We've got a '69 Mustang SportsRoof in our vintage Ford stable that's definitely in the user category. It's driven somewhere almost every weekend and regularly runs in the Silver State Classic open road rally in Ely, Nevada. Although our car doesn't have the correct chalk marks, it does have a host of high-performance goodies, including a hot 351 Windsor engine and a T-5 five-speed overdrive transmission. Held during the spring and fall of each year, the Silver State Classic has plenty of Nevada-style heat to challenge our machine, and our cooling system better be ready for it. The event means continuous high engine loads, and speeds in excess of 100 mph are the norm. These conditions had us thinking about some serious cooling system upgrades.
Our car had the factory small-block radiator out front, and at 20 by 20 inches in size, it was a lot smaller than the opening in the core support. Beside the relatively limited frontal area, the radiator core was thin and offered limited coolant capacity. Also, at home in Los Angeles, the stop-and-go traffic would regularly have our car on the verge of overheating. What we wanted was a cooling system that had enough reserve capacity to free us from any engine temperature related worries.
We consulted the experts at National Parts Depot (NPD) to see what they would recommend, and a great cooling system combination was the result. They started us out with a big-block size aluminum radiator from Griffin that was much larger than our OE 351W unit. To move air through the radiator, NPD provided a dual electric fan system from Old Air Products. New upper and lower radiator hoses from Marti Auto Works were going to be connected to a new Tuff Stuff Performance Accessories chrome water pump, which would replace our tired and squeaky pump.
When combined with a new thermostat, radiator cap, and coolant, we'd have a winning cooling system combination. The reserve cooling capacity that this setup offers will keep the water temperature down right on top of the thermostat, and it will be good to have should we ever decide to add accessories, such as air conditioning or an engine power adder. This system should be able to beat the heat whatever the situation. We're basically replacing the entire cooling system.
Although this sounds like a lot of work, continue reading and you'll see the job was relatively easy to accomplish. You should be able to do this swap on a Saturday afternoon.
Keeping Your CoolHere are a few tips we've learned over the years about classic Ford cooling systems. We're sure you've seen a few of them, but it's always good to take a refresher course.
* Don't use too cold a thermostat. Run around with a big radiator and a 160 thermostat, and your engine will never reach proper operating temperature. Choose a 180 instead.
* Don't run straight water in your cooling system. It doesn't take long for the corrosion process to begin. Unless you live in Fairbanks, Alaska, a 50/50 mix of distilled water and coolant mix is correct.
* To maintain radiator efficiency take a garden hose and clean the radiator. When the car is cold, carefully flush the core from the engine side and out the front of the car. After 1,000 miles of summer driving, you'd be amazed how many dead insects will have collected on the radiator. They will obstruct proper airflow eventually if not removed.
* If you've got an engine that hasn't been apart in years, you may have a lot of rust and debris circulating through your cooling system. Before you install a new radiator into a car like this be sure to back flush the system, including the heater core and engine block. With the new radiator in place you can use an in-line filter trap. They're available for your radiator hose to catch any particulate matter in the system.