture in your car. This is a good idea if you intend to use your vintage Mustang for high-speed road trips or cross-country journeys. Consider an aluminum unit from suppliers such as Denny's Driveshaft Service, Mustangs Plus, and Inland Empire Driveline. Also check out Senior Editor Smart's extensive examination of the driveshaft in our May '02 issue.

7. Sound-System Upgrade

The AM radio in most vintage Mustangs isn't much to listen to. Having FM reception and a CD player isn't a big deal these days in just about any new car. As for our beloved classic Mustangs, it's easy to get FM and CD in the car, too. And it can all look virtually stock, save for a slightly altered-looking head unit in the dash. Trunk-mounted CD changers and good-sounding speakers are also possible. Custom Autosound is a good place to begin shopping for these components.

8. Larger-Diameter Wheels and Bigger Tires

This is a popular upgrade that makes a car look and drive better. And, if you so desire, you can quickly go back to the original wheels and tires you had to begin with. Across the board, a 16-inch wheel is the ideal diameter for any '65-'73 Mustang, such as the 16x8-inch Vintage 45s shown on the '69 fastback on the first page of this story. Staying with a 15-inch wheel, such as the popular American Racing Torq-Thrust D, on a '65-'66 car is usually an easier fit. A '67-'73 Mustang can easily accommodate a 17-inch wheel, as shown on the '67 fastback here, as long as wheel offset is correct and the tire isn't too large. Also consider factory-style wheels like a Styled Steel or a Magnum 500 in larger 15- and 16-inch diameters available from a variety of manufacturers and parts houses.

As for tire sizes, our experience has shown that on a 16-inch wheel, 225/50R16, 245/50R16, and 255/50R16 tires fit well on '67 and newer cars, while several sizes fit nicely on 15-inch wheels for '65-'66, including 215/60R15s, 225/50R15s, and 205/55R15s. For 17s, a 245/45R17 like on the '67 shown here is a good size. Of course, any make of modern radial tire will be considerably better than the bias-ply skins used in the '60s and '70s.

9. Mild Interior Upgrades

Driver comfort can be improved greatly with different seats and a new steering wheel. Aftermarket wheels from LeCarra or Grant are popular choices. Better seats are available from many manufacturers, and you can also fit factory seats from a newer Mustang into a vintage car. Fox-body Mustang GT seats in a '65 coupe are a good example. Also consider power windows if you're not concerned about factory-appearing door panels.

10. EFI Conversion

Although this isn't one you'd likely change back to stock, factory EEC IV EFI conversions in vintage Mustangs have been popular for nearly a decade. Look for info on this subject in our sister magazine, Mustang & Fords. When combined with an overdrive trans, an EFI transplant in a vintage Pony always wows the crowd at any cruise night. And it's a real treat on the road, too. We suspect the majority of our readers wouldn't do this to an extensively restored or original early Mustang. But why not save the restored car for the judged show circuit and have another car restomodded for the street and highway? If a late-model Ford EEC IV EFI in a vintage Mustang piques your interest, DB Performance Engineering and Windsor-Fox Performance Engineering are both well known resources.