Jim Smart
April 8, 2011
Photos By: Mustang Monthly Archives

It would be easy to envision ourselves on the open road in a classic Mustang, basking in the glow of raw nostalgia, if only it weren't for those miserably hard bucket seats, school bus sized steering wheel, stumble off idle at the light, road boom over rough surfaces, sloppy steering, lap belts instead of three-point, and absence of a good sound system. All of the features we enjoy in today's new cars and trucks seem completely lost to time in a classic Mustang.

But, why do you drive a classic Mustang? When you drive a '65-'73 Mustang, you're taking a trip back in time to an age when you were more intimate with your automobile and the road. You could feel every imperfection in the pavement. And you had to stay way ahead of the car to feel any measure of safety. It's not a good idea to be text messaging in one of these guys.

In order for a classic Mustang to be enjoyable to drive, modern modifications can make the drive more pleasurable and safe. Yet you don't want to lose the car's original character and charm. So how to get there?

Technology andshear necessity have brought us so many stealthy ways to build a good-looking classic that also delivers a better than average driving experience. We're going to show you 25 ideas you can weave into your classic Mustang without losing the point of driving a vintage car. We're interested in your ideas, by the way. What have you done to your Mustang that has improved the driving experience without being visible?

1 Can You Hear The Quiet?

One of the biggest issues with an old Mustang is road noise and slipstream roar. With convertibles, it's the slipstream roaring over the top. With all of them, it's the absence of sound deadening, with little more than carpeting, paper backing, and padding insulating you from the road. Quiet Ride Solutions, available from Mustangs Plus, has come up with space shuttle technology for your classic Mustang. AcoustiShield consists of a firewall insulator, roof kit, cowl kit, floor kit, trunk floor kit, body panel kit, and a door kit all designed to work in concert so you can hear the concert from your Mustang's sound system. What's more, conversation can be held at normal speaking levels.

AcoustiShield works two ways. The goal is to shut out all unwanted noise and heat. There are three basic types of noise-airborne, road noise, and vehicle structure noise. There is also unwanted heat, which comes from the engine, driveline, and the sun. AcoustiShield is a fancy name for sound dampening and heat deflecting materials that come from space age technology. These materials can be found in jetliners as well as spacecraft. Installation begins with self-adhesive rubberized asphalt strips that dampen all sound. Just peel and stick. Then, lay a thick material over those asphalt strips with a foil backing designed to keep heat out.

2 See The Light...

Better headlights are an upgrade you can install in 15 minutes. Classic Mustangs with old sealed beam headlights barely illuminate the road ahead so you have to wonder how we survived them. When Halogen headlights came along in the 1980s, they were a refreshing improvement in lighting technology. What's more, when Halogen headlights get dinged by a stray rock, they don't fog up and flame out like a conventional sealed beam. They also outlast sealed beam lamps. The Halogen headlight is a sealed, high-pressure bulb envelope inside the sealed beam lamp, which is why they remain lit if damaged. What makes the Halogen lamp better is a smaller tungsten filament that burns brighter and whiter instead of the brown tone of older sealed beams. Halogen lamps also look more like the old sealed beams, which makes them ideal for classic drivers.

3 Hardened Exhaust Valve Seats

Frequent drivers need internal modifications that make them reliable. Hardened exhaust valve seats installed during a rebuild have been mandatory ever since tetraethyl lead was removed from gasoline in the 1980s. Mustang cylinder heads prior to 1971 have integral cast-iron valve seats, which erode with the absence of lead in fuel. Hardened steel valve seats stand up to unleaded fuels and harsh additives, which means longevity for your expensive engine rebuild.

4 Fuel System Safety & Capacity

Give your classic Mustang range and added safety with a couple of important upgrades you can perform in your driveway. Mustangs from '65 to '68 came with 16-gallon fuel tanks, which don't offer much range. In 1970, Ford switched to a 22-gallon fuel tank. Installing the '70 Mustang 22-gallon tank in a '65-68 Mustang is easy, involving only a tank swap and modification to the fuel filler neck. If you use the 16-gallon tank's fuel sending unit, expect your gas gauge to remain on full for a longer period of time. Use the '70 sending unit for more linear operation.

TankArmor from The Antioch Mustang Stable protects your Mustang's fuel tank from damage when objects are thrown in the trunk carelessly. It also contributes to fuel tank safety in a rear end collision. Install a rear seat barrier while you're at it for added protection.

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5 Use High-Pressure Fuel Injection Hose

When you're outfitting your Mustang's fuel system, stay away from conventional fuel line hose with 1960s technology. Instead, go with high-pressure fuel injection hose, which is more resistant to the harsh additives used in automotive fuels today and has a much higher burst pressure limit. Although fuel injection hose is thicker, it is also safer. Use adjustable worm gear or screw clamps for best results.

6 Braided Brake Hose

Driving your Mustang regularly calls for the most durable components you can install. Although stainless steel braided brake hoses are not stock in appearance, they are a nice hidden modification that is safer and offers a firmer pedal. StopFlex braided brake hoses from Classic Tube are designed and manufactured specifically for your classic Mustang. Think of StopFlex hoses as the last brake hoses you will ever have to buy for your Mustang because they're corrosion resistant and yield no volumetric expansion, which means a firmer pedal and more immediate brake response. These hoses are money well spent and easy to install in an afternoon, yielding a safer braking system. Don't forget to flush your brake system and install fresh fluid while you're at it. Brake systems should be flushed every two years no matter how often you drive your Mustang.

7 Step Up To Front Disc Brakes

One of the most affordable and certainly the most important modifications you can make to improve driving safety is the installation of front disc brakes and a dual braking system ('65-'66). You don't have to install expensive high-end disc brakes with jumbo sized brake rotors. Stock single-piston front disc brakes will vastly improve braking performance. A dual braking system makes things safer because you will have some braking effectiveness should one system fail. Stainless Steel Brakes offers a wide variety of disc brake system options, including box stock, at affordable prices.

8 Buckets For Your Bucket

This is one of the best restomod concepts to come along in a long time for classic Mustang interiors. TMI Products introduced the classic Mustang Sport Seat a few years back and it has been a phenomenal success thanks to its good looks and extraordinary comfort. At last, a classic Mustang bucket seat made for your bucket with big bolsters, deep, thick foam padding, and that classic look you want and need for your Mustang. This seat does its best work where you sit, yet it looks stone stock when you eyeball the car with the doors closed. And when you do open the doors, people will look at your interior wondering what makes it so different, yet the same. The Sport Seat isn't something you buy as an assembly, but rather you reupholster your existing bucket seats with the Sport Seat kit that includes both foam and upholstery. Ask Mustangs Plus about custom stitching and head rests for your TMI Sport Seats.

9 Dressed For Success

Here's a quick way to simplify your Mustang's engine accessory drive system. Vintage Air calls this accessory front dress system the FrontRunner for small-block Ford V-8s. The reason we suggest the FrontRunner is simplicity and durability for driver Mustangs. There's one serpentine belt that drives the power steering, air conditioning, alternator, and water pump. This belt is designed to last 75,000 miles. Because you're running late-model components, count on more than 100,000 miles of service life, which makes this modification a no-brainer. The FrontRunner tucks all accessories in close and tight, which leaves room for maintenance issues like spark plug changes and valve adjustment. It also cleans up your Mustang's engine compartment with a good-looking front dress system that will last a lifetime.

10 AODelicious!

This idea is surely nothing new, but nonetheless it remains a great modification for classic drivers seeking efficiency and fuel economy. Ford's Automatic Overdrive transmission, introduced in 1980, has long been one of the single greatest modifications you can make to a classic Mustang because it improves fuel economy and reduces wear and tear. There are two basic types of AOD transmissions-the mechanically modulated AOD produced between 1980 and 1992 with a throttle valve cable and the AODE/4R70W electronically controlled unit available from 1993-up.

11 PerTronix Ignitor For Reliability

Seems like only yesterday that a forward thinking company called PerTronix brought us the Ignitor electronic ignition retrofit for vintage Mustang distributors. This simple drop-in electronic ignition kit replaces the ignition points and condenser in your Autolite or Motorcraft single- or dual-point distributor in about 30 minutes. PerTronix also has a new billet distributor that looks sharp and is more effective than dated Autolite or Motorcraft sparkers. Regardless which system you choose, the family of Ignitor retrofits or the billet distributor, all you have to do is install it, adjust and time it, and forget it.

12 Tried & Proven Autolite Carburetors

We've played with a lot of different carburetor types throughout this magazine's history. The most solid, reliable carburetors ever produced for classic Mustangs are original equipment types for V-8s from Autolite and Motorcraft. The best, bar none, are the Autolite 2100 two-barrel and 4100 four-barrel carburetors Ford originally installed on our Mustangs on the assembly line. What makes the Autolites/Motorcrafts so good is the close attention Ford paid to engineering way back when. They operate on the same basic principles as race-proven Holley carburetors with power valves and annular boosters for excellent fuel delivery. If you keep clean fuel in your Mustang's tank along with regular filter replacement, the 2100 and 4100 will serve you well for thousands of miles. And rebuilds are easily accomplished in an afternoon on your workbench. Or send yours off to Pony Carburetors for a rebuild, concours restoration, and on-engine tuning before it is shipped back to you.

13 Perfect Fit Headers

If your restoration plans include the use of long-tube headers, selection is dizzying because there are so many available out there. We've had the good fortune of working with Stan Johnson of Ford Powertrain Applications (FPA) in Everett, Washington. Stan got tired of frustrating headers that don't fit. So he started his own company with the determination to make Ford-friendly header systems that work and fit.

When you count on a classic Mustang as daily or weekly transportation, you don't have time for blown header gaskets and banged up collector tubes. You want something that, once installed, will last the life of your restoration. FPA headers offer the cleanest header installation in the industry if you want long-tube headers. They wrap in tight alongside your small- or big-block Ford V-8. Instead of conventional collectors that blow gaskets, FPA headers have a ball and socket collector that doesn't require gaskets, making exhaust system installation easy. When it's time to install FPA headers, opt for the most bulletproof copper sandwich header gasket money can buy along with locking fasteners that won't work loose. Headers don't have to be high maintenance if you do your homework going in.

14 Cable Me...

There are a number of schools of thought on clutch activation and how to get it. Ford's original bellcrank clutch release system works quite well when you opt for the best components. For those who want the original clutch pedal feel, the Muscle Z-Bar from Barillaro Speed is an excellent drop-in replacement for a worn-out clutch linkage thanks to a heavy metal Heim joint design that reduces friction and keeps tolerances tight.

If you desire the sweet, smooth operation of a cable clutch system, Modern Driveline needs to be your Internet destination because these folks offer an easy-to-install clutch cable system that can be installed over a weekend in your home garage. Remember this system requires a cable clutch bellhousing or scattershield per Modern Driveline. Once installed, enjoy smooth clutch operation and reliability.

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15 Precision Rack-and-Pinion Steering

There are a lot of good rack-and-pinion steering systems for classic Mustangs. Some of our best experiences have been with Total Control Products' power rack-and-pinion, which has been installed on Project Reclaim from Mustangs Plus and The Restomod Shop. Rack-and-pinion makes light work of classic Mustang steering because it's like driving a late-model Mustang. Instead of worm-and-sector slop from stop to stop, you get precision steering performance. This is not a low-buck modification, but worth it if driving pleasure is important to you. Might as well complement your TCP power rack with a complete TCP coilover suspension system while you've got the credit card out because it all works so well together.

16 In-Dash Climate Control

We mention Project Reclaim from Mustangs Plus and The Restomod Shop throughout this article because Reclaim's purpose is to be a real driver's car. One very important aspect of classic driver comfort is climate control. What's more, climate control you cannot see because it is hidden nicely behind the dashboard. Classic Auto Air, long known for terrific air conditioning systems and parts for classic Mustangs, brings you a stealthy climate control system known as Perfect Fit. As its name implies, it fits behind the dashboard of '65-'73 Mustangs, does not interfere with your feet, and delivers cool comfort in summer and warm tootsies in the wintertime. Perfect Fit brings you late-model, climate-controlled comfort in the vintage atmosphere of a classic Mustang. If you're looking for the best of both worlds, this is the system for you. Imagine, late-model comfort in a classic-and no one knows it's there but you.

17 Nine-Inch Durability

Which rear axle you choose depends on how you intend to drive your Mustang and how much power you have under the hood. If you're going to cruise with a small-block V-8 making less than 275 horsepower, Ford's venerable 8-inch axle with 28-spline shafts is plenty. However, if you intend to run more than 275 ponies, it is wise to build a 31-spline Traction-Lok 9-inch axle from Currie Enterprises. Ford's 9-inch rear axle is the standard for durability because when racers want a rough and tumble rear end that can take a lot of punishment, they opt for the Ford 9-inch.

You can rebuild an existing 9-inch donor axle or you can order an all-new 9-inch from Currie Enterprises built any way you desire with 28, 31, or 35-spline axles in small or large bearing. Large bearing is more a full-size Ford or truck axle with larger brakes. For your driver Mustang project, 31-spline small bearing is plenty.

18 Support System

Like a lot of components found in classic Mustangs, pedal support assemblies were designed to last roughly five years and 70,000 miles before they fell apart. Worst culprits were manual transmission pedal supports overstressed by the clutch pedal. Infuse longevity into your Mustang's pedal support assembly with the Scott Drake '64-'70 Clutch Pedal Roller Bearing Master Rebuild Kit from National Parts Depot. Instead of an aluminum and plastic bushed pedal support, you get a roller bearing supported pedal assembly designed to provide smooth operation and last the life of your classic Mustang restoration. Although the roller bearing pedal support pivot is not easy to install, it's a good investment of time and money to get safe and reliable pedal operation.

19 Integral Power Steering = No Leaks

This has to be one of the best driver modifications ever because it does away with a classic Mustang's factory Bendix power steering and its shortcomings. The new Borgeson Universal integral worm-and-sector power steering system brings self-contained power steering to classic Mustangs-and, like any well thought out modification, no one knows it's there but you. The Borgeson system adds crisp, efficient, 16:1 power steering where you are more in touch with the road and your Mustang. You can use your Mustang's Eaton or Thompson power steering pump or Borgeson's own pump designed for small-block and six-cylinder Fords. The Borgeson pump provides improved idle speed pressure, which makes it the stealthy mod that complements the stealthy mod. Don't forget to order a manual steering Pitman arm from Virginia Classic Mustang when you order your Borgeson power steering system.

20 Be Seen & Be Safe

If you're going to drive your classic Mustang on a regular basis, there's so much you need to think of in terms of safety and reliability. Vintage factory taillights aren't as bright as they should be, which means those following might not see you coming to a stop. You want parking lamps that are visible, not to mention brake lights that will get prompt attention.

Thanks to the great imaginations from a number of aftermarket companies, there are plenty of options out there designed to make your classic Mustang's taillights brighter. Mustang Project, as well as Scott Drake, delivers quick solutions that will make your taillights brighter in an hour's time. Mustang Project has a variety of LED taillight retrofit packages for classic and late-model Mustangs. Mustangs Plus has Scott Drake taillight improvement kits that span the spectrum.

21 New Electrics For Reliability

There's often a big difference between show restorations and drivers because reliability and safety are more important to drivers. That said, your driver should have an electrical system with integrity. Main wiring looms tend to survive better because they're inside the car and not out of the weather. However, underhood and taillight wiring looms should be replaced with new wiring harnesses if you're going to drive your classic Mustang. If wiring insulation is brittle, chaffed, or cut, you're ahead of the game by replacing it in the interest of safety. Although reproduction wiring looms are expensive, they're money well spent considering what you stand to lose from fire damage. While you're at it, replace all switches for best results.

22 Reach Higher For Better Handling

Nearly a half-century since the Mustang was first introduced, we're enjoying a wealth of great aftermarket suspension systems designed to improve both driving enjoyment and safety. Remember, the best accident is the one you avoid. Total Control Products, for example, offers a cool coilover suspension system that not only looks terrific, it is also stealthy and fully adjustable. What this means for your driving experience is better handling and a smoother ride thanks to the ability to tune your suspension as driving needs change. There are countless other suspension systems out there for you to choose from, ranging from stock reproduction replacement to high-end systems like the one from TCP.

23 Lightweight Aluminum Frees Up Power

Although classic Mustangs were equipped with steel tube driveshafts 45 years ago, time and technology have brought us aluminum and composite shafts that weigh less and free up power. When you have an aluminum or composite shaft, there's less weight to carry and turn. This is actually an improvement you can feel when it's time to accelerate onto a freeway. Composite shafts tend to be very expensive. However, aluminum shafts tend to fall into the same price range as steel. Inland Empire Driveline can help you make the right decision.

24 ARP Fasteners For Strength

Building a street engine for daily use? An engine is only as reliable as the sum total of its parts. You can build a budget street engine good for more than 100,000 miles with hypereutectic pistons, stock shotpeened rods, cast crank, and race-proven ARP fasteners. It's a good idea to run main studs instead of bolts for block rigidity along with the full complement of ARP fasteners throughout the engine for longevity. Of course, engine life also depends on good build technique and close attention to detail.

25 Muffler Noise-No Kidding...

Those of us who fondly remember being young hot rodders recall the sweet throaty roar of loud exhaust systems. Classic glasspacks and mufflers with minimal baffling sound awesome with the butterflies pinned, however have you considered the potential damage to your hearing with the repeated hammering of a loud exhaust system? Drivers with an eye on performance should have throaty mufflers. They should utilize user-friendly acoustics or a good soundproof body. Loud is cool for short term driving, but never for long hours on the interstate. One good example of good acoustics is the Flowmaster Delta Flow muffler, which eliminates cabin resonance. Flowmaster mufflers and exhaust systems are available from Virginia Classic Mustang.