Jim Smart
June 1, 2000
Photos By: The Mustang & Fords Archives

Step By Step

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Super-rare Boss 429s retain their value when kept stock and pristine. The same can be said for other limited-production cars like Shelby GT350s and GT500s, Boss 302s and 351s, and even 289 Hi-Po “K” cars.
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There’s no sin in spinning the camlobes of these limited-production pieces either. This ’69 Boss 429 is doing what Ford built it to do in the beginning—run at speed. This one is lowered and shod with aftermarket wheels and BFGs.
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Enthusiasts have always loved concours-restored museum pieces that are exact in every detail. There remains a strong, faithful following dedicated to factory-correct restorations. Restomod is for the rest of the world who seeks individuality. It has become politically correct to tastefully modify a vintage Ford.
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Modified or stock— and why? At first glance, we’d modify this one because it’s a 289-2V ’65 Mustang coupe. Ford built hundreds of thousands of them. Closer inspection of this coupe, however, would reveal a low-mileage original that we wouldn’t have the heart to touch. This is the exception to the rule.
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In the modified versus stock debate, the humble coupe opts for modified more times than not. This is a C-code, first-generation Mustang coupe that became a weekend open tracker. Coupes make great restomods because they’re plentiful and cheap. Snap one up for yourself and build a weekender like this one. Track or street, there’s a lot of fun to be had here for not much money.
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When it comes to rare and collectible, the purists aren’t budging in this debate. Here’s a real ’65 Shelby GT350 cutting an apex at Phoenix with not a care in the world but to beat its last lap time. It’s modified to be sure, and doing what it has been doing well for more than 30 years. We couldn’t imagine this American racing legend any other way.
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Here’s another racing legend, the ’681/2 428 Cobra Jet Mustang. Modified or stock? This beautiful stocker is concours restored and needs to stay that way, but what if you found one in the weeds begging for a new owner? A lot depends on the car’s history and how it was ordered to begin with. If there’s no history, you can always build a streetable, period drag car that emulates the NHRA Super Stock champs of 1968.
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If you’re going to go modified, begin with constructive improvements that will make your classic safer and more fun to drive. Front disc brakes, new suspension parts, and better wheels and tires are the first logical steps to safer driving.
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If you’re on a budget and not concerned about a matching-number engine, crate engines are an affordable way to get fresh performance without the hassle of a rebuild. This is Ford Racing’s 5.0L GT-40 long-block crate engine. Order one of these and get into fresh power for less than the cost of a rebuild.
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Engine reliability should be your second order of business when building a modified. Make sure all engine vitals, like oil pressure and coolant temperature, are in good order before ordering engine dress-up goodies. If it isn’t running properly, it doesn’t matter what it looks like. Which way are you going to go—period or high-tech? Period pieces, like a Cobra dress-up kit or Moon valve covers and air cleaner, put us right in the ’60s and are great for the retromod. Mixing high-tech and period pieces is a no-no.
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If your engine is healthy but down on power, Edelbrock’s Performer top-end package will completely change your engine’s personality with aluminum heads, an intake manifold, a 600-cfm carb, and a hotter hydraulic camshaft.
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There are plenty of choices when it comes to exhaust manifolds, headers, and exhaust systems. You can achieve a rich, throaty sound with 289 High Performance exhaust manifolds (another option is the ’69-up 351W exhaust manifold) and Flowmaster mufflers. Those riding the fence can keep a stock look and a sound that will be unmistakable.
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We like the striking simplicity demonstrated here with a modified engine compartment, so tasteful it could pass for stock. Nice chrome appointments like Ford Motorsport stamped steel valve covers and chrome air cleaner lid make the ride. All the concours correct items are here—decals, hoses, ignition wires, inspection stickers, and outstanding workmanship.
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For all the hoopla about aftermarket performance carburetors, the Autolite 4100 remains the champ for reliability and performance. If your ’64-’66 Ford stocker is fitted with a 289-4V engine, keep the carb. If you’re modifying a small- or big-block Ford for mild street performance, this is a time-proven atomizer you can fasten to the top of your aftermarket manifold. Pony Carburetors has all the details when it’s time to order one.
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Modified or stock, reliability needs to be your first order of business. A modern alternative to the old V-belt is the serpentine belt drive first installed on small-block Fords in 1979. One belt does it all and lasts 60,000 miles or more. You will have to change the timing cover and install a reverse-rotation water pump (used on late-model 5.0L engines).
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Aftermarket ignition systems offer reliability and improved performance. This is the D.U.I. distributor from Performance Distributors, which incorporates the coil and distributor in one convenient package. For those who want a stock appearance, Performance Distributors offers Motorcraft Dura-Spark distributors as well. If a dead-stock appearance is what you’re seeking, the Pertronix Ignitor ignition module is the hot ticket. It fits inside an Autolite or Motorcraft point-triggered distributor, and no one knows it’s there but you.
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Even if you’re undecided about modified versus stock, efficient overdrive can be yours for keeps, or just for now. Windsor-Fox Performance Engineering has a complete, five-speed conversion kit for Mustangs with a stick. For those craving slushbox clutchery, Ford’s automatic overdrive is easily installed with conversion kits and parts from Windsor-Fox. Best of all, these are bolt-in items you can remove if the desire for stock overwhelms you in the future.
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Driving lamps are a nice bolt-on that keep with the stock theme, especially when you consider both Shelby and Ford fitted them in the grilles of a number of limited-production Mustangs. A rule of thumb with driving lamps—they have to jibe with the lines of the vehicle.
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Other bolt-on goodies that are politically acceptable are Sport Slats, rear deck and chin spoilers, and other trick pieces like the ’71-’73 pop-open gas cap. The ’70 pop-open cap is doable for the flat tailpanels on ’65-’66 and ’71-’73 Mustangs.
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Some of the best-looking bolt-on parts are right off the Ford parts shelf. Do you recognize this Mustang steering wheel? It’s a ’76-’77 Mustang II Stallion wheel in a ’69 Mustang.
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For the stocker uncomfortable using aftermarket equipment, Ford produced some of the best-looking factory wheels ever offered. Comb the swap meets for ’65-’70 styled steel wheels and Magnum 500s. You can pick up a set of these for a fraction of the cost of new wheels and they should clean up nicely.
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Modified or stock, your objective should be safety first. Pony Car Sales & Restoration offers three-point safety belts for classic Fords. These belts can be custom made for your application with proper color and buckles as available.
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Whether you’re modified or stock, Custom Autosound has cool, in-dash systems available as well as something stealthy called Secretaudio, which enables you to look and act stock while being a closet restomodder. All you see is a remote control with Secretaudio, which can be hidden in the glove compartment.
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Modified or stock? How about both? This ’60 Falcon sedan is a sharp looker in pastel aqua with a white top. It’s Grandma’s grocery-getter with radial tires, new suspension, Custom Autosound stereo, fresh upholstery, three-point safety belts, and the original 144ci six between the shock towers.

Here's a debate that's as old as the hills. Should you go modified or stock with a vintage Mustang or Ford? Maybe it's Mom's old Falcon that's been in the family since 1964, so for sentimental reasons you want to leave it the way it was. Or perhaps it's a fresh purchase that's sparked those early morning shower brainstorms, with visions of Torq-Thrusts and Edelbrock Performers dancing in your head. Whichever, the question of modified versus stock keeps coming up.

Common Sense

There are basic laws governing the modified versus stock debate. Rarity determines direction. As a rule, we advise against extensive modifications on a rare Ford or Mercury because it can affect resale value down the road. If the vehicle has historic value, that makes originality even more critical. But this doesn't mean you can't have fun in the meantime.

Virtually every kind of Mustang has been modified at least once, including the rare ones like Shelbys, Bosses, Hi-Pos, and California and High Country Specials. We've even seen modified Torino Talladegas, Mercury Cyclone Spoiler IIs, Cobras, Cougar Eliminators, and others.

A rule of thumb is to leave the rarest cars stock and original. But Southern California legend George "Pops" Boskovich wasn't concerned about rarity 30 years ago when he built "Pop's Toy," a '69 Boss 429 Mustang (see Oct. '98 issue). He understood the rarity of the Boss 429, but he wanted more than the stock Hemi-headed ground-pounder could deliver.

He swapped the matching-number Boss 429 engine for a 427 SOHC Cammer and a C6 Cruise-O-Matic. Seems his Boss is worth more as a Cammer than it was as a stock Boss 429 because it became a Southern California legend along Van Nuys Boulevard during the '70s. Few could conceive of Pop's Toy being powered by anything but a Cammer, despite its Boss 429 status.

Our point? You can modify anything so long as it's tastefully executed. Taste is what sells a collectable car, not always originality.

Restomod--Is it for You?

The new age of restomod has been an exciting renaissance for enthusiasts, especially on the Mustang side of things, because it enables us to personalize our rides without fear of embarrassment or persecution. Restomod is different from "modified" because it is a concept developed around tasteful modifications that make a vintage Ford better than ever.

If you're not sure about restomod, consider this. Let's take a ride in a bone-stock '65 Mustang coupe with the C-code two-barrel 289, automatic transmission, and four-wheel manual drum brakes. Hop in and take a 200-mile drive through a variety of driving conditions--stop and go, freeway, down a canyon road, out to the desert for a high-speed blast. Those modest bucket seats become hard on the posterior after about 50 miles. The huge steering wheel reminds us of driving a school bus. A panic stop on the freeway snaps us to attention with the reality of early '60s braking systems. Lean on the two-barrel Autolite 2100 for peak torque around 3,500 rpm. It's embarrassing when a Toyota Avalon passes you by without breaking a sweat. Click on the Philco AM radio for what? The traffic report and talk radio? C'mon! Time to steer out of trouble! A flatbed truck lost a sofa all over the freeway. The squeal of biased-belted tires and a soft suspension remind you how much handling technology has improved over the past 35 years.

Our point is simple--restomod is a no-brainer for the enthusiast who wants to retain the classic lines of yesteryear while vastly improving safety, comfort, and convenience. Though not always for every owner or every vehicle, we like the flexibility it yields. If you're concerned about permanent alterations that cannot be reversed, keep your modifications bolt-on in nature and store those original parts on the shelf for safekeeping.

If you don't give a hoot about originality, restomod and beyond is for you. If you're on a budget, keep the platform cheap and have a plan going in. Unless you absolutely must have a Mustang fastback or convertible, opt for the low-buck and plentiful '65-'70 coupes, which can be purchased for as low as $500 depending on condition. The average selling price in restorable condition is $1,500-$3,000 depending on region and the seller's expectations.

If you're tempted to turn your nose up at '69-'70 coupes, take another look. Envision it lowered with wheelwells full of rubber and the throaty sound of Flowmasters underneath. Modified, the '69-'70 coupe is a good-looking ride. What's more, they're plentiful and cheap because they aren't as popular as fastbacks and Mach 1s. This factor by itself is what makes them unique.

The '69-'73 Mach 1s are perfect for the modified versus stock debate. When we were looking for a tastefully modified '69-'70 Mach 1 cover car for this issue, we were surprised at how few there were in personally expressive Southern California. Most owners had stockers. Why? Because the '69-'73 Mach 1 came from the factory with "modifications." What about stripes? The Mach 1 has glistening graphics. What about wheels? Most of us like the factory styled steels or Magnum 500s. What about hopping up the engine? With a Mach 1, it's best to limit your efforts to internal engine modifications and factory-based engine dress-up--like cast Boss 302/351 valve covers and a chrome air cleaner lid. If it's a 428 Cobra Jet, those factory cast aluminum valve covers are as good as it gets. The Machs were tastefully executed right off the assembly line, so if you're going to modify one, keep your efforts subtle.

While the '74-'78 Mustang II tends to be the redheaded stepchild of the hobby, these cars make good restomods. Least popular are the coupes because it's impossible to shed the '70s econo-car-look. Most popular are the '76-'78 Cobra II and King Cobra hatchbacks, which can look sharp with the right modifications. Bad logic is to buy a four-banger or V-6 Mustang II and retrofit it with a V-8 because parts are hard to find. Be patient and keep searching for a V-8 model. Mustang IIs can be upgraded to five-lug hubs from Rod & Custom Motorsports, which means they can be fitted with high-performance disc brakes fore and aft. Trick suspension parts are also available from the street-rod industry for the Mustang II. Common sense is to fit one of these unpolished gems with a late-model Mustang's 5.0 V-8 and a T5 five-speed for cruiseability and fun-for-the-buck performance.

Outside the Mustang realm is Fairlane, Torino, Cyclone, Falcon, Cougar, and even Galaxie. Modified or stock? Some car lines lean toward a stock persona. Others are natural candidates for restomod. The full-sized Galaxies and Marauders lend themselves to a touring restomod treatment--uniformly sized tires and wheels all around, some lowering to improve handling, internal engine mods, and a throaty yet quiet dual-exhaust system. Some model years are out of the question for any restomod project, like the '69-up Galaxie 500 and LTD hardtops, with the only exception being the XL. And four doors? Forget it. They just aren't hip.

The Fairlane, Torino, Comet, and Cyclone make good restomod candidates depending on rarity and collectibility. We've seen some nice '63-'64 "K" Fairlane restomods out there that do the nameplate justice. The '65 Fairlane--stock or modified--doesn't excite anyone due to its boxy shape. Fairlane and Comet derivatives from '66-'71 are popular restomods. A '66-'67 Fairlane hardtop can be molded into a super-bad street punk with the right combination of parts and accessories. Lower these guys just a pinch and fit them with period wheels from the '60s, like Cragar SS mags or American Racing Torq-Thrusts. Want something different? Opt for a Fairlane or Comet two-door post sedan for an outlaw look.

Falcon, of course, is the restomod champ. Ford gave us a wealth to work with from '60-'65. Those old two-door sedans from '60-'62 make great smoothees. Slam them low to the ground and fill their modest wheelwells with tire and wheel. Go find some Mustang powertrain hardware and infuse new life into Grandma's old sedan. The cool thing about a Falcon is flexibility. You can build a retro sedan with period pieces, or you can go high-tech with a slippery aero look. Those early Falcons are at home in 2000 because they're timeless.

When it comes to '63-1/2 Falcon Futura/ Sprint hardtops and Sprints from the Total Performance era, we suggest keeping these more period correct with speed/performance goodies popular in the '60s. We can envision Cal Custom finned aluminum valve covers or a 289 High Performance chrome dress-up kit to get started. How about an Edelbrock F4B high-rise and Holley carburetion? Stuff an Autolite or Mallory dual-point in the block to round out those period mods. Shelby Tri-Y headers or 289 Hi-Po exhaust manifolds make the cut for a '60s modified. Torq-Thrusts (14- or 15-inch) with blackwall BFGoodrich Radial T/As give a Falcon hardtop a period look without the instability of bias-ply tires. Excite onlookers with a set of dual red-band radials from Coker Tire.

Our message here is one of priority and taste. Any time you undertake a car project, whether it's a concours restoration or an all-out ultramod, you should follow a logical path to your goal. If you're on a budget, it's smart to prioritize your project centered around what you can afford and when each step can be accomplished. Modified or stock, there has to be a plan and the resources to get there.