A Father and Son Story – Creating a Daily Driver out of a Red 1966 Mustang Coupe

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a short story about our journey, trials and tribulations with my son dreaming and creating his first car.

Submitted: June 13, 2016

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Submitted: June 13, 2016

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The Car:

It started quite simply as a shared interest in mechanical stuff and a love of classic American iron, we sensed this joint passion early on, I’ve always had the believe that if it’s already broke it can’t be broken more, my son has been taking things apart since he could fart and has never stopped.  When he got close or really not so close to driving age we decided a car project would be fun, more specifically an old truck project so we bought a barely running and driving 65 Ford F100 short bed with a transplanted 460 from a close friends junk yard, we learned the joys, dreams and disappointments of a classic vehicle and what could be reasonably expected from an amateur restoration.  We also learned how to weld and grind, treat and fix rust, how to get stubborn bolts loose, what tools work, how to clean grease from our nails and the research, time, cost and proximity required to create a successful project because most of these grand missions fail and they are spread across the fields, barns and backyards of America.

We got close, very close and now I know we will actually finish that project but we got side tracked about four years in and six months ago when Tom decided that nothing but a classic American muscle car with a manual transmission would do for his first ride.  Being an average dad I say “hell no Sport” to plenty of pipe dreams from my kids but this is a passion of mine and narrowing the field to a Ford and knowing the large numbers of these things built gave me the allusion of an eventual cost advantage so we started our search, narrowed that down until we started concentrating strictly on Mustangs, then first generation Mustangs because of the classic styling and one weekend we drove a few and finally bought the most basic 1966 coupe possible, mostly stock 200 ci straight six, manual three speed “stick in the mud” with non-synchronized first gear (you can’t shift into first until the car is totally stopped, a much bigger pain in the ass than I would have ever guessed) and absolutely zero options.

This car was perfect for us for several reasons, affordable at $6,500, not gonna be very fast (important to Mom) with only 120 horse power and a nearly rust free body and solid undercarriage, “rust free” now this is an overused term in the classic car vernacular but we had experience from the F100 that helped us look in those typical and hidden spots and though we found somemore after we got into the car and eyeball to undercarriage, this car is pretty clean.  The car had been restored about 15 years ago is solid and has a nice paint job and interior so as soon as we got the mechanics going in the right direction we would have something we’d be proud of driving and not have to wait on an expensive and time consuming paint job.

That’s a big deal in terms of continued motivation, we knew there were many safety and reliability issues that we’d need to deal with but when a u-joint exploded out of the car as soon as we got on the freeway on the way home we knew this was going to be a bigger undertaking than ever imagined.  So our first bit of shame was the car getting towed about half way home, memorialized by my wife with a Facebook video but by the end of this journey that would be our very least worry. 

The first, best and most simple thing we did was to set up a simple, well organized mechanics shop in our home garage, the F100 had been stored and worked on at my office warehouse and this created an extra hurdle to us working on the truck together and finally put it into terminal stall mode.  An inexpensive compressor, good socket set, open and closed end wrenches, decent tool box and a new screwdriver set got us going, we added a small card table to work on and a plastic storage shelf to store our tools and parts (total about $650).

Defining “daily driver” really became an obsession of mine because it’s an overused term in this hobby referring to any car that isn’t a show car that you can get in on the weekend and drive around a bit, that’s okay for general discussion but we definitely wanted something much more.  We wanted to create a car that my son can drive every day and be his main mode of transportation without fail.  I was discouraged by a lot of the information and advice out there on this topic, most of it grounded in good solid common sense and stating what I now see as obvious, these cars were built in another time when safety and reliability were not what they are now, for a lot less money and effort you can buy a safe, modern and easy to drive car and not have all the hassles and dangers of a Classic, who wants the vibration, noise, lack of air bags and raw exhaust fumes that tend to migrate into the passenger cab along with the lack of creature comforts, it just doesn’t make a ton of sense and for that reason you don’t see many of them out there.  As we’ve completed this build I’ve kept my eyes open and even in a large city like Atlanta I see very few classic cars being used as true daily drivers and most of those are trucks from the 70’s and 80’s.  This story details our journey to come to peace with this adventure, compromise, plan and improve the car and hopefully we’ll inspire others to do the same because it really doesn’t get any better than driving one of these old cars that is really solid and has it all going on every single day.

These are basic cars so basic tools work for most of the repairs though there are some specialty tools and a big part of this journey has to be the research you put in on the tricks and tools to complete certain repairs.  Get really good at internet searches, make lists of the parts you’ll need, watch all the “how to” videos you can and join and read the message boards.  We also imagined early on that this is going to be a vehicle, no matter how reliable, that is going to break down more than a comparable modern car so we put together a decent tool box to keep in the trunk and added a milk crate filled with cans of all the fluids we may need, this took a fair amount of our trunk space but is a necessary compromise so he won’t get stuck without options.  Also make sure you have a dependable spare tire, jack and means to change a tire, we tend to look at the bright and shiny paint and chrome on a classic car and ignore basic road emergencies (about $200 total)

The Work:

We got the car home to our garage and the drive shaft dropped in 30 minutes, obviously the front ”U” joint had failed explosively.  I found out quick we needed to find and make good friends with the few shops that still work on these classics, the metrics and economics of modern auto repair don’t exactly make these shops big money makers so expect to find the old curmudgeon in the run down storefront and cluttered greasy shop hanging onto his passion and what he enjoys, even in a large city like Atlanta we didn’t find many but those we did find are high quality and  classic auto sensei’s, they realize what will work, what is worth the effort and where to get those tough to find parts.

I’ll jump around in this story but important things come to mind and I have to download them, quick note to the wise, when jacking a car check everything three or four times and make damn sure you have it properly jacked with stands and wheel chocks and nothing can go wrong.  We had an experience with the truck where I nearly got crushed by a wheel when it rolled off the ramps and though we thought we had it chocked right and the emergency brake set, I was saved by an errant hammer that happened to be just big enough to stop the truck at the last possible moment, I was rolling under the truck in a panic and Tom was inside working, it would have been a disaster but we learned an important lesson and have gotten in the habit of both checking to make sure the car is safe and won’t drop or roll on one of us.  If we get in a bind and have to do something that is outside our comfort level we always have an escape plan and someone watching to make sure disaster will not strike.

Back to our story, I found Chamblee Drive shaft, $250 and a week later we had a rebuilt drive shaft ready to throw back into the car and get us squarely back to square one (these guys did a great job, had a replacement input shaft in stock and did a perfect balancing job).  Ready to get our little lady back on the road and taste a bit of success, or not, after another oily crawl under our new beauty my son comes up with, “Dad aren’t we missing a few bolts there?”  Sure enough not only is the transmission loose from the bellhousing but the bellhousing is not fully attached to the engine, easy fix and hopefully we can find a few replacement bolts from Home Depot and have this near catastrophe solved in no time but as these projects go we next noticed the bellhousing itself was cracked and wouldn’t even hold a bolt.  Lesson learned when the guy selling you the car says “a mechanic told me we just needed to adjust the shift linkage a little to get it to shift right” don’t ever believe him, larger demons lurk.

At this point in time we are still full of piss and vinegar regardless of the challenges so down comes the trans member, transmission, emergency brake, clutch lever, speedometer cable and bell housing and since we’re there we might as well plan on installing a new clutch.  The bellhousing was not that big a deal, I got lucky on EBay and found a perfect reconditioned original for $150 but I was glad that I took the actual part number right off the broken one because I learned that they created and sold a bunch of early Mustangs and were basically doing all they could to push them out the factory doors, this meant using a lot of different parts and slightly different drive train configurations but I felt fortunate we found the right part and figured we’d be up and running soon.  Another important note: Whenever you get that “good” feeling when working on a classic car get ready to have your ass kicked.

Once again Tom came up with the simple and common sense idea of pulling the top cover off the transmission we pulled, there are some things I don’t ever need to see again and all those chipped gears and metal shavings are one of them.  This turned into our biggest challenge and finding someone to rebuild a 50 year old obsolete and not very reliable three speed manual transmission was rough (I think there are some online shops but I didn’t feel great about shipping this important chunk of iron and then waiting) finally I found a company named Southern Gear in Smyrna Georgia, they knew the gear box and had access to the parts but are busy doing regular, normal and modern repairs that actually pay the bills.

So getting the transmission repaired was a long, semi painful ten week journey, calling every week and getting a lot of promises and little results but realizing this was my decided upon path and I had to stay with it.  In the end they found all the parts, did a great job, resurfaced the flywheel for free and $1,200 later we had a bright shiny rebuilt tranny.  Replacing the clutch was probably a mistake, the best deal I found was a 9 ½” unit purchased through CJ Pony and put together by Scott Drake, this is a great repro clutch kit compared to the original 8 ½” but cost a stiff $350 and was identical to the one we removed which we found had very little wear, decided to err on the side of caution and installed the new clutch anyway, we’ll keep the other as a spare.

Another word to the wise and solidly in the category of hind sight being 20/20: if I would have known more about how this car would perform and what was available to us I would have removed these old parts and went straight to the five speed T5 upgrade, I felt I had read and researched all I could and when I heard the $3,500 price tag just for materials I backed off real quick but after adding the new Hurst three speed shifter we got close to $2,000 repairing the old drive train and having those two extra gears would be nice right now especially on the Atlanta freeways.  I have found that it’s important to have resolve, take a direction and be committed so we now have a great shifting three speed that is a little tough to drive but fun and satisfying, we plan on maybe making the five speed upgrade sometime down the road when this boy starts working!

They call them “stick in the mud” three speeds for a good reason, finding gears and knowing where you are is a constant challenge especially with the original shifter and funky linkage set-up, we had done a Hurst aftermarket conversion on the truck and ordered one for the Mustang, $375 and soon it was in our hands, this is a great looker and is one of the best things we did but read all the directions and take care.  The transmission shop set it all up when they did the rebuild but we had some modifications that needed to be made.  First we lengthened the hole in the transmission tunnel about ½”, easy work with the side grinder.  The emergency brake bracket wouldn’t fit with the new shifter so Tom pulled it off and bent it in the vice to make it function around the shifter, we also had to modify the reverse light bracket since it didn’t come close to working but a bit of fab and welding and we remade the bracket though that’s one item we’re still working to get perfect.  Nothing like a Hurst shifter knob and sticker in your classic car to make you feel like a real “home town hotrod”.

The PO mentioned that the squeak in the right front drove him crazy, we didn’t put a lot of weight into that statement because the car made so much other noise that we never noticed that specific squeak.  Once on jack stands we saw that the right side, inside and outside tie rod ends were almost completely crushed and the bushings between the upper and lower control arms had gone bad, $250 in NAPA parts later we tore in and had these guys installed in about three hours, though we counted the turns on the tie rod end and installed the new ones in the same spot we knew the car would need to be aligned once road worthy but we also weren’t specifically knowledgeable enough to know if any other suspension bits had gone bad, everything else looked good to our eyes but once back on the road things felt okay but “yanky” on the ride, every once in a while the car would sort of jump to one side especially if we hit a small imperfection in the road.

Another side note here, I do all I can to purchase parts locally, it’s just a lot easier if I can pick them up from my local part store and I like to support my community businesses but I have the advantage of a NAPA warehouse near my office, in general they provide a higher quality part and seem to have Sales Associates that are more knowledgeable but I also buy from Autozone and Pep Boys whenever convenient or if I can get a good deal.  Procurement of the right parts at a fair price is a major deal with these cars, use whatever resources you have, I seemed to purchase a lot of online stuff from CJ Pony Parts but I’ve also bought from NPD, EBay and Scott Drake and various other vendors when they had the right item at a cost I could live with.  In the end read the hell out of the descriptions, I often read them three and four times over and then find a key note or deletion that makes the part not work, I feel fortunate that I only bought one incorrect part and it cost me $175, I’ve nearly messed up a bunch of other times but I’m naturally nervous and go back and re read / re research a lot.

For most amateur mechanics there are a few things that we need some professional help with, for us it was tires and suspension.  The tires on the car were in nearly new condition but they seemed small and we needed someone to figure out what we couldn’t.  I have a favorite tire shop in Atlanta called Gran Tourismo East in Chamblee, Georgia, they do a lot of high end autos, race cars and classic cars along with regular passenger cars and I’ve known them for nearly 20 years.  By the time we got the car into their hands we had nearly ruined the front tires by putting too many miles on the bad alignment but I knew we would want to get better and larger tires anyway.  They noticed that the upper control arms and upper spring seats needed to be replaced but didn’t have the expertise for that work but they did refer me to a Mustang shop called Vintage Mustang in Decatur, Georgia, these guys fit the bill of passionate mechanics working out of a great old shop and doing what they love; restorations and general repairs on anything old, Ford and Mustang.  They replaced the upper control arms, front bushings and top spring mounts for $850 and a couple of days later I had my car back and a great 30 minute conversation with the owner / mechanic who gave me a tour of the shop and a bunch of pointers on collapsible steering columns, what to reasonably expect from disk brake conversions and what to look out for when we do the 5 speed transmission upgrade, all invaluable information for knowledge needy amateurs like ourselves.

The ten week transmission delay took some wind out of our sails, the car sat on jacks for that entire time and though we did a few things like working on the new brake set up we lost a lot of momentum and got discouraged even when the new transmission arrived we actually had to kick ourselves in the ass and put in a big work day but like magic something we thought was going to be a two weekend job got put back together in about five hours of sweaty, greasy under the car back time and we actually started and drove the car that same day.  It ran, stopped and shifted rough as hell but it was a huge advance from where we had been (non-running car up on jacks) and gave us the victory we needed to continue and know we would come to an end if we continued to fight the good fight.

The milestone that made me realize we certainly would complete this project and get it all the way to our goal was a very simple thing; the roll up mechanism on the windows.  These are typically pesky little scissor brackets with sets of rollers and levers that like to get bound and worn out and make it impossible to roll up one or all of your windows, another of those previous owner comments I should have belly laughed at when he said “just need to pop that window back on track and it’ll work just like new”.  Actually the mechanism is simple but the original grease coagulates into a substance much closer to the consistency of hard ear wax and the plastic rollers either wear out or pop off.  Nothing that is rocket science here but I came home from work one day and found Tom had pulled all the door and rear panels and completely removed the window mechanisms and was, wire brushing, cleaning, re-greasing and replacing the plastic rollers with some that came in a box of spare parts with the car.  In the end this isn’t the most technical work he did but it showed me he had the resolve and confidence to take on anything and was going to have all systems working as well as possible and he wasn’t shy or afraid to tie into any of this work.  Again a small victory but now our windows roll up and down perfectly.

Once the suspension was repaired we made another trip to Gran Tourismo East and Kieran and his crew set us up with raised white letter 215 / 70’s all around, this is the weaker four bolt hub so we had to be careful about tire size but these tires fill the wheel wells perfectly and show how important trusted professional advice can be, these tires provide a much more secure ride and make the car handle better than we’ve ever experienced.  This was another $900 investment and the costs have certainly added up but it’s our passion and anything that makes the car safer (okay or cooler looking) is worth the investment to me.

An advantage of working on an old Mustang is that they made a running ton of them and re-pop the parts like crazy so for the most part finding what we needed at a reasonable cost was fairly easy.  I also didn’t feel like we were adding a mustache to the Mona Lisa doing our resto mods, we have the most common and non-rare coup you could imagine, though to make us feel a bit better I bought a bunch of large plastic bins to save all the old parts we pulled, I’m not sure how many are original but if the next owner (can’t imagine that will be anyone that doesn’t share our family DNA) wants to go back to original he or she can reverse the process.  Also it seems like there is a possible upgrade for nearly any part so if you want to upgrade your car with a carbon fiber head liner or modern fully molded door panels they are available in a variety of colors but just like most things in life; nothing is free.

The Story:

Every car has a story and that’s a big part of the fun, I have no idea if any of this is true and it’s likely impossible to track but we ran the old vin and found our car was born with the same engine, exterior color, interior and rear end that it currently has and we assume those parts are original but have not overly researched that issue.  Our particular story was that this was a super clean Texas car, restored about 15 years ago, passed through three members of the same family who all had good intentions but never got to doing anything to the car besides driving it a little.  It looked the part, some decent bondo, body and paint work, generally in great condition though fairly tired in the mechanical department.  Our PO did us a big favor by getting the head reworked, he reminded me several times this was completed at a stiff cost of $1,850 but I knew that just meant he was ready to sell and tired of spending money, I was able to track down the local shop that did the work and they confirmed that hardened valve seals had been installed and the engine would run fine on modern pump gas, a lucky little victory for us.

Our stated goal from the beginning was to create a daily driver that my son could drive when he got his license so we put a lot of thought and planning regarding reliability, safety upgrades and options that would get us to that point.  This has become a moving target, nothing will be quite as you imagine and those upgrades that seem the most effective and simple will create the most heartburn or disappoint.  Point in case the brakes.

Stopping:

The original single bowl four wheel drum brakes are not only unsafe but generally don’t stop the car in anything short of a foot stomping struggle, I know when maintained and adjusted just right they are fine but I needed more for my teenage driver and my peace of mind.  We decided we’d go with a system that mimics a modern vehicle and add front disks, leave the rear drums and install a power booster with a two bowl master.  Great idea, we’d even done this same upgrade to the truck using the parts from a more modern donor but discovered our car (four bolt manual six) only had two after-market options and after a ton of research I plopped $1,300 down for the SSBC kit purchased through NPD.  We knew the process and tore right into pulling the old drums and pulling out the old master, no big deal we had it down to the raw spindles and ready to install the new parts in about three hours.

Putting the new disks, calipers and brake lines in was easy as well so in another three hours Tom had it down to just installing the booster, master and re-bending new lines.  Interesting note; Tom became enamored with bending brake lines and creating the double flare ends, it’s all a total pain to me but to him it’s like brake line origami so he really enjoyed this part which is probably the toughest part of the conversion process.

Now the time monkey jumped on our back, getting on all four of the bolts that hold the power booster to the fire wall was a fight of 1/16 rotation at a time turns until either my son or myself would finally break down and hand the wrench to the other with that look of “I don’t think we’re ever going to get this”.  When that final tough bolt torqued we jumped for joy and filled the bowls with brake fluid, only to have it all run out of the new brake lines where they bolted into the calibers, we tried every combination of brass washers and bolt torque, reading about others having this same issue, walking away from it for a few days, then coming back with a new attitude but nothing worked. 

I finally contacted someone at SSBC, great guy but not really into jumping on a customer service issue and sticking with it until resolved but after sending pictures of the offending parts and persistent email and phone prodding they sent us a new set of calibers.  Took a few more weeks to receive but we had these on in no time and solved that issue just to be faced with some other leaks and the realization that it was nearly impossible to get a firm pedal with this set up.  At one point we felt that we would never get the brake conversion right and make the Mustang into a true driver and this being is a critical element of the build that we simply could not get wrong, this put us into “restoration depression”. 

Another plea for technical support got ignored from SSBC and then NPD so we dug in further, finally Tom took it under his wing and one day after school installed the larger non-power master cylinder that came with the kit (for no apparent reason), redid the break lines again to fit that configuration, notched the top engine body braces (really the only way to make the new master work) and impressed me to no end that he made this mod on his own and tried again.  Better but still not a super solid feeling when braking, this was really about to break us (bad joke I know) and again we stepped back for about a week.

We finally decided to pull the rear wheels and inspect the back brakes as a last resort, they had been rebuild just like the front and all the parts were in nearly new shape but the cylinders were corroded and leaking, I found the parts and Tom did a full rebuild (another skill learned on the F100) with all new drums, shoes, cylinders and a few springs ($150 in parts) and we had a brake system that was close to sufficient.  We got really good at bleeding brakes but finally had them professionally bleed and that was the final improvement needed.  This was no simple victory but another of the battles we won through sheer determination and the realization that all the money and time we put into the old girl to this point would go to waste if the car would not stop.

We figured out one of the strange sounds the car was making (of many) was actually the clutch Z bar rubbing against the bottom of the power booster, this sound become more and more irritating to us as we understood it involved our much worked on braking system and besides being irritating it just plain wasn’t right and involved the same power booster attached to the fire wall with the one bolt that nearly caused our combined resolve to fail.

Many of these sticky issues test patience, knowledge, skill and any other basic human ability to survive but this one kept us scratching our combined skulls for a couple of weeks.  Finally we realized the bracket holding the booster had slotted holes and could move up a bit so Tom loosened all four bolts (including the evil one) and put a piece of folded card board between the Z bar and the bottom of the booster, I pushed the clutch in all the way and kept my foot on the pedal which pushed the booster and bracket to the highest possible position and he re-tightened the bolts, it took two tries but we finally got the clearance needed. 

Adding the final brass fittings and rubber hose to the power booster (and replacing the broken plastic vacuum valve, another issue that SSBC and NPD refused to assist) and connecting all that to the right vacuum port on the engine ($50) gave us a braking system that is damn good compared to what we had but not near as great as we had hoped but now you can lock the wheels up if you push the pedal all the way to the floor and I think that’s the best we can hope for.  At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

A final summation of the lessons learned in brake conversion for Classic cars, if you can locate the donor system from a later year model and convert to your car, do it, everything will work, new parts are available and the system has been engineered by Detroit to actually work.  One of my fears is that I have never been able to find what calibers or brake shoes I can purchase in the future to replace what I have when they wear out, I’ve even searched the SSBC site and haven’t been able to find replacements, best I can hope for is to go to the auto parts store with the old parts and try and match them up.  Don’t believe that many of these vendors will provide real helpful support after the sale, go through the effort to provide reviews for the items you purchase.  I’ve learned that the best parts are the ones that are simply good quality and engineered to work, best to stay away from others and we’ll never know the difference if we don’t help each other out with honest reviews.

Finishing & Safety:

During this trying period my son removed the air cleaner cover and valve cover, degreased, wire wheeled the rust, cleaned them with tsp and painted both with high temp Ford blue paint ($20), I know this seems like a small thing but it was huge success to us because it gave us instant “feel good” about the look of our project and was one thing we didn’t have to wrestle with for weeks.  I believe we need many of these small simple victories to win the war, just little easy but effective improvements that we can hang our hat on while we get beat down by the big issues.

More of this car’s story, some of it you’ll hear from the previous owner or through your research but much you’ll learn as you touch, inspect and feel every nook and cranny of your car.  One weird thing we soon realized was that at some point someone had caked a tremendous amount of black tar / caulk around any possible opening or fitting, I suppose it was an attempt to make the car a bit tighter and keep exhaust and gas fumes out of the cabin but it really made a mess and we found this method was used instead of replacing deteriorated rubber boots or using the proper fastener.  It was one of those things that we kept finding more of, nearly every part, nook, cranny or seam was filled with this sticky, sometimes hardened but always black and funky mess.  It became sort of a scale of the work we had completed, every time we came in contact with this gook we removed it as best we could and either replaced the boot ($80) or put back a more appropriate material in its place, in the end I know there is still some of that gunk on the car but I’d bet we removed fifteen pounds of pure crap and it always made me feel good.  Tom removed a ton from under the rear seat and replaced it with foil backed sound proofing sheets purchased from our local building supply store ($40).

We also noticed a really small toggle switch under the dash and an odd wire to the coil, I’d read somewhere that grounding one side of the coil was an effective way to install a kill switch, sure enough with a little experimentation that was what we had found, the PO never even told us about it and likely didn’t even know it existed but it’s a fun and useful little switch that gives us a bit of comfort.

Along with getting the car running and stopping reliably my main concern was to make this 50 year old relic of the 60’s something Mom would feel good about on all fronts.  A few easy ones were adding a passenger side mirror to the car, can you believe that was actually an option?  Just two screws and $45 and being super careful not to scratch the paint, replaced the head lights with high output units from Scott Drake, very affordable product and around $40 that were easy to install, looked just like the original Ford units and improved lighting by about 50%.  Also got a great replacement rear view mirror, again a Scott Drake item purchased through CJ Pony that was $40 and gave an added couple inches of mirror length with a day / night switch which improves vision and the night time driving experience.  After spending $175 worth of dumb ass points on the one crap three point seat belt, did a bit more research and found a perfect pair from CJ Pony, an actual set of two for the same price ($175) that work great.  This was another project my Son installed by himself and showed me he was stopping at nothing to get the car to the place needed so he could drive it every day, I was afraid these seat belts would be uncomfortable and tough to use and for that reason go untouched but they are very comfortable and easy to buckle and we use them every ride because he put the effort into the install.

Our car did not have a console and we realized quickly that he’d need a spot to set a drink and somewhere to put his shit.  Another $250 and we had a half red console that attached to the carpet with Velcro in just the right spot to miss the shifter and still allow some use of the back seat.  For some reason a previous owner had disconnected the old am radio, Tom took it apart, figured it out and had it reconnected for another of those small but huge victories and it was fun just using the one speaker am radio for a time that got louder with more static as the revs increased, made me remember my childhood and my Dad’s old Fords.

My research about creating a daily driver warned us about the solid steel steering rod that runs from the steering box all the way to the back of the steering wheel, in front impact crashes this rod can be pushed into the driver causing an extremely uncomfortable experience that we decided to avoid.  Two directions we could go; first the 67 donor collapsible column and have some custom machining to make the steering wheel work or an Iditit after-market column and rework our current box ourselves.  Though our steering is manual it is very easy, precise, tight and dependable, early on we filled the stock steering box with grease and we haven’t had any of the tell-tale sloppy wheel syndrome that can make driving an adventure.  In the final analysis the Iditit solution suited us perfectly plus we picked up the chrome tilt option, though the cost is about $850 this was a great addition, took care of the collapsible column issue,  and has a great chrome finish plus installed seamlessly in about three hours and reused our current steering box with a fairly simple mod.

The next improvement was more eye candy than safety but I found we could buy a wood steering wheel with brass rivets that is an inch smaller in diameter, commonly known as a Shelby wheel.  Between the wheel, mounting kit and horn button it set us back $400, thought about that one a lot but our old wheel had the original (cracked) red plastic with a leather like covering held on with wrapped plastic string, the real stained wood looks a ton better and makes it easier to get your legs under the wheel when you enter the car, besides the new tires and Hurst shifter it makes the biggest appearance difference and sets the Ididit chrome steering column off perfectly.

Had a friend tell me that this generation Mustang only had a card board panel between the back seat and the trunk which also happens to hold the gas tank, in a rear end crash a fire would quickly spread to the passenger cabin, our car didn’t even have a card board panel, just the back of the rear seat.  I thought about fabbing a piece of sheet metal but did some research and came upon a company that had already precut the steel and provided all the fasteners for about $180 and as added protection I found a gas tank cover with the same ribs as the tank to give an original look and bolts directly over the tank to provide an extra element of protection for $150, very reasonable easy and quick solutions to a serious safety issue.

We went a bit crazy replacing parts but it was all needed (around $400), I think some of these items had never been replaced and others were just past the point of being dependable. Four new shock absorbers, new alternator, new oil sending unit, new fan belt, upper and lower radiator hoses, thermostat, clutch Z bar bushings and I realized the fan and heater switch did not work properly so Tom tore into the dash and replaced the switch and resistor, the exhaust system was rusted but serviceable for a time until the muffler blew  (probably because we had the coil wire removed and kept pumping gas into the engine to get it started) so we replaced the entire system, $230 from CJ Pony, warning here that this was easy to order but got shipped  over about three weeks in three separate deliveries so we did have to wait a bit but it generally came off and went back on quickly and easily though we realized the hot muffler was hard against a rubber gas line near the gas tank so we spent a couple of hours getting that sorted, cut, brackets moved and adjusted just right, then bought an after-market generic muffler hanger to get our system up tight to the bottom of the car so we don’t rub the speed bumps.

We went through the entire electrical system making sure all the lights and switches worked seamlessly ($75 in materials), replaced the lamps behind the instrument panel, installed and secured the courtesy lamps, reworked any funky connections and spent a fair amount of time zip tying and wrapping wires and hoses away from the hot engine and other hot or rubbing conditions, I felt like the vibration and heat and wear of the daily driver experience would cause us problems if we didn’t have these old wires secured and protected as well as possible.  Replaced all the plugs, plug wires, distributor cap, rotor (someone had already added the Pertronix point replacement system) and did the simple things like air cleaner and oil change (another $140).

The windshield washer system was still all there but didn’t come close to working or even holding fluid, another repop moment, they sell all the parts and $120 later Tom installed a new bag, lines and motor and was proudly squirting washer on the window showing off to his Mom, some projects just feel more satisfying than others.

Our kick panels where cracked and looked ratty so another $40 got us a replacement pair that don’t quite match but to my color blind eyes look okay, we also decided to clean, wire brush, paint with rust neutralizer and spray undercoating on the floor plans ($60 in materials), most classic officiants will tell you this is a sin and one you will regret but for us we just want to do all we can to stop the car from rusting in the future, we found a few tiny rusty spots on this mission, nothing big enough to cut out and weld new steel but a few suspect spots that deserved some extra attention, you really have to stop at some point and for us this was about it.

For a while I thought I wouldn’t do it but in the end it was only right to get a sound system, alarm system and gps tracker installed on the car.  I hated anyone else splicing and cutting wires on our car but it was another job best in the hands of professionals.  I did decide not to cut the dash to install a modern stereo in place of the old radio so we just left it in place, I researched the classic audio systems that use the same cut out and have the same face as the original but in the end they underwhelmed so I decided to have two new speakers cut into the rear deck, replaced the original front speaker with a modern unit and set a new 100 watt stereo system mounted inside the console we added, I felt that was a better option than hanging it below the dash or in the glove box which would not be very convenient, the stereo has an aux and usb charging port along with blue tooth for making hands free calls.  This is a great finishing element and with a key fob security system that can be set remotely and is a nice deterrent to theft.  If someone gets past our other means we’ll also have the tracking gps to hopefully find our ride and come rescue it like super hero’s with guns blazing and bad guys falling.  This secure feeling and pounding bass set us back another $1,300.

A critical element I can’t forget to mention, we easily put 1,000 miles on the car driving around the neighborhood and nearby streets, test driving, figuring out this squeal, that chatter and countless other drivability issues.  Some of these took a while to get adjusted out like the clutch, every time we got on a certain road the transmission would go into hyper chatter, our first thought was that we put something together wrong and we’d end up taking it all apart and learning a big lesson about some small detail we got wrong but after a few rides Tom started adjusting the clutch and after going one way then the other and going down that same stretch of road twenty more times we finally got it adjusted out, that was one of our red letter days, knowing we had put the drive train back together properly and had it shifting and running right.

New Mustang mats and a professional detail at the local car wash was another $160, so where does that put us now?  Six months in and we have a great driving, as safe as possible and cool as hell 1966 Mustang daily driver in the true sense of the word.  Not sure how many hours we spent but easily a hundred each and many more doing research and dreaming of improvements to come and I’m afraid to add up what we spent on parts and professional help (okay total is about $17,000).  Summer is on us and with it we’ll probably need to look at adding A/C, what seemed a trivial inconvenience (we now have a girlfriend) is looking like a needed comfort and I’m sure this will continue as time goes by.

Well he’s got his license and we’ve got a ride that really drives tight and I can’t think of a better journey to have taken to connect and bond with my son during a particularly difficult and challenging time (that’s a whole other story).  These cars are more than metal and fuel, they capture our imaginations and make us sweat and toil for some small amount of pleasure and pride though in the end that may be all we can ever ask for, and we’re good with that.


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