Restoring a Fox Body Mustang

Restoring a Fox Body Mustang

Last Updated February 5, 2020 | Meghan Drummond
Contents

So, you’ve finally found the Fox Body Mustang of your dreams, there’s just a few (or a lot) of small problems you need to fix. Unfortunately, as Fox Bodies age, it’s harder to find one in pristine condition. The good news is that with just a little work and a lot of planning you can restore a Fox Body to like-new, or even better than new, condition.

Restoration Research

The first step to any restoration process is going to be research, planning, and budgeting. Spending more on a Fox Body that’s in better condition can save you money later on parts that are necessary for restoration. On the other hand, if you can do most of the work yourself, then it makes sense to budget more for parts and less for labor and the vehicle itself.

What you envision doing with your Fox Body is also going to affect how you want to allocate your time and energy. If you’re thinking of making a Coyote-swapped drag strip ready Fox, then you don’t need to waste a lot of time evaluating its current engine, and can even save significant amounts of money by looking at vehicles that aren’t running.

The Fox Body Mustang changed a lot through the years it was in production, so you should spend a little time thinking about what style most appeals to you, whether that be a four-eyed Fox, a two-toned GT, or an elusive Cobra.

An orange and black two-toned Mustang

If you’re still on the hunt for a Fox Body that’s worth restoring, there are a lot of things to be on the lookout for, many of which are covered in this handy CJ’s video on shopping for a Fox Body Mustang.

Essentially, you’re going to need to spend some time thinking about what issues are fixable versus which are going to be outside of your expertise. Rust on the frame or a bent chassis are things most amateur wrenchers should walk away from.

From there, the rules for buying a Fox Body are basically the same as buying any other used car. Make sure you’re informed about buying a used car, prepare to counter dealership tactics, and know what you’ll need to do after leaving with your new car.

Restoration Process

How you go about restoring your Fox Body depends on a few things, and every process is going to be a little bit different. The first thing you’ll want to do is find out as much as you can about your Fox Mustang’s history and what it came stock with. If you’re looking at a particularly rare car then you’ll most likely want to do a nearly strictly stock restoration.

On the other hand, one of the major reasons that Fox Body Mustangs are prized is that they’re some of the lightest Mustangs ever made, and with just a few aftermarket modifications they can be an incredible sleeper car.

Most people end up mixing a blend of aftermarket parts and stock ones, often preferring to restore the car’s original paint color, but with a new transmission that can handle more power. This is a great way to get a car that looks like a classic and drives like a dream.

Staying organized is important, so you’ll want to get small containers for nuts and bolts, a work table, and a place to keep the tools that you’ll need. Making sure that you have all of the replacement parts that you need in advance ensures that you won’t have to delay your restoration while you wait for a particular piece of hardware that’s on backorder.

Regardless of what your end goals are, you’ll want to start by restoring the mechanics of your Fox before working on its exterior and interior aesthetics.

A bright blue Cobra with dings and dents

Mechanical Restoration

There are two major components of mechanical restoration: Fixing what’s wrong and then making sure there’s a lot that’s right. Obviously, you’ll need to fix anything that is strictly nonfunctioning, whether that be an exhaust that’s creating plumes of smoke while burning oil from a leak, or a suspension that sets your teeth on edge.

Like any other style of car, there are a few problems that crop up fairly consistently when discussing Fox Body Mustangs. Of course, unlike new cars where mystery engine ticks can exist for a few years before there’s enough data to figure out the cause, let alone the solution, the aftermarket community has really figured out a variety of fixes for the most common Fox Body Mustang problems.

Body Flex

The Fox Body chassis is notoriously over flexible. A triangular strut bar can help to counter this, giving your car a stiffer feel, better for carving corners. Strut bars are a pretty easy install, and are cost-efficient.You'll also want to inspect the chassis closely, looking for any areas that have flexed over time and are now bent out of shape.

Another way to get a stiffer chassis is to invest in subframe connectors and rear lower control arms.

Sagging Suspension

This is a pretty well-known symptom afflicting far too many Fox Bodies, but it can actually be caused by several issues, all of which are relatively easy to fix. You’ll want to find out if it’s a bad spring, a bad bushing, or a bent mount. Though some people have noticed it primarily in the rear, others have noticed it only on the driver’s side. Either way, the basic diagnosis and fixing steps will be similar.

Upgrading the shocks is an easy way to improve the suspension and subsequently the ride of your Mustang. Dampers change handling in a way that is immediate and almost universally pleasing.

If you’re looking for more Fox Body Mustang suspension upgrades that offer a huge change in performance without taxing your budget, then upgrading your Mustang’s bushings is a great investment.

Transmission

Fox Body Mustangs typically came equipped with a T-5 transmission. Though these transmissions are easy to work on and easy to find parts for, they have a very low torque capacity. If you want to stay with a transmission that is period correct but allows for some performance improvements, then Tremec continues to make versions of the T-5 that have torque ratings up to 500 lb-ft or 600 lb-ft.

For automatic transmissions, there was not an overdrive gear available for the first part of the Fox Body Generation. In 1992, Mustangs with automatic transmissions started coming with AODE transmissions, which had the fuel-saving overdrive gear that most people are used to having today. These transmissions are inexpensive and easy to find in any junkyard, or you can find and use a 4R70W.

As with any transmission swap, it is possible that you’ll need to adjust your driveshaft accordingly, but it’s a great time to upgrade it to one made out of aluminum or even carbon fiber if you want to get fancy. These swaps are relatively direct replacements otherwise.

If you find your perfect Fox but it’s got a manual when you wanted an automatic or an automatic where you wanted a manual, it is possible to perform a full transmission swap. Though these swaps seem complicated, they’re actually not that much more involved than any other transmission swap. Our guide to transmission swaps can help you get you started, though much like snowflakes, no two transmission swaps are exactly the same.

If you decide not to swap out the transmission, then you may want to take a good look at the clutch at the very least and see if it’s perhaps time for a new one. Worn clutches can create a lot of problems, which will dramatically reduce how much enjoyment you’ll be able to get from your new Mustang.

Blue Cobra starting to clean up well

Engine

The Fox Body Mustangs ran overhead valve engines, very different from the overhead cam engines that Mustangs use today. Many prefer the “authentic muscle car sound” of these older style engines, and they’re relatively easy to make improvements to.

One easy swap is to change out your E7 cylinder heads for improved ones, whether that be the budget-friendly GT40Ps that can be dug out of many of the SUVs produced during that era or some of the modern cylinder heads that are designed for improving the Fox Body.

A lot of people buy Fox Body Mustangs with the intent of doing a Coyote engine swap. This isn’t the easiest swap in the world because it does involve putting a very large overhead cam engine into a bay that was designed for a smaller pushrod, but not only is it possible, it’s a popular engine swap for a reason. It’s a lot of horsepower for the lightweight Fox, and it creates a lot of oomph.

Brakes

On any car that’s as old as the Foxes, you’ll want to do a thorough check of the individual components of the brakes. If you’re interested in deviating from stock in order to improve performance, this is a good place to do it. Disc brakes just work better, and it’s not an overly complicated change to use them on all four of your wheels for extra stopping power.

In addition to improving your ability to stop your car neatly, you’ll also be able to pave the way for the famous four-to-five lug modification that is probably the most frequently made Fox Body modification.

Exhaust

Though many enthusiasts focus on aspects of the exhaust like note or volume, it’s also just important to make sure that the engine can breathe adequately. This may mean replacing your exhaust manifold with shorty or long tube headers or looking at high flow cats. At the very least, it means ensuring that your exhaust is able to expel as intended, without building back-pressure.

Exterior Restoration and Modification

Once you’ve got the mechanical elements of the Fox sound, it’s time to fix up the exterior. It’s likely that while you were working through the individual components that affect the speed and ride quality of your Fox that you also started to envision what you wanted to see on the exterior.

Wheels and Tires

The Fox Body Mustangs came with very small tires, which when combined with their large wheel wells made Fox Bodies look a little off-kilter. Additionally, the stock wheels were fairly limited in selection and weren’t as Mustang-centric as previous or subsequent generations of Mustang.

In terms of increasing your tire size, you should be able to go up to a 17” tire without even having to use a fender roller and without getting any fender rub. That’s a big change from the 14” tires that came stock on most Fox Body Mustangs.

Changing out to new wheels and tires is another great reason to do the four-to-five lug conversion, since it opens up a whole world of aftermarket options.

Beautiful bright red Mustang

Paint

Be sure to clean your car’s exterior incredibly well and then apply a coat of wax, or another coating that can help to protect your car’s clear coat from UV rays. If you’ve ever seen a car that looked “faded” or one with bubbly white patches, then you know exactly what the sun can do to a clear coat that doesn’t have a layer of protection overtop.

If your paint is already damaged you have a number of options. If the paint isn’t too bad, then it’s possible to buff out the scratches. Small dings can be fixed with touch-up paint as long as you know the right code to order (we have all the Mustang paint codes here).

On the other hand, if your paint is severely damaged, you’re contending with rust, or you just don’t particularly care for the previous owner's taste in color choices, then you’ll need to do a total repaint and restoration.

If you have a good body shop, this is one area where it pays to use professionals who have the necessary equipment and expertise to correctly lay down paint.

Painting a car requires a ton of sanding, and a lot of coats, first of primer, then of base coat, and then of clear coat. With additional sanding between each. If you don’t have a professional sander, your arms will be in pain for days, and on top of all of that if you have a dusty garage you’ll likely have a dusty paint job as well.

Headlights

It’s probable that you’ll need to replace the bulbs in your headlights, and you may want to upgrade to HID or LED lights at the same time. If you feel like the headlights themselves seem bright but the plastic headlight cover is oxidized and keeping your lights from shining as brightly as you’d perhaps like then a simple headlight restoration should be sufficient for getting your headlights back into shape.

Fox Body Mustang Interior

The ’80s and early ’90s were a dark era for interior materials. Consequently, many Fox Body Mustangs are plagued by sagging headliner, collapsing seats, or leaky sunroofs. These are all issues that can be addressed with an interior restoration.

Torn up Mustang interior

Your first step will be appraising to see if anything needs to be replaced. Replacement headliner is available, either as a fabric and board single unit or as replacement fabric that can be attached to your existing board.

The fabric and board units are a little nicer in that they use considerably better materials for the board portion of the headliner, which can help to reduce road noise and provide a little extra insulation against the elements.

Likewise, with seats, you’ll want to use your best judgment as to whether or not they need to be replaced or if they can be restored. If the only issue is a few missing stitches, then break out the sewing machine and patch it up. On the other hand, if half of the foam has fallen out, or if it’s been saturated in the smell of old cigarettes and rotten food, then it’s probably a good idea to replace your Fox Body Mustang’s seats.

You spend a lot of time in the seat of your car, and it’s important for the driving experience to be comfortable. Seat belts have also improved considerably since the Fox Body was first released, so by upgrading your interior you can also improve the overall safety of your ride as well.

There are many options for modernizing your Fox Body Mustang that are worth considering, especially with regards to the interior. One of the most popular modernizations is to get a center console that has a USB port. In this CJ’s video, Bill installs a center console with a USB port into a 1993 Cobra.

Finish up with a solid interior detailing and you’re ready to move onto your finishing touches.

Finishing Touches

Weatherstripping is incredibly important, and after a couple of decades, it’s a safe bet that it needs to be replaced. You will also want to test out the seal on your windshield and sunroof and apply a new one if necessary.

When you’re finished, you’ll have a Fox Body Mustang that looks fantastic and drives even better.

For a full look at the ends and outs of restoring a Foxbody, check out CJ Pony Parts Project 55 YouTube series, where Bill faithfully restores a 1993 Cobra back to its glory days.

Restoring a Fox Body Mustang

From the first stages of research and preparation to applying those final finishing touches, our Fox Body Mustang restoration guide walks you through the restoration process. Though you’ll have a lot of choices to make, it’s tough to go wrong with a Fox Body as long as you plan out your restoration in advance.