My 1970 Mustang Convertible has an exciting story. First of all, we will celebrate its 52st birthday on June 11th, 2022! Now on to the tale it took to get here.
It was initially restored by a close friend of mine in 1998 as he was my "go-to car guy." We had a simple relationship, I fixed his computers, and he took care of all my car problems. Scott K Kildahl Jr was one of those guys who knew everything about cars and could talk your ear off for hours. He was a great resource to figure out what needed to be done as he most always got to the source of the problem the first time. His shop was always full of cars, a true testimony of the quality and fairness of his work. After purchasing from a local owner, Scott first gutted the mustang, and it was reborn to be a classic mustang convertible. The motor was rebuilt with some extras; Edelbrock carburetor and intake manifold, electronic ignition, remote bypass two-stage oil filtration, new internals, c4 transmission, drive train and interior, and a new paint job.
All was going well for Scott and his new toy until one Autumn day when he fell deathly ill. Scott would be hospitalized for over a year. Work at his shop came to a standstill. His business was lost, and his life was turned upside down. I helped him and his wife, Deb, with all sorts of things over that year and was surprised when Scott told me he needed to sell the car. I was devastated as I was getting used to taking care of the vehicle. Then the shock of the following statement; "I want you to buy the car!" I was 33 and had many other things going on in my life. I could not afford such an excellent machine. Scott was the kind of guy that money was not the most essential thing in life. Scott let me make payments on the car, and when he simply told me the bill was paid one day. I've owned the car for the past 24 years. My family and I have enjoyed our summer drives over the many summers until 2017.
In researching possible upgrades to this plus fifty-year-old car, it was determined that a front disc brake kit and a vacuumed booster would be an excellent update for this summer cruise machine! Can you hear the optimism in my writing? There are many ways to make this happen, you can get similar parts from similar vehicles to bolt-on, or several new modification kits meet the needs. I selected a kit from a Stainless-Steel Break Company (SSBC) with great reviews and purchased a bolt-on kit that would just fit. Once the parts arrived, I figured out that the job was more work than I anticipated. I did not plan on some of the things to replace the brake lines and adjust the firewall for the new vacuum booster. The next adventure was to find a shop that would help me get the line work done. After a few weeks of reviews and searching, I found a local shop and met with them to discuss the project. The local shop was a great fit for me as they were willing to do as much or as little of the project that I needed help doing. A deposit was made, and a start date was set to do the work.
Optimism ringing in again. . . .
About a week after the start of the project, the bad news started. What do you think? Yes, the top and drive train were great, but the frame, torque boxes, and floor pans were marginal. So now the big decision: sell/scrap or make an investment. This is the ultimate problem that cars that have been driven in the upper Midwest will run into. The past fifty years of wear and tear on this unibody had seen better days. The manufacturing methods of the seventies did not consider a lifetime like this. After much thought and conversations, we came up with a budget and planned to cut the bottom out of the car and rebuild it.
Queue the music for the "Six-million-dollar man."
The plan included removing all the metal from the firewall forward, salvaging all good sheet metal, and converting the front end to a coil over-based system. Several great kits out there help with some of the engineering issues of a change this large. There are two ways to do this: keep the stock shock towers or second to delete them. I chose the path to delete them and go for a restoration modification (restro mod) path. We decided to use the Chris Aston-designed full front clip system from Total Control Products. This system would stiffen up the frame and give the car some strength. We also decided to add cross-frame connectors to tie the front and rear rails together, giving the vehicle a full foundation under the floor pans.
The first few times going to see the car was both exciting and depressing (see pics). Once the car was put up on the support rack and disassembled, it was easy to see all the things I've missed over the years—inner rockers, pan surface rust, frame rails, etc. that needed attention. Owner a vehicle with low clearance to the ground and no access to a lift, it was easy to forget about all the support structures that hide down there. So if you're reading this and have a car, I suggest you get yours on a lift and take a peek. Had I done this in years past and just wire brushed the bottom and rattle can paint some of the problem areas, I think it would have gone a long way to slow down some of the damage.
With hindsight being 20/20, I can attest that custom metal rework is expensive, and finding the right people to do it can be even more challenging. Work has been ongoing for the past six months based on budget and time availability at the shop. Knocking out the rusty spots and getting to good metal takes time, but it is necessary to fill it back all in. To keep track of work progress and what has been done, it has been helpful taking lots of pictures to document what has been done every step of the way.
Queue the "Jeopardy" theme music. . . .
Funny things along the way:
When the shop owner allows you to stop by and see what's going on, you sometimes get to hear things you may not want to know. Some of the surprises I got were, "Hey Joe, do you know that your car caught on fire when we were plasma cutting it?" Found out that someone had filled some of the interior rails and inner spaces with spray foam in the past. Not sure why? Another one was, "Hey Joe, did you haul cement in the trunk?" Not sure where or how, but the rear quarter panels had a mix of rags and some type of concrete in them. Almost the last straw, "Hey Joe, did you notice the inner rocker panels are upside down? (it became evident when they tried to tie the new floor pans to the inner rockers. Oh my! So there must be a sorted past to this old pony.
At the seven-month mark, the bottom was taking shape, and the car was looking like a car again. The buck was mainly stripped down to the frame, and all the interior components and dash were out. I took this opportunity to look at all the inside spaces and seams. Another turning point happened. With the car disassembled, it was now time to decide if a new paint job was in the cards. There were some moisture bubbles in the paint in the lower corners of the doors and quarter panels. The lower pans met up with the outer skins and were reattached; some heat transfer caused some paint to burn and peel up. The lower part of the car was going to get seam-sealed, painted, and undercoated, so the shop worked up the additional plan, and I figured out how to fund it.
Getting ready to paint, the shop had to remove the glass, the rest of the chrome, and the top off before sending it to the media blaster shop. It is quite a thing to see a car just after media blasting. All the hidden things you think you would have seen or known about are exposed. I found car has even more of a past than I had thought. The rear quarter panels were replaced at some point because once all of the body filler was gone, it reviled, cut, and spot welded 69 rear quarter panels with the scoop in them. What a surprise to see! The driver's door was so thin that there were large holes in it. So was the front right quarter panel and a few other holes and thin metal in some places from road salt and wear and tear. The rear quarter pocket of the 69 panels was cut out, and metal was welded back in. The spay foam was removed, even the foam found between the inner and outer rear quarter panels.
Now that the bottom of the car was solid, it was time to seam-seal it and the front restoration area, and into the paint booth, it went to get a priming black color on with a touch of undercoating to the bottom and its wheel wells.
Assembly is a slow and arduous process, and again, trying to keep to a budget. Many of us have looked at the car catalogs (yes, there are other names I could use!). The fun is trying not to go broke in replacing everything. December came, and the chance to help came with a call from the shop asking if I wanted to help put the whole thing together. Late November, the rear end axel was cleaned up with a new pinion seal, breaks re-done, assembled, and re-painted. A 5-leaf drop eye spring was installed with the replaced rear axle assembly. Additionally, the initial part of the coil-over front end was assembled. We are a roller again!
January through March was spent in small steps of aligning panels and getting the gaps to be correct. Again trying to stay within the budget, I was willing to work with the shop and be patient in working on more pressing projects in their queues. My goal was to have it ready to park in the Northern Star National Mustang Show at the end of June 2019, and I'd even paid for a spot, but it was not to be. It is truly a pleasure to watch professionals work. The shop's body guy was a seasoned veteran that made panels look so good. In the middle of June 2019, I got a phone call to top by and approve the 2019 Dark Highland Green (Ford M7424) test panel. Now things were getting exciting!
Yes, it's a cheerily tune for me; think Sesame Street - Sunny Day. . .
I continued to work on cleaning up some of the dissembled parts and pieces. There are many You-Tube Videos out there that are helpful in the basic skills of rattle can painting. The lenses for the front, side, and taillights were mainly fogged and scratched. I restored them with some plastic converting techniques of 800/1000/2000 grit wet sanding paper, some red rouge paste, and a buffing wheel. Save a bunch of cash by spending the time with a bucket of soapy water and a scotch bright.
I completed the final assembly in the first half of 2021.
So not a bad story of a car that started out in the Los Angles CA basin back in June of 1970 as a Hertz rental vehicle. Not sure about all of the other stops along the way before it arrived in my hand, but I'm glad I saved it. Restro mods can be expensive, but the big lesson in all of this is setting a budget and sticking to it. Yes, I've made some mistakes along the way, but now that it is done, it is ready to last another lifetime of fun!