From the outside, vintage Mustangs still look cool and nostalgic, prompting younger car enthusiasts to crave them as fun drivers and reminding Babyboomers of their younger days. The Mustang’s enduring popularity is affirmed by strong values, especially for the fastbacks and convertibles, even though 1965-73 Mustangs were built in the millions.
But unfortunately, driving factory-original older Mustangs can also bring back memories of sloppy steering, tinny AM radio, hard-starting engines, sticky (or broken!) side window regulators, and screaming rpms at normal highway speeds. Some may see that as part of the nostalgia, but for vintage Mustang owners who want a more enjoyable driving experience, the automotive aftermarket has responded with upgrades that bring vintage Mustangs into the modern era for improved fuel mileage, easier starting, safer braking, and better handling. Here’s a look a some of the more popular “resto-modifications.”
Electronic ignition: Thanks to PerTronix, eliminating the old points-style ignition is one of the best and easiest upgrades for vintage Mustangs. The PerTronix Ignitor modules are the perfect replacement for original points, which require frequent adjustment/replacement and are frequently the source for hard-starting, rough idle, and stumbling acceleration. In addition to the original Ignitor electronic ignition, PerTronix now offers Ignitor II and Ignitor III versions, which add features like hotter spark, adjustable timing at higher rpms, and rev limiter.
Rack-and-pinion steering: The 1965-73 models are the only Mustangs with worm-and-sector steering boxes, which were inherited from the Falcon. For all its criticisms, the second generation Mustang, the Mustang II, came with rack-and-pinion steering, greatly improving the steering feel and precision. Thanks to companies like Steeroids and Flaming River, rack-and-pinion steering is a bolt-in conversion for first generation Mustangs. Some kits come with coil-over front springs and larger brake rotors.
Overdrive transmission: Ford’s 4-speed manual and Cruise-O-Matic 3-speed automatic were great transmissions for their day, but without overdrive, engines operate at high rpms at normal highway speeds, translating to poor fuel mileage. A number of companies now offer conversion kits to adapt modern 5-speed manuals and AOD automatics to vintage Mustangs, dropping engine speeds to a more comfortable range and improving fuel mileage.
Power disc brakes: With today’s highway speeds and congested traffic, we can see why power disc brakes are a popular replacement for the original drum brakes that were standard equipment on most early Mustangs. Stainless Steel Brakes Corporation got its start in the early 1980s by refurbishing original disc brakes with stainless steel piston sleeves, but today SSBC offers a number of disc brake upgrades, including rear discs, for 1965-73 Mustangs. A power booster brings braking up to modern standards.
Sound systems: For over 30 years, Custom Auto Sound has been providing upgraded sound systems for first generation Mustangs. Today, their line-up includes AM/FM head units that fit the original instrument panel opening with vintage-style knobs and even updated features like Bluetooth. Amplification is also available, along with stereo speakers for the dash, kick-panel, and woofers designed for installation behind the rear seat cushion.
Electronic fuel injection: Say goodbye, farewell, and sayonara to hard-starting and other carburetor maladies with any number of electronic fuel injection swaps for vintage Mustang engines. If you’re looking to keep the vintage vibe under the hood, square-flange, bolt-on throttle bodies are available that fit stock intake manifolds and air cleaners. Or you can use an EFI set-up, including intake and throttle body, from a later model Mustang. In particular, the 1994-95 5.0-liter intake is a great fit under the hood of early Mustangs.
LED taillights: If you’ve ever followed a vintage Mustang down the road, you’ve probably noticed that the taillights are dim, making them hard to see, especially on a bright, sunny day. Most Mustang parts houses offer direct replacement LEDs, which simply plug into the original bulb sockets to provide much brighter turn signal and brake lights. Some offer sequential operation, which requires replacement of the turn signal flasher unit under the dash.
Power windows: Original crank-style Mustang side windows can be just that – cranky. Old regulators frequently seize up from lack of lubrication or rollers pop out of their tracks. Electric-Life can solve those pesky problems with their power window conversion kit, which replaces that factory regulator in each door with a new regulator that’s powered by an electric motor. Switches can be mounted in the doors or console.
Comfy seats: The bucket seats of the 1960s were nothing to write home about. They look nice, especially the “Pony” seats from 1965-66, but they offer little in terms of comfort and support. TMI Products’ “Sport” seats are bolt-in swaps to offer side-bolsters, headrests, and a variety of upholstery styles in original or custom colors. Might as well add a console, either reproduction or TMI custom, while you’re at it.
And the list goes on, including everything from electric cooling fans to electronically-controlled air-conditioning and full coil-over suspensions.
With their inherent technology of the 1960s, old Mustangs can be just that – old Mustangs. But thanks to the aftermarket, you can easily build a cool-looking vintage Mustang with the comforts, convenience, safety, and performance of modern Mustangs.