How to Buy a Classic Mustang

How to Buy a Classic Mustang

Last Updated November 11, 2020 | Meghan Drummond
Contents

The first-generation Mustang’s good looks and high-performance have ensured its continued popularity. If you’re interested in buying a classic Mustang, you’re in good company. Restoring an old Mustang to its showroom status is practically a right of passage.

But to restore a classic Mustang, you need to have a classic Mustang.

Buying a classic vehicle brings unique challenges. Often the vehicle you want isn’t close by, and the factory can’t exactly build you one to spec. Most people don’t live near a dealership that specializes in classic cars. Even if they did, it’s unlikely their dream Mustang would appear. While some people want a cheap restoration project, others are looking for a show-ready Mustang. Either option narrows down the available pool a little bit further.

Despite how discouraging this sounds, with a little work you can find a great classic Mustang. The first-generation Mustang was outrageously popular, selling in the millions. Because most of the people who purchased one of these Mustangs loved it, many are still in great condition.

Here’s everything you should know about finding and buying the perfect classic Mustang.

Figure Out Which Mustang to Buy

The first thing to do on your hunt is to figure out which Mustang is best for you. If you know the body style and year range you’re interested in, then you can narrow your search parameters.

Pick a Year Range

Though there were minor changes every year, there were four main “periods” within the first generation. Click on the years for a more detailed breakdown of the differences.

Four pictures showing the front of the Mustang in the the first generation

1964.5-1966 Mustangs

The first Mustangs are the smallest, but perhaps the most iconic.

1967-1968 Mustangs

In 1967, Mustangs got much larger. This was to accommodate their big block V8 engines.

1969-1970 Mustangs

During these years, the Mustang continued to get larger. It also gained a few sporty, hot-rod inspired exterior details.

1971-1973 Mustangs

These Mustangs are the most different in appearance. Not only are they larger, but they also have a much smaller grille.

First-Gen Mustang Dimensions
Dimension1964.5-1966 Mustangs1967-1968 Mustangs1969-1970 Mustangs1971-1973 Mustangs
Wheelbase 108” 108” 108” 109”
Length 181.6” 183.6” 187.5” 189.5”
Width 68.2” 70.9” 71.7” 74.1”
Height 51.2” 51.6” 50.5” 50.1”
Lowest Curb Weight 2,445 pounds 2,758 pounds 3,122 pounds 3,560 pounds

Within these year ranges, there are significant differences in production numbers. Generally speaking, if more were made, you’ll have an easier time finding one for sale.

Select the Best Body Style

Pictures showing fastback, convertible, and hardtop body styles

Throughout the Mustang’s first generation, it was available in coupe, fastback, and convertible styles. Of these three, the coupe is almost always the most affordable and was frequently the most popular.

The fastback and convertible tend to be more expensive, with some seasonality involved. Convertibles tend to be a little less expensive in the winter, when the “cons” of ownership are fresh on everyone’s mind.

Set a Budget

When you’re establishing your budget, it’s good to think of the total cost to get the Mustang you want. That means looking at the sale price, but also considering any title costs or necessary restoration. It may seem outrageous to pay $25,000 for a Mustang in pretty good shape when there’s one for sale for $5,000. After adding in restoration costs, you may be surprised by which was the better deal.

On the other hand, while purchasing your classic Mustang is an upfront cost, restoration costs can be spread out. This can make restoration costs easier to stomach, even if they may mean not driving your Mustang immediately.

How Much Is a Classic Mustang?

The range of costs for classic Mustangs is extreme. Some budget Mustangs can be had for as little as a few thousand dollars. Mustangs in pristine condition or with rare options will cost significantly more. Very rare Mustangs, like Shelbys or Boss Mustangs, can run into the hundreds of thousands easily.

There are several factors that go into establishing the “fair price” for a classic Mustang.

Mustang Conditions

This one is an obvious predictor of cost. Mustangs in better condition will be more expensive. Excluding the exceptionally rare editions, this is probably the best indicator of cost. In our video, Bill goes into depth about conditions and what you can anticipate from each.

Condition 1- These Mustangs are top-of-the-line, perfectly restored show cars. A “1” is a car you’d typically see at Barrett Jackson auctions and nationally/internationally known car shows and events. They’re very rare and expensive.

A light red 1966 Mustang

Condition 2 - A “2” Mustang is a little more attainable, but not much. These Mustangs could still place in regional car shows. They’re already restored, in great condition, and look good from any angle. They’re just not perfect.

A bright red 1969 Mach 1

Condition 3 - Most people should be looking for a “3” Mustang. As their numerical rating would imply, these Mustangs are middle-of-the-road. They run, they’re reliable, but may have a few rough edges.

A 1967 Mustang Convertible in good condition

Condition 4- “4” Mustangs may run okay but need some work to be driven more than a few miles. Visually, they’re lacking and may need some bodywork for small rust spots or dents and dings.

A fastback in desperate need of repair

Condition 5- A “5” Mustang needs to be restored from the ground up. It might need a total engine rebuild if it’s not running. It also most likely needs bodywork due to rust and body damage.

Red Mustang missing engine block and sheet metal

Condition 6 - These Mustangs are only usable for parts. A “6” Mustang is different from a “5” in that it likely has severe frame or structural damage. This could be from a bad accident or from severe rust. Either way, it’ll be nearly impossible to restore a “6” car to a state where it could be driven safely.

Close-up of parts Mustang

Equipped Options

Mustangs that are equipped with more desirable or rare options will also be more expensive. To find out a Mustang’s original equipment, refer to its data plate.

The data plate will tell you what you want to know about a Mustang’s original engine, interior trim, and exterior paint color. Rare or otherwise desirable options increase the value of a Mustang.

One example of this is the K-code Mustang. The K-code engine had impressive performance specs and was top of the line. It was also infrequently sold, making K-code Mustangs rare. This means a K-code Mustang will be significantly more expensive than a V6 Mustang, even if all other factors are the same.

The same is also true for classic Mustangs with pony interiors or a GT package. Because these options are valuable, some owners claim their Mustang has them even if they don’t. This is why you should use a VIN decoder to check the VIN and data plate information. If the information doesn’t match the seller’s description, then it’s important to find out why.

Many choose to modify a less expensive Mustang due to the significant cost some options can add. For people who simply want a classic Mustang with a lot of power, V8 swapping a V6 Mustang is often a more cost-effective option.

Start Looking for Suitable Cars

Once you’ve narrowed down which classic Mustang you’re looking for, it’s time to start hunting it down. There are a lot of places you can look, but it’s best to start close to home.

A classic Mustang being towed to its new home

Local Options

Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and even your local newspaper’s classifieds are all good places to start your search. There are several advantages to finding a local option. You’ll have the ability to actually see the car, take it to a mechanic, and maybe even take more than a second to decide if it’s the one.

Local dealerships can be hit or miss. Some dealerships sell classic vehicles, but many won’t, especially if they haven’t been restored. Salvage auctions aren’t likely candidates, but they’re still worth searching. Especially if you’re on the hunt for a bargain-priced restoration candidate.

You should also tell your friends and neighbors that you’re on the hunt. They can let you know if they see a posting you don’t.

What If You Can’t Find Anything?

If you’ve struck out locally or are looking for a very specific Mustang, then you may need to widen your net. Bring a Trailer, eBay, and Hemmings all offer online auctions. You can also look through Mustang or classic vehicle forums.

Inspecting a car from hundreds of miles away is definitely more challenging. But there are ways to make sure you’re buying the real deal and not being taken advantage of.

Don’t be afraid to ask for photos. Asking for specific photos allows you to verify that the person posting does actually have the vehicle. It also proves they’re willing to put in work as well. This will be valuable when you’re trying to figure out shipping options.

Read the description closely, and ask about anything that sounds too good to be true.

Some online auction sites offer vehicle protection plans or similar programs. This protects you against financial loss if the vehicle you receive doesn’t match up to the one described. Unfortunately, these protection plans can’t get your wasted time back. Filter aggressively.

You can also reach out to other Mustang enthusiasts that are located in the same area as the seller. They may be willing to take a look for you or already know something about the car.

Most importantly, if you’re buying a vehicle without seeing it, keep a tight handle on the finances. Financing options, PayPal, or other options allow you to insure your purchases. If a seller wants a direct wire, it’s probably time to walk away.

Inspect Your Options

Once you’ve found your classic Mustang, it’s time to give it a thorough look over. This can happen before purchase for local options, but can also happen post-purchase for vehicles bought from a distance. The sooner you contact the seller and company responsible, the better it looks for you legally.

Whenever your inspection occurs, you should spend a lot of time looking at known problem areas. Here are just a few to get you started.

Chassis, Bodywork, and Paint

The most costly repairs will be related to the chassis, bodywork, and paint. Even minor bodywork costs can add up quickly.

That said, even though it’s expensive, there won’t be many (if any) 50+ year old cars that don’t need a fresh coat of paint. Some expense is to be expected. The trick is making sure the payoff is worth it.

A car that’s been rusted through, severely damaged, or has a bent frame is going to be significantly more expensive to repair than almost any other vehicle. Make sure you find a car with “good bones” and your restoration project will be off to a great start!

If you have a suspicion that a Mustang was in an undisclosed accident, one tip is to use a magnet wrapped in painters tape to check the sheet metal underneath the paint. If the magnet sticks, then you’ll know you’re looking at sheet metal. Bondo, on the other hand, won’t attract the magnet and will let you know where some “at home” repairs have been made.

Rust

Rust is sometimes called “Mustang cancer.” You can rest assured that for every spot of rust you’re able to find, there’s roughly twice as much rust hiding out under the paint on the rest of the car. Rust spreads, quickly and aggressively.

Mustang floorboards that are rusted all the way through

While rust can appear anywhere, there are a few places where we know it tends to show up in classic Mustangs:

  • Bottom edges of doors
  • Wheel wells
  • Inside of fenders
  • Quarter panels
  • Inside cowl area
  • Rocker panels

The inner cowl area is one of the trickier ones. You’ll want a flashlight to look closely. Inside the cowl is a drain area that can become clogged. Once clogged, water collects and sits, leading to rust.

Paint

A Mustang with great bones, little rust, and abysmal paint would still be a gem of a find. That said, good paint is expensive. This is especially true if you’re looking at a Mustang with a lacquer paint rather than the more traditional single process or base and clear coat.

To know what type of paint your Mustang originally had, you should carefully inspect the data plate on the driver’s side door jamb. You can then use our paint guide to see what color came from the factory. Some eagle-eyed Mustang enthusiasts have even discovered rare Mustangs by checking the paint code.

Many special edition Mustangs have nothing or an unusual code printed on their data plate. With a little digging, and maybe a Marti report, you may be able to uncover some exciting information.

While touch-up paint is easily applied at home, most people go to a professional paint and bodyshop for a full paint job. This is especially true for classic vehicles.

Mechanical Condition

If the Mustang you’re looking at can start and you’re allowed to take it on a test drive, then your first stop should be a trusted mechanic. In particular, a compression test can tell you a lot about an engine’s health and how well a Mustang has been maintained.

Make sure you take the Mustang on a long test drive if you’re able. Getting the engine warmed up can often expose leaks as fluids become more viscous.

Once you’ve tested all the gears and are convinced the engine is warm, simply park the Mustang on a level patch of clean concrete and check over everything for signs of fresh leaks. The primary fluid leaks you’ll find in an old Mustang are coolant, oil, leaking oil pain, and rear main seal.

A clean and well-cared for Mustang engine

Interior Condition

This is probably the least important aspect of a Mustang’s overall condition. Mustangs with beat up interiors are often a great find since replacing interior parts is often less expensive and many repairs can be done without advanced mechanical skills. There are a couple of interior repairs that can be costly though.

Replacing the headliner is one expensive repair. In order to properly reinstall a headliner, all of the Mustang’s glass needs to be removed. You can save a lot of money by installing headliner yourself, but it will take a lot of time. If you break the glass that will add a lot to the cost as well.

Convertibles with damaged tops are also expensive to repair. Carefully check the entire convertible top to make sure it moves easily and is free of rips or tears.

You should also inspect the stereo. Classic Mustangs are known for a lot of things, but a kicking bass wasn’t one of them. Consequently, a lot of people have replaced the stereo. If your plan is to go back to stock, you’ll want to carefully inspect the dash of any Mustang with an aftermarket system. If it’s been cut, you’ll need a new panel, which involves welding.

Red Mustang with seats removed for interior restoration

Purchase Your Classic Mustang

Once you’ve found a Mustang that checks all the right boxes, all that’s left is finishing up the purchase. You’ll still need to ensure your classic Mustang and register it at the DMV. Make sure all your paperwork is in order to avoid return trips.

After that, you can slowly start fixing the minor issues you found during your inspection. Working on a Mustang is even more fun than buying one, so with the hard part out of the way, you’re ready to enjoy your pony car.

How to Buy a Classic Mustang

Finding the perfect 1965-1973 Mustang can be extremely difficult. You need to know what you’re looking for, but also what’s out there. Once you’ve narrowed down your year range, options, and acceptable conditions, you’ll have a variety of places to look, each with its own pros and cons. Here are all the things you should look for in your first classic Mustang.