Buyers Guide to Classic Mustangs.
Having been introduced in 1964 these iconic Classics are now well over fifty years old and can suffer tremendously from the ravages of time. It is true to say that they were built well to meet the demands of the American buyer who was looking for great styling with modern design and performance. However, with new models introduced every year they were never expected to be in use over half a century later.
When considering a Classic Mustang today very careful attention must be paid to its condition.
Mechanically in comparison to modern cars, they are very simple, with drivetrains either featuring an inline 6 cylinder power unit or the far more popular V8 engine in varying capacities and power outputs. They are tough and well-designed engines which are easy to maintain and give great reliability.
Visual checks should be made on the first startup to check for any blue smoke which could be a sign of worn valve guides and seals or under load, possibly more serious engine wear to bores, pistons and rings. Oil pressure should be checked at the gauge although some earlier models only have a telltale light. Check the engine breather for excess fume which indicates possible valve or more seriously, piston and ring wear.
Oil leaks are very common from these engines but should not be excessive, and there should be no tappet or camshaft noise as the lifters are hydraulic.
Cooling & Electrical System
The cooling system is simple & should be checked for obvious leaks from the radiator, heater core, hoses and water pump. Early cars had a generator but most have an alternator with a separate voltage regulator and the condition of the wiring to all of the electrical components should be checked for signs of deterioration.
Both manual and automatic transmissions were available and should not have excessive oil leaks or show signs of harsh gear changes. The manual cars came with either three or four-speed gearboxes and usual checks for bearing noise, syncro’ weakness and clutch slippage or judder should be made. Automatic cars should shift smoothly without hard up or down shifts and not present any slipping or flaring between gear changes. Check the AT Fluid for colour and it should be a clean red, not brown which indicates burnt and worn clutches.
Rear Axle or Third Member
Final drive units are mounted in a solid rear axle and again should not have excessive oil leaks or any unusual noise caused by worn bearings or gears. Prop shafts can give issues due to worn universal joints which will give audible evidence of excess play.
Suspension & Brakes
Suspension systems are straightforward to maintain but cars with tired bushes, worn ball joints and old weak shocks will give poor road holding and be noisy over rough road surfaces. Checks to the braking system are essential as leaking wheel cylinders, perished flexible hoses, worn discs and seized callipers are all common faults which can seriously impact braking safety and efficiency.
Steering is either direct or power assisted with both systems using a steering box, steering arm, idlers and a host of trunnions and links which will give a vague and imprecise feel to the car at the wheel if not properly maintained and adjusted. Checks for wear and play in all components must be made. Power steering systems suffer from leaky control valves, hoses, rams and tired and noisy steering pumps so again check this system thoroughly.
The largest component of any Mustang is its body shell and the unibody or monocoque design can suffer horribly from corrosion in every part of its construction. In most states cars are not subject to annual inspections other than for lighting, tyres and emissions, so a fifty-plus-year-old Mustang can still be in use despite having a dangerously weakened body shell due to the ravages of rust.
Front and rear chassis legs, torque boxes, floors, bulkheads, roofs, wheel housings, front and rear wings, valances, inner and outer cills, boot floors, bonnets and doors all suffer the same fate. Whilst external panels can easily be inspected visually it is essential to look at the underside of the Mustang to determine its condition.
Good quality paint can hide a multitude of issues so do not be fooled by an immaculate car and assume that because it shines and there is no visible corrosion the underbody and structure will be the same. Serious checks must be made of the vehicle’s structure no matter how good the paint finish.
Checking the condition of the interior is a simple procedure, carpets will fade and wear in the footwells, door cards will distort if the door membranes have failed, dashboards crack and distort and the chromed plastic parts lose their lustre. Headlining can tear and sag but remember both front and rear screens have to come out to install a new headlining. Seats become tired and often split at the seams or worse through the panels. Door rubbers fail and perish, chrome interior items become pitted and it is very common for window winders to fail or bind in operation.
Chrome & Mouldings
Exterior chrome and embellishments are also easily checked. Bumpers, door handles, locks most badges and side window frames are chromed whilst windscreens front and rear have stainless steel mouldings. Other brightwork such as wheel arch mouldings, sill mouldings, bonnet trim, gutter and boot lid mouldings are anodised aluminium and all suffer from pitting and discolouration.
In addition checks to gauges and all electrical systems should be made as inoperative and inaccurate speedometers, faulty gauges and lighting are very common faults. Lastly, the Mustang should be road tested under various conditions checking and listening to its mechanical condition. In good order, a well maintained Mustang will drive well with no undue wander, give good ride quality with no noises from the front or rear suspension. Braking should be smooth, efficient and straight with no judder and a good Mustang should hold the road well.
With all this being said, the Mustangs engineering has been very much superseded by the modern cars of today. So do not expect it to drive like your 5 Series BMW or E Class Mercedes, it does not have the stopping power of a car with ABS or the forgiveness of a traction control equipped vehicle. But, what it does possess is a huge amount of character and charm that can only be found behind the wheel of a Classic Mustang, few cars can match it for kerbside appeal or recognition from car lovers everywhere.