Project '66 - How I Restored My Mustang
We take a glimpse inside the how, what, why, and where of restoring a vintage Mustang
So you want to find a vintage Mustang and restore it? Don't we all. There's more than one way to restore a Mustang, and people have different definitions of "restored." To some, restoring a Mustang is a quick paint job and some new carpet and weatherstrips (we've all seen them advertised in the local paper). At the other extreme is the person who restores a Mustang down to every last nut, bolt, and trim piece with expensive and hard-to-find N.O.S. parts. These cars are beautiful, and the owner should get credit for diligence, but for the most part these restorations are financially out of reach for typical vintage-Mustang owners.
For a large percentage of our readership, a completely restored Mustang doesn't have to be just a dream. We don't have to look any further than former Mustang Monthly Technical Editor Mark Houlahan's recently completed '66 hardtop. Mark's restoration project began in 1999, with a goal of completing it in time for the Mustang's 40th Anniversary bash in Nashville. A number of informative how-to articles resulted from Mark's work, as you can see in the accompanying sidebar. The project's time frame could have been tightened up, but in the editorial world, we sometimes have to wait for the right moment to do things. Conversely, we've seen restorations take twice as long. The story in Mark's own words follows.
You don't need a reason to want to restore a Mustang (besides liking the cars and wanting one), but having a great story to tell is almost as much fun as restoring the car. In the case of my '66 hardtop, it all began over a lunch with Mustang Monthly's previous editor, Jeff Ford. We were talking about vintage Mustangs, and the conversation inevitably progressed to "the one that got away." For me, that was the '66 hardtop I owned through high school and college.
It also happened to be my first car, and the one I had when I dated my wife. It was a fun car, but for a budding Mustang enthusiast, there were some weird things about it. For one, it had a blank paint code. And it was built in San Jose but DSO'd clear across the country to New York. When I replaced the dashpad, I found the original paint underneath, a shimmering gold metallic (the current topcoat looked more like a flat butterscotch color). I couldn't find any solid information on these oddities until I began working for Mustang Monthly in 1992. By then, the car had been out of my possession for three years, having given its life in an auto accident (not my fault). As it turned out, my old Mustang was probably one of Ford's rare Anniversary Gold hardtops, built to commemorate the one-million-sales success in 1966.
I told Jeff I badly wanted that car back. He replied, "So why not just build one?" I hadn't thought about it, but people build Shelby, Boss, and GT clones all the time, so why couldn't I? I mean, as long as I wasn't going to pass it off as the real thing, right?
I had come up with a reason for restoring a Mustang, but now I had to find one, and so will you. I started the search with my local Mustang club and, honestly, had to go no further. As always, your Mustang buy depends on what you're willing to spend and what you want to start with. A club member, John Lindsey, had a stagnant project hardtop he sold to me for $300. It wasn't much, and it needed everything you can imagine, but since I was going to build this car my way, it didn't really matter.
A nice thing about the '65-'68 models is that if you have a unibody, you can almost build a new car with just a catalog and a fat checkbook. My '66 was a New Jersey car that needed substantial sheetmetal repairs, plus a bunch of work to convert all the "wrong" things to the original design of my old Mustang. This is where knowing your limits and abilities plays a crucial role. Because I had been a dealer technician, I knew I could work on the '66's suspension, steering, electrical, and interior projects, and even swap out the original six-cylinder for a 289 V-8; but I'm not a bodyman so I knew the metal repairs and paintwork would have to be farmed out. The more labor you can do yourself, the more money you'll save; but sometimes it's nice to write a check for the difficult stuff, such as a transmission rebuild.
With the Mustang in my possession, I began to search for a shop. Working with a restoration shop can be the best or the worst experience of the whole project, depending upon your homework and expectations. I ultimately decided to work with a local shop, Classic Creations of Central Florida. Having it done locally was a strong plus for me. I didn't want to ship my car three states away and hope for the best, but that's just me. Merv and Pat Rego, owners of Classic Creations, are also Mustang enthusiasts to the core, having owned vintage cars (including a '67 GT350) and late-models. While their shop has branched out into other models, they began with Mustangs, so they know all of the idiosyncrasies and how to deal with them. Finally, I had seen their work up close at Mustang shows and knew my car would be in good hands.
Once the hardtop had been taken apart and the existing parts cataloged, the unibody was trailered to the Classic Creations shop, where the body was inspected and a lengthy list of needed repairs made. Our rusty New Jersey hardtop would require some major metalwork, but the ensuing editorial created by the repairs was popular. Classic Creations performed all of the metal repairs, including butt-welding new floors, new quarters, adding torque boxes (hardtops didn't get them originally, but we felt it was a solid upgrade for chassis strength), and repairing the typical Mustang cowl leaks before block-sanding the car and shooting the new Anniversary Gold topcoat. The rest of the car's subsections--suspension, brakes, interior, and drivetrain--I would complete myself, although I did call Classic Creations from time to time for advice.
Step By StepView Photo Gallery
Because I was planning to upgrade or change much of the car, I knew I was going to need multiple parts sources. A basic restoration project might only require one vendor, but I had several conversions with this project. Many of the top parts' vendors were called upon for the items I needed, including National Parts Depot, Virginia Mustang, The Paddock, CJ Pony Parts, and others. For some of the specialty items, I went right to the suppliers, such as Specialty Wheel for the Styled Steel wheels, Classic Auto Air for the A/C system, and Custom Autosound for the stereo and speakers. I also chose to order the parts myself and deliver them to Classic Creations. This gave me a chance to see the progress of the car and discuss the project face-to-face several times a month. You may want to ship the big, truck-freight parts directly to your restoration shop.
Depending upon your project plans and finances, you'll sometimes need additional parts. For starters, the '66 was missing much of its front sheetmetal, and I would be converting to a V-8 from a six-cylinder and from a standard interior to a Deluxe (Pony) interior, so I purchased AMK Products' fastener kits for much of the project. I bought some directly from AMK and others from major vendors. These kits helped immensely because I didn't have to clean and repair the old fasteners. Plus, in many instances we didn't have the correct original fasteners, as they were either missing or required for a conversion project.
With a project of this scope, using N.O.S. parts isn't really worth the cash outlay. But we did have to purchase some used parts, either as cores or because it's the only way you can buy them today. Items such as power-steering brackets, power-steering control valve and center link, pulleys, Deluxe steering wheel (before the repros were available), V-8 front spindles and brakes, and others were all purchased, mostly from Metro Mustang's used-parts inventory. We did, however, make a few N.O.S. purchases from AMK Products, such as the parking-brake warning-light kit, lights-on warning buzzer, and vanity mirror to dress up our deluxe interior a bit.
Just like a restoration needs parts for the project to succeed, it will also require tools. For the most part, the 120-piece Craftsman tool set my wife gave me for Christmas got the job done. The Mustang was stubborn at times. For example, the rear leaf-spring eyebolts had to be cut out with a reciprocating saw, but these problems creep up in any restoration. Some cars will have a problem area and others won't. If you do any specialty work, such as recovering the seat upholstery yourself, you'll need the proper tools to do the job. Hog-ring pliers and upholstery pliers can be purchased from many tool catalogs and can also be found in most of the larger Mustang catalogs. I already had many of these tools from years of project Mustangs, but it might be better to rent or borrow the expensive ones. Also consider having the work done by a shop with the right tools (such as the vent-window rivet installation tool). Big shop tools, such as an engine lift, can be rented for one-time use.
Lastly, don't be afraid to do the work yourself. Sure, you may not be a wiz at headliner installations (I certainly am not), but when you look at the completed headliner, wrinkles and all, you can have the satisfaction of knowing you did it yourself. You learn by doing, and sometimes those lessons can be expensive (I purchased two additional sets of driprail moldings before I got a set installed without damaging them), but you can still say, "Yep, I put those darned driprail moldings on myself!"
Project '66 Editorial Archive
All articles pertaining to the restoration, upgrades, and additions to our '66 hardtop project can be found in the following issues.
|Aug. 1999||Pg. 71||Evaluation of Project|
|Feb. 2000||Pg. 30||Deluxe Upholstery Upgrade|
|Feb. 2000||Pg. 34||Rear Framerail/Trunk-Floor Repair|
|Mar. 2000||Pg. 35||Torque-Box Upgrade|
|Apr. 2000||Pg. 74||Core Support Replacement|
|June 2000||Pg. 34||Deluxe Steering-Wheel Restoration|
|July 2000||Pg. 38||V-8 Front-Suspension Conversion|
|Sept. 2000||Pg. 40||8-inch Axle Buildup|
|Oct. 2000||Pg. 32||V-8 Rear-Suspension Conversion|
|Jan. 2001||Pg. 39||Automatic Shifter Rebuild|
|Feb. 2001||Pg. 56||Quarter-Panel Replacement|
|Mar. 2001||Pg. 31||Cowl-Panel Replacement|
|Mar. 2001||Pg. 42||Front-Brake Rebuild and Detailing|
|Apr. 2001||Pg. 36||Taillight-Panel Replacement|
|May 2001||Pg. 62||Prep and Paint Application|
|June 2001||Pg. 40||Headliner Installation|
|July 2001||Pg. 82||Engine-Compartment Detailing|
|Aug. 2001||Pg. 35||Heater-Case Rebuild|
|Sept. 2001||Pg. 44||Five-Dial Dash-Cluster Restoration|
|Oct. 2001||Pg. 30||Dash Restoration|
|Nov. 2001||Pg. 39||Custom Autosound Stereo Installation|
|Dec. 2001||Pg. 76||Side-Glass/Door-Panel Installation|
|Feb. 2002||Pg. 30||Trunk Detailing|
|Mar. 2002||Pg. 40||C4 Transmission Buildup|
|Feb. 2004||Pg. 34||Power-Steering Conversion|
|Mar. 2004||Pg. 27||289 Engine Rebuild, Part 1|
|Apr. 2004||Pg. 27||289 Engine Rebuild, Part 2|
|May 2004||Pg. 27||289 Engine Detailing|
|May 2004||Pg. 56||N.O.S. Warning-Light Upgrades|
|Sept. 2004||Pg. 26||Drivetrain Install|
|Nov. 2004||Pg. 32||Console Restoration|
|Apr. 2005||Pg. 32||Concours A/C Install|
|Jun. 2005||Pg. 38||Rally Pac Install|
To shed more light on the Anniversary Gold Mustangs, we've reprinted the section from the Mustang Production Guide, Volume 1, by Jim Smart and Jim Haskell:
Despite all the hype at Ford over the One Millionth Anniversary in March of 1966, In Search of Mustangs has unearthed just two of the special, limited-edition 1966 Mustangs that commemorate that anniversary. According to legend, and articles that have appeared in various magazines, each Ford Division sales district received one of the One Millionth Anniversary Mustangs. Each Mustang was a hardtop coupe, clad in Anniversary Gold (no color code), and with a six-digit DSO code.
It has been a long time since anyone submitted an Anniversary Gold 1966 Mustang to In Search of Mustangs. Paul Moore of Mesa, Arizona, submitted the first, 6R08C177412, with a scheduled assembly date code of 29C, and a DSO code of 331111. Not long after that we heard from Keith Howarth of St. Clair Shores, Michigan. Keith's Anniversary Gold hardtop, 6R07C177427, also sported a date code of 29C and a DSO code of 331111.
It is apparent to us that the Anniversary Gold Mustangs were all assembled at San Jose in one lot, with less than 50 units going to Ford Division sales districts across North America. It's a good guess that all of the Anniversary Gold hardtops were identically equipped. We're unable to ascertain the exact number, nor can we say with certainty that all the DSO codes were 331111. We have to wonder if these hardtops were the product of some sort of dealer sales competition, like the '64 1/2 Indy Pace Car coupes.
For your first restoration, pick a car that's easy to restore. Find one that doesn't need major sheetmetal or body repairs and pay a little more for it. Look for a '65-'68 hardtop. There are plenty out there and they're easy to restore.
Don't buy a rare Mustang (such as a Boss 302) that's missing a lot of its exclusive parts. Just about any part for a '66 hardtop can be ordered from a catalog. Not so for emissions, induction, ultra-high-performance, and other rare components.
If you want to change wheels or do something different, by all means, it's your Mustang. Just know what you're getting into and don't expect everyone to like it.
Get the family involved in the restoration. My son helped me with the hardtop at home. The preteen and teen years are great for garage bonding and getting some free labor out of those freeloading kids (just kidding).
If you're restoring a Mustang as an investment or purely to sell and make a profit, you can stop reading now and move on to another venture. Except for the rare Boss or Shelby, a Mustang's value is usually exceeded by its restoration cost. You can easily put $12,000 into a hardtop valued at $8,000. A Mustang should be restored for the love of the car or for what it stands for, not to turn a profit.
Pick up a Mustang Recognition Guide and learn the various Mustang years, options, and features. I built a '66 hardtop because I used to have one, but if I were restoring a Mustang as a driver for my child, I would have picked a '68 with its collapsible steering column and available power disc brakes as a safer alternative. If it was for my wife, it would have been a '67-'68 convertible or a '69 SportsRoof.
Join a club! The Mustang Club of America is a great place to start, of course, but more important is a local or regional group/club. The MCA Web site (www.mustang.org) can direct you to a local chapter or you can ask around. Getting involved with a local club will be the beginnings of great friendships with knowledgeable Mustang enthusiasts who can help with your project. Besides, once your Mustang is completed, you can enjoy it with your club at local shows, cruise nights, and other club activities.
Read this magazine. I know it sounds like a shameless plug, but every month in Mustang Monthly you can find basic stories on interior replacement, suspension and brake repairs, concours detailing, and much more. In 25 years of Mustang Monthly magazine, just about every topic has been covered at least once, if not half a dozen times, with each iteration bringing new tools, concepts, and procedures to light. And finding back issues is often a big part of a restoration project. I dug up old issues just to read Bob Perkins' Resto Roundup column for detailing tips and other advice on conversions I knew I'd be doing.
The following companies were instrumental in the restoration of our '66 Mustang hardtop: