Finding the perfect 1965-1973 Mustang to move forward with on your restoration plans can be a difficult, time-consuming task. Not only locating the car you want - especially if you’re on the east coast where rust is a common issue with salt on the roads - but finding a car that is in decent condition while also having the colors, engine and options that you’d prefer to have. If you think finding a car that fits your preferences on the dealership lot is difficult, then you’re in for a frustrating time finding the right classic Mustang.
Don’t fret, though! Bill & the team here at CJ’s are here to help you choose the right car and give you tips & tricks to clue you in on what to look for in purchasing your first early model Mustang. Whether it’s body work or mechanical work that you’re concerned with on that perspective project car, let Bill help you in narrowing down your classic Mustang search.
How To Buy Your FIrst Classic Mustang Video
Establish a Budget
The first major thing you’re going to want to do is establish a budget. Depending on your budget, you’ll come to realize if a restoration is feasible or not, along with what kind of car you’re going to start with. Remember when budgeting, you not only want to plan what you’re going to spend on the initial purchase of the car, but you’ll also want to plan for the future on early model Mustang parts and accessories.
When it comes to early model Mustangs, there are four major body styles that fall in between that magical 1964-1/2 to 1973. With everything from minor to major changes to the body and interior, the early model Mustang body style did change ever-so-slightly over the 8-1/2 years it was running. You’ll want to narrow down your choices to a particular body style within the first generation, if possible - that way, you’ll know exactly what you’re looking for.
1964-1/2 - 1973 Mustang General Body Style Changes:
As a general rule of thumb, getting into a Coupe is going to be the most wallet-friendly option. This is because there were significantly more Coupes made and they were the cheapest option from the get-go. From that point forward, Fastbacks and Convertibles generally flip-flop depending on the market at that particular time.
Moving past the trim level, if the car had more options, then it was more rare. For example, if you are looking at a 1969 Fastback GT with air conditioning, Pony Interior and a 351 Windsor, then you’ve got a pretty rare car on your hands. However, if you’re looking at a plain jane 1965 Coupe, then the exclusivity is something you’re going to have to take into account when negotiating a price.
Rating The Condition Of A Classic Mustang
"lines can easily get crossed"
When you’re looking for that perfect Mustang and checking out potential purchase after potential purchase, the lines can easily get crossed. That’s why it’s best to keep a rating scale of the condition of each car you’re looking at. In the video, Bill goes over a general scale that could help you better organize and make a decision on which condition Mustang may be best for your budget and build plans.
Rating the Condition of a Classic Car:
1 - These cars are the top-of-the-line, restored, perfect show car. Seriously, a “1” is a car you’d typically see at Barrett Jackson auctions and nationally/internationally known car shows/events.
2 - Being a little more attainable, a “2” would be considered a regional car show winner at judged events. It’s restored, in great condition, was probably driven (not trailered) to the show and looks great from most any angle - it’s not just perfect.
3 - Most people should be looking for a middle-of-the road #3. They are running, more reliable high quality drivers that run well but could be a little rough around the edges aesthetically.
4 - These are the cars that may run okay but need some work to be driven around farther than a few miles for whatever reason. Visually, they’re lacking and may need some body work such as small rust spots or dents/dings.
5 - Cars that need to be restored. A #5 is something needs an overhaul from the ground up. Everything from an engine rebuild due to the fact they most likely don’t run to body and sheet metal due to rust and body damage.
6 - There is a fine line between #5 and #6 - and that makes #6 a parts car. What sets these two apart is typically safety issues such as severe frame or core/structural damage. Whether it’s a result, or mother nature got to it in the form of rust.
If you’re going by this particular scale for your search, most people would prefer a #3. Picking up a #3 will put you at the middle-of-the-road approach when it comes to your wallet and where you’ll lie on the general restoration process. Think of it as the most bang-for-your-buck. If you go any higher, you’ll spending a pretty penny for the work that someone else has already put into the vehicle. Go the other direction, and you’ll have to put entirely too much work into the car to justify the means, in most cases. However, some people would prefer that to make sure that the restoration was done 100% accurately. In most cases, though, a #3 is your best option.
Now that you found a vehicle that is where you want it to be on the general scale that Bill provides, it’s time to check out the exterior condition. When it comes to exterior restoration, your largest expenditures are going to be rust repair and chassis, bodywork & paint. You can obviously cater these items closer to your budget depending on the level of work you want completed, especially with bodywork & paint. If you want a weekend cruiser that you plan on putting some miles on, you’re not going to spend $15,000+ on bodywork & showroom paint job. It’s all relative.
On top of that, check the paint condition. How is the depth? Is it peeling in certain areas? Keep in mind that throughout the 1980s, lacquer paint was popular, like on our Convertible. Lacquer paint is harder to strip and work with - something to keep in mind when purchasing a restoration project. However, older models will be a single stage and newer restorations will be your typical base and clear which is the easiest to work with.
Checking For Rust & Damage
As you’re working your way around the car, check all the body panels for visible rust spots and signs of repair. If the body/paint looks a little funky in one area, take a magnet with painters tape around the front and stick it to the paint. If it sticks, you’re looking at sheet metal (good), if it doesn’t, then there is likely bondo in that area which means previous repairs have been made.
Common Rust Areas on 1965-1973 Mustangs:
- Bottom edges of doors
- Inside of Fenders
- Quarter Panels
- Inside Cowl Area
Moving under the car, there are multiple other areas to be sure to check and ensure they are rust free or close to it. The floors are a common area for rust, along with the torque box. For convertibles, check the rocker section for rust. Next, the frame rails are connected by the floor and rocker area. Make sure these are free of rust as they are very expensive to replace as they’re an integral part of the frame and structural stability of the vehicle. You’ll also want to check the gas tank and exhaust system to make sure they’re in good shape. A general rule is that you want to focus on the larger areas first and work your way to the smaller areas.
Moving to the top of the car, you’ll want to grab a flashlight and check inside the cowl area. The issue is that there is a drain inside the cowl that can easily become clogged with leaves and other debris. Whenever water sits (due to a clogged drain), there is the likelihood for rust. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to check for rust in the cowl. The only real way to check the cowl for rus is to get up and under the dashboard with a flashlight and examine that area for rust.
Obviously whether or not the car runs is a large part of picking up a new project car. If it does start up and run, then there are a few things you’re going to want to check before moving forward. First off, if you have the ability to take the Mustang to a shop for a compression test, then definitely do so. This will tell you the engine’s health and how well it’s been maintained over the years.
Since most people won’t have the ability to perform a compression test sight on scene, you’ll want to do the best you can to ensure you’re purchasing a Pony with a healthy heart. First off, you’ll want to check under the hood and look for newer parts. Not only to see what’s been replace, but perhaps why it’s been replaced. Everything is connected and the reasoning behind one part being replaced could eventually lead to another. You’ll also want to check for leaks: coolant, oil, leaking oil pan, rear main seal, etc.
The interior is the least expensive part of the car to work on, and a great place to start for beginners when it comes to restorations. However, there is one exception to that general statement; and that would be the headliner. The headliner is not only difficult to replace, it’s also extremely expensive to have completed from a labor standpoint. This is due to the fact it’s extremely time consuming because all the glass needs to be removed from the car in order to install the headliner properly. If you have a shop complete the work, you should budget around $1,000 alone in labor to have it done.
On the other hand, the rest of the interior is generally an easy place to start for beginners to complete the work compared to other tasks that require expertise like bodywork and engine rebuilds.
When it comes to the stereo, there are a couple things to keep in mind. First off, classic cars don’t have the modern stereos that we’re used to today. With that said, many people upgrade the stereo in their classic cars for improved sound. Check to see if the Mustang you’re looking at has an aftermarket head unit or speakers. If the center of the dashboard is cut out for an aftermarket head unit and you wish to return it back to stock, then it could be costly due to the fact a new panel would have to be welded back into place. However, if the work is done well and you don’t mind an aftermarket head unit, then you should be good to go!
Moving on to convertible tops, you should be budgeting roughly the same price as you would for a headliner. If your Mustang is a convertible and it’s in need of a new top, you should be budgeting around $1,000 for a new Convertible Top and labor. When checking the convertible top on your perspective project car, look for rips and tears along with making sure it moves up and down freely.
Transmission, Brakes & Additional Options
A general rule of thumb when it comes to options on your prospective classic Mustang project would be: the more options the better. Another way of putting this is the more options it has, the rarer and more valuable the car will be. For example, if we’re talking about a 1965-1966 Mustang, then the K-Code Fastback with a Hi-Po 289 putting out a beefy 271 horsepower is going to cost a pretty penny in comparison to a T-Code 6-cylinder coupe with no options.
Another thing to consider is the transmission. If the Mustang has an automatic transmission, you’ll want to make sure it shifts smoothly throughout all the gears. It may not shift like newer cars nowadays, but as long as it makes it through the gears without any odd noises or hesitation, you’re on the right track. Pretty much the same thing when it comes to a manual transmission - you’ll want to make sure that the clutch functions properly and shifts through each gear in the transmission without much hesitation.
Believe it or not, many people overlook the brakes when trying to find their perfect restoration project. Whether it’s the assumption that they’re easily fixed or simply forgotten due to the excitement about the rest of the car, the braking system is an integral aspect in keeping the driver and passengers safe while driving. With that said, check how the brakes feel. Some Mustangs have manual brakes and some have power brakes, so be sure to take that into account when test driving the vehicle, i.e. squishy-ness, soft pedal feel, pulls to one side, etc.
The Right Parts For Your Mustang Restoration Project
Congratulations! You’ve now purchased your dream project car! Now that you have the car, you’re probably already starting to think about which 1964-1973 Mustang Parts to pick up for your build. Keep in mind that most rust can be fixed with some new Mustang Body & Sheet Metal items, along with many Mustang Engine parts and Mustang Brake parts to get your new-to-you Mustang running like a top! On top of that, CJ’s also has many Mustang Wiring Kits, Upholstery and other Interior parts, Suspension and Lighting parts.
When picking up the car, be sure to request any paperwork that the previous owner may have that could help you narrow down what’s been done to the car already. After all, we are talking about a vehicle that’s decades old and likely has had multiple owners. Also, be sure to check out our large selection of Mustang Literature to aid you in some of those difficult restoration projects throughout the life of your build.