Mustang Restoration and Rebuilding

by John Stevens J.D.

Ford's line of Mustangs are among the most recognizable cars from the 1960s and early 1970s. Values have been steadily increasing over the years and therefore so, too, has the demand for restored Mustangs. Restoration is an expensive undertaking, whether a professional restoration shop is hired or not. However, costs can be minimized by performing some of the work yourself.


Disassembly is the easiest part of any Mustang restoration, but overanxious disassembly can lead to serious problems when assembling the car later. Mustangs were produced on an assembly line in large quantities. To keep the cars moving down the line quickly, similar fasteners were used for multiple components. In many cases, the same size bolts were used throughout the car. Disassembling the Mustang is really then just a matter of removing the various bolts. This interchangeability between fasteners can be both a blessing and a curse. Although many of the bolts may be the same size, they often vary in length. A bucket of bolts should therefore be avoided. To keep track of which fasteners were used for each component, including the various clips and brackets, the disassembly process should begin by photographing in scrupulous detail the entire car. Using a camcorder to videotape a walkthrough of the vehicle is also a good idea. Pay particular attention to how the various components are assembled and where the wiring harness runs throughout the vehicle. These materials can then be used if a problem develops when the car is put back together.

Body Work and Paint

Body work and paint are usually the most expensive parts of the restoration process. Both tasks are labor-intensive but important. It is for these reasons that hiring a professional can be costly. Fortunately, some minor body repairs and paint preparation techniques can be performed before turning the car over to a professional, which can help reduce the cost. When it comes to body work, a plethora of "how to" books and instructional videos are available on the market, oftentimes specific to Mustangs, and body repair tools are readily available at automotive repair stores. If the car is to be painted, a substantial amount of money can be saved by removing the old paint yourself rather than hiring a professional to do it. A variety of paint removal tools are available. Sandpaper used in conjunction with an electric sander is perhaps the most common and is also the least expensive method, but be prepared to use lots of sandpaper and spend lots of time. Chemical paint removers are also increasing in popularity. The chemicals can be expensive, but when properly used can quickly dissolve paint. The easiest and quickest method to remove paint is with media blasting. However, it is typically the most expensive of the three methods. Media, typically bicarbonate soda or ground glass, is applied to the painted surface under high pressure supplied by an air compressor to strip the paint. Whether performing body and paint work yourself or hiring a professional, this step should be the first after the car is disassembled.

Electrical and Interior

Once the body and paint work is complete, the electrical system and interior are usually the next items to be restored. Wiring can be intimidating, but the Mustang's wiring is fairly straightforward, consisting mostly of several wiring looms that plug together. Each wire is also assigned its own color, often in conjunction with a strip of a second color running along its length. Wiring diagrams are available for each year of the classic Mustangs and can quickly prove to be invaluable if installing a replacement wiring system. As an alternative, aftermarket wiring kits do exist, which make installation much easier than installing a stock replacement wiring loom. Each wire is labeled with the component it attaches to and detailed installation instructions are including with the kit. Although these aftermarket kits are easier to install than stock replacement kits, they are typically more expensive. Mustang owners can be thankful that virtually every interior component has been reproduced and is readily available. Many vendors even offer a complete interior kit at one price, which typically includes carpet, upholstery for both the front and rear seats, a headliner, door panels, door and window cranks, and sun visors. Mustang interiors are easy to work on and, like with paint and body work, many Mustang-specific books and instructional videos are available.


The engine should be the last component installed. Two questions must be answered before working on the engine. First, whether the engine should be rebuilt with stock or modified components, and second, whether a professional will handle the engine assembly. Mustang purists often balk at modifying a classic Mustang in any respect, arguing that a "true" Mustang must be restored to stock specifications with no deviations. Others point to the large number of Mustangs that were produced to support their argument that plenty of stock Mustangs will still exist if some are modified, and modifications make the car more personalized to the owner. Fortunately, a middle ground does exist that will increase the performance of the engine while retaining a stock look. The valvetrain, including the cylinder heads, valves, rocker arms and camshaft can all be replaced with aftermarket components without altering the exterior of the engine. Finally, unless thoroughly familiar with Mustang engines, building the engine is a task best left to a professional, as one mistake can be an expensive lesson.


About the Author

John Stevens has been a writer for various websites since 2008. He holds an Associate of Science in administration of justice from Riverside Community College, a Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice from California State University, San Bernardino, and a Juris Doctor from Whittier Law School. Stevens is a lawyer and licensed real-estate broker.

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