Mark Houlahan
Tech Editor, Mustang Monthly
June 26, 2012

It's easy to look out in the garage or driveway at your Mustang or other Ford project and get discouraged in today's economy. Everything seems to be getting more expensive and your paycheck just doesn't go as far as it used to. Believe us when we say we're in the same boat and rowing with the same oars you are. Family obligations should always come before a toy or a hobby; that's just common sense. Keeping a roof over your head, food on the table, and the lights on is of utmost importance. Unfortunately, we're seeing many people on forums, auction sites, and more letting their dreams go to another owner because the funds just aren't there to build or work on it in these trying times. While a car magazine might be the last place you'd be looking for financial advice, we have one major suggestion that will not only help your project stay yours and move forward, but might even help in other areas of your life. That suggestion is creating and living with a budget.

Having a budget for your family is one of the best things you can do to manage your money and where it goes. It's easy to just whip out that debit card and go to dinner, take the family to the movies, and buy that new lawn mower--the next thing you know, that paycheck is gone and you still haven't bought groceries. Sitting down and determining what income you have and where it needs to go will help your paycheck go further, and if it goes further, that means you might just have a little left over to work on your project car. You can even set up a budget for the project car itself. You might not have $10,000 sitting in the bank, but if you know that's the limit you want to spend on your project car (even if it's over the course of five years), then by all means create a budget on paper and start mapping out where that money will go.

We called up several pros in the industry that have built cars on a budget for customers, and asked for their input as to where limited funds are best spent. As this is determined by the type of project car being built, we asked our pros to focus on their shop's specialties: a track car build, a drag car build, a restomod build, and a daily driver build. The "what if" scenario included a '65-'68 Mustang coupe in solid shape with a small-block V-8 drivetrain and three different budget limits--$5,000, $10,000, and $20,000 dollars. We felt the Mustang coupe was typical of a reader's project, not to mention that, for the most part, a convertible or fastback model wouldn't change the pro's choices for suspension, interior, and so on. We know that some of you have some great classic Ford projects that might be a little off of the popularity radar as far as replacement and performance parts are concerned, but we think there's still plenty for you to learn from these budget concepts. Remember, just because we're talking about various budget levels doesn't mean you need to have the cash all up front. We know plenty of nice rides built on a $10,000-$15,000 budget over the course of four or five years. The important thing is to plan your build, have a budget, and stick to it. Take a look at what our pros suggested, start your own budget, and get to work!

Daily Driver Build

We gave our friend, Rusty Gillis, of Gillis Performance Restorations a ring to discuss building a classic daily driver. There's something cool about going down the road on your way to work and seeing a classic Mustang or Ford go by. We're just a little envious of those that actually enjoy their classics on a daily basis like that--going to work, running errands, and more. That being said, when Rusty builds a customer's car for daily driver use, he recommends replacing the front and rear suspension and shocks.

"I like to use Opentracker roller spring perches and all new upper and lower control arms along with the Shelby drop," Rusty stated. Being that the car will see daily use, Rusty also installs all new brake and fuel lines on the car--you simply don't want to rely on four-decade-old brake lines. Front disc brakes are a perfect upgrade for a daily driver, and four-wheel-disc-brakes are even better if the budget allows. A new master cylinder and upgrade to a power brake booster for modern braking is near the top of his list as well. To further the safety aspect of a daily driver, Rusty uses ididit collapsible steering columns in vehicles originally equipped with long-shaft-style steering boxes.

Since a daily driver sees a lot of use, Rusty recommends all new upholstery and carpet to his customers building a daily driver. If you're going to spend a good bit of time in the car, you want to be comfortable, safe, and you want whatever you're looking at (dash, console, steering wheel, and so on) to look nice. A dent in the quarter-panel or a rusty door skin is easy to forget when you're sitting in the driver seat going down the highway, but a faded and cracked dashpad or warped and yellowed gauge cluster is something you'll stare at the whole time you're in the car. Again, if the budget allows Rusty also suggests air conditioning when going through the interior.

While you don't have to go crazy with custom wheels, Rusty does recommend wider wheels and tires. Getting away from the narrow five-inch wheels found on most early Fords means having more traction, better handling, and better braking, all due to the wider contact patch the wider tires and wheels will have with the road.

When we asked about a higher-end budget, say our $20,000 ceiling stated in our opening text, Rusty added that he'd recommend the following upgrades over what we've already discussed for his daily driver builds:

A full weld-in front suspension replacement with coilover shocks. Rusty is partial to the Rod & Custom Motorsports Mustang II setups, as they are easy to install, offer plenty of suspension and braking options, add power rack-and-pinion steering, and give plenty of engine bay room.

Speaking of braking options, with a larger budget, larger brakes should be considered. He likes to see a nice 12-inch or larger setup with four-piston calipers to shorten braking distances, and allow repeated braking in stop-and-go driving without issues.

While our base budget build included the stock engine, Rusty recommends a modern crate engine for those with the wiggle room in their budget. A crate engine is the perfect way to get more power, efficiency, and easy installation, all with a warranty.

For daily drivers, fuel economy is certainly a consideration, so Rusty says an overdrive transmission, such as Ford's AOD four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual trans like the T-5 or aftermarket Tremec are both great options that he has been installing more of lately.

Lastly, a quality basecoat/clearcoat paint job to give the project some curb appeal and complement the interior and mechanical upgrades.

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