Fox Body Mustang Restoration: 1979-1993
I have some significant experience with Fox Body Mustangs.
I've gotten into just about everything on them in every system: interior, body, powertrain, chassis, electrical, trim, hardware, and seals.
I know them inside and out, and I got that knowledge the hard way — first-hand experience. However, there's always something to learn and since I have two major projects involving a 1987 and a 1993 in my future, I thought it would behoove me to pick up a copy of Fox Body Mustang Restoration: 1979-1993 to get some pointers and find out what works for other people.
The author, Jim Smart, is an experienced automotive journalist. He also worked at Ford when these cars were rolling off the assembly line — which makes his perspective unique on the subject of Fox Body Mustangs. But more than that, he's accumulated a lot of knowledge about the special challenges facing those of us who want to restore this generation of Mustang. I know that, because, I've run into a lot of these challenges in my own wrenching adventures.
Although an improvement over the classic Mustangs in some ways (I can't say all, because in my opinion the raw driving experience — whether racing or motoring across the country — is vastly superior in the first gen cars and I've driven both extensively), these cars aren't immune to the ravages of time. The engineering and manufacturing wasn't always great, so they have a lot of weaknesses that time, use, and abuse have a way of finding. A fact that makes repairing and restoring them a challenge — but not impossible.
Follow along below for a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of Fox Body Mustang Restoration: 1979-1993 as the author explores the repair, restoration, and modification process of these aging modern Muscle Cars — and provides important insights for would-be mechanics along the way.
Chapter 1: History
Chapter 1 takes a trip back in time to the heyday of the 5.0 Mustang — a revolution after the original Pony Car took a step backwards from the halcyon days of its first generation during the '60s and early '70s with the introduction of the Mustang II in 1974.
The Fox Body Mustang lasted an unprecedented 15 years. It saw a lot of changes from the death of disco, to the economic fantasy of the '80s, ending with the rise of Grunge and the existential apathy of the '90s. Jim was there for all of that, but, more importantly, he was a part of the technological and stylistic changes of our beloved pony. And that matters, because he's able to point out what those changes were, and why they happened — which allows him to present a rich, contextual look at the evolution of the third generation Mustang.
Chapter 2: Getting Started
This chapter covers the basics of third gen Mustang restoration. It's a general overview of the process and it starts with planning, budgeting, and finding your car. Most of this information is generic, light, and applies to any restoration project, but there are some unique aspects of Fox Body Mustangs that make this process a little bit different. Everything in this chapter is very practical and accurately represents the facets of 5.0 restoration in my experience — including the advice to have someone with more practical knowledge do it for you if you aren't prepared for the unique challenges of dealing with Fox Bodies. Trust me on this one, if you aren't aware of some of the issues related to these cars, you're going to end up replacing more parts than you save — or you're going to end up with a crappy result when you're done.
Chapter 3: The Body
Chapter 3 won't teach you how to do body work and paint.
If you held out hope that a single chapter in a small book would teach you that, I'm sorry to inform you the education necessary is simply beyond the scope of even a single enthusiast-oriented manual — I've read many of them and even entire 1000+ page academic texts and the scope of body repair is far too broad and deep for a chapter to cover.
That said, what this chapter does cover is the unique challenges facing Fox Body restorers and good advice to go find an experienced auto body professional that knows these cars to handle the more difficult work related to those challenges. And there are quite a few unique age and manufacturing-related issues on these cars to contend with. Knowing what they are will help you make decisions and manage your project to produce higher quality results — Chapter 3 will help you do that while providing a valuable behind-the-scenes look at what will need to be done to return your Fox's body back to a like-new condition.
Chapter 4: Interior
This chapter has some solid advice on interior restoration. It covers seats, seat belts, instrumentation, door panels, and carpeting. It doesn't cover anything specific for the rest of the interior panels or the rest of the dash (not related to the instrument cluster). Nor does it discuss removing the steering column — dash and steering column removal are discussed in the next chapter.
That said, I've already done upholstery on these cars and the advice about seat restoration is really good. I've also done quite a bit of work with their faulty seat and the advice for those is really good, as well. And, there's even a lot of information on how to source interior parts and upholstery kits for these rides. There's just a lot of really good information here and that's important because it's really easy to break the interior components in these Mustangs or just do subpar work on their interiors. The plastic parts don't age well, become brittle, and break really easily when you try to remove or install them and that leads to rattles and crappy fit and finish.
Chapter 5: Climate Control
The HVAC systems in these cars are tightly integrated with the engine, underhood, and dash. To perform a restoration on the interiors of third generation Mustangs requires you to get shoulder deep in the HVAC system — and understanding how to do that is important. Chapter 5 provides a lot of detailed advice on how to restore the HVAC system as well as addresses dash and the steering wheel removal.
One of the best parts about this chapter is it provides a litany of information on how to change the A/C system from the original R-12 refrigerant to R-134a — which is important since R-12 is getting more and more difficult to come by. You also can't just replace the refrigerant and call it done — it won't work right and the lubricant for R-134a will eat the seals used in an R-12 system.
There is one personal issue I had with this chapter and that is, it ends by strongly urging you to replace your factory A/C compressor with a Sanden unit. In order to do that, you have to cut up your original factory A/C front mount bracket. Coming from a background of dealing with classic Mustangs, I've seen a lot of factory Mustang destruction that's difficult to reverse. As time goes on, these parts will become harder and harder to come by, and if you destroy them, it will be ever more difficult to see factory representations of these cars and to return these cars to a factory state in the decades to come. While there were a lot of these cars made, the parts aren't infinitely available.
Chapter 6: Chassis and Brakes
This chapter isn't geared towards restoring the chassis and brakes of the Fox Mustang. Its focus is on performance upgrades and improvements to the factory car's inadequacies.
Not only is Chapter 6 not geared towards restoring a factory 5.0, it doesn't even address a single concern. It does showcase extensive chassis mods, however. So, if you're goal is a restomod, this chapter is going to be right on track for you. For everyone else, you're still going to need to do your own research to understand how to disassemble and reassemble the original parts as well as what the factory coatings and other specs, are.
Chapter 7: Engine
Chapter 7 focuses on moderate-level performance for the 5.0 — although it also touches on the 2.3L I4, it completely ignores any of the earlier 6-cylinders. If you want a rough idea of the kinds of mods you can do to achieve a heartier 5.0, Smart will head you in the right direction — if you're looking to restore your engine to like-new condition, this chapter won't help.
Here's my suggestion for modifying 5.0s: if you really know what you're doing, have at. If you don't and you want it to run, leave it bone stock. It's difficult enough to build a mild performance engine in a '60s car where you have complete control of air, fuel, and ignition timing. In a 5.0, you're left with a bunch of workarounds, unless you have access to tuning expertise and equipment. I realize that isn't going to be a popular piece of advice, but it is realistic.
I do need to note that there are a couple of recommended mods I'm unfamiliar with and not sure about. One is using JB Weld to seal the freeze plugs to the block and the other is removing the oil slinger from the front of the crank when using a double roller timing chain. I'm not saying he's wrong about any suggestions, but light research didn't result in any definitive information and I can't remember anything about issues using the oil slinger on my own builds — of course, I'm always very careful with part choices, and that may matter. Regardless of what modification you make, be certain to do lots and lots of research before you go ahead with them — especially modifying the engine oiling system. If you make a mistake, you could easily starve the engine and kill it.
Chapter 8: Driveline
Chapter 8 takes a brief look at transmissions, driveshafts, and axles. This happens be a subject I have a significant amount of knowledge in and not an insignificant amount of experience with.
Here, again, though, this chapter isn't concerned with rebuilding and restoring the transmission back to factory specs, its only concerned with modification. That doesn't mean there isn't any useful information in Chapter 8, however. While it doesn't go into a lot of depth, it does provide insights into potential upgrades which run the gamut from internal improvements to T5 and AOD inadequacies to major transmission swaps. This chapter doesn't spend much time on anything other than the World Class T5 and AOD. If you've got another transmission such as a Non-World Class T5, a 4-speed, or a C4 or C5, he simply recommends replacing them with a better transmission. The transmissions he focuses on for swaps are the Tremec TKO500 and TKO600 5-speeds, as well as the T-56 Magnum 6-speed.
As far as the sections on driveshafts and rear ends go, they've got solid information — but if you're serious about getting into rear-ends and driveshafts, I suggest starting with another CarTech title I reviewed: High-Performance Differentials, Axles and Drivelines.
Okay, so, there are a few inaccuracies in this chapter, but they have nothing to do with Fox Body Mustangs — they deal with Camaros, SN-95 Mustangs, and engine balancing in general. It was probably just some typos and/or incomplete thoughts.
Here are the two sentences related to the Camaro, verbatim, at the end of a paragraph about BorgWarner T5 5-speeds:
"General Motors used the WC T-5 2.95:1 first gear only in 1992-1993 IROC Z Camaros. In 1994, General Motors switched to the T-56 6-speed."
- First of all, the final year for the IROC-Z was 1990 — I think he may be referring to the Z28 and RS — I can't say anything about the use of the 2.95:1 first gear because I don't know anything about that.
- Second, GM switched to the T-56 in 1993.
Chevrolet changed to the fourth generation Camaro with the LT1 and T-56 6-speed in 1993, the third gen — which was the only Camaro made with the IROC-Z model option or to offer the T5 transmission behind a V8 with the 5.0/305 — went out of production in 1992. The T5 was never used in gen 4 with the LT1. The V6 was offered with a T5 5-speed that had a special bellhousing bolt pattern, for many years — I'm not certain what that range of years is. As far as I know, that transmission is incompatible with a V8 — and Smart states as much about the V6 T5 in the book, as well.
Now, the issue with SN-95 Mustangs — which this book is not about — is only that the front bearing retainer that comes from the factory on the '94 and '95 cars isn't all-aluminum like the Fox cars (sans '93 Cobra), it has a steel throw-out bearing sleeve inserted in the aluminum casting, very similar to the '93 Cobra, but longer to account for the longer input shaft in the SN-95s.
Finally, engine balancing — which seems out of place in a chapter on transmissions, but I think was included here in reference to the use of flywheels and flexplates — as stated in the book:
"If, during a small-block Ford rebuild, you have a builder install Mallory metal (tungsten) in your crankshaft counterweights to get the balance right, your engine will be internally balanced and need a zero balance flywheel/flexplate and harmonic damper."
That's not accurate.
A custom balance is a custom balance, meaning you'll need a custom-balanced flywheel and damper to match the internal balance. Also, the balance will require the pressure plate if you are using a manual transmission and that pressure plate may be adjusted during balancing, which will mean that any replacement pressure plate or flywheel you use in the future, will need to be balanced to the assembly to maintain vibrational smoothness after the repair.
Case-in-point, when I had the 347 in the 347 balanced, I made sure that the 50oz imbalance Fluidampr balancer wasn't touched and that only the 28oz imbalance crank, 50oz imbalance flywheel, and Ford Racing pressure plate were adjusted — it worked like a charm, but would've required a flywheel and pressure plate be custom balanced in any future repair regardless if it was a new flywheel and pressure plate or if the old flywheel was resurfaced and used with a new pressure plate.
Chapter 9: Electrical
In Chapter 9 the focus returns a bit to restoration with some solid advice for upgrading a Fox Body Mustang's electrical system. The information for restoration isn't terribly in-depth, but, it does steer you in the right direction with the most delicate and difficult part of the system, the connectors.
Chapter 10: Shakedown
Chapter 10 is all about what to do when you're done with your restoration or hot rodding project. As this chapter notes, this is a phase where lots of car hobbiests stumble. It's really easy to get ahead of yourself and try to get the car on the road before it's actually ready. Here, Smart takes the time to give you a list of final checks you should do before you fire her up for the first time — and even better, explains why they're important.
Now, I do disagree with his recommendations for breaking in some components:
First, the engine: he recommends flogging it hard on the dyno to break the components in and seat the rings. My experience is that the engine break-in needs to happen more slowly with varied RPM and load while making use of cooling off intervals and oil changes. I'm familiar with the method he recommends and it's something people used to use on race engines at the drag strip, but I haven't heard that method recommended for street cars in years and it's never one I've used to break an engine in. I suggest following the recommendations of the manufacturer of your engine parts and/or your engine builder — because you're wise enough to spend the extra money to use a reputable engine builder, right?
Second, the ring and pinion: he claims getting on the throttle hard will harden the surfaces. My experience and the instructions for street gears I've read all say to go slowly, not do any hard starts, and to use cooling off intervals and oil changes. I am familiar with the idea of work hardening the surfaces — it's something people used to say all the time — but I'm also familiar with killing the teeth on a ring and pinion gear set doing that, so I would suggest doing more research and to use the method recommended by the gear manufacturer you use.
Third, the brakes: He says to take fresh brakes and stop hard from 60 a few times to break-in the brake material. Again, this is something people used to do and I'm familiar with the concept, but, again, I've always successfully used a slower method with cooling off periods. I've also seen fresh brake materials melted off pads and shoes by getting on them too hard, too quickly. So, I suggest using the recommendation of your brake material's manufacturer.
Lastly, there are almost always caveats. There are different materials and uses for all of these types of components, so you should follow whatever is best for your materials and situation. As an example, there are special alloys used for racing gear sets that require specialized break-in procedures — especially since street driving isn't an option for race cars. What it comes down to is to make sure you closely adhere to the recommendations of the manufacturers you're working with and follow the guidance of the reputable builders who are building your costly components.
This section covers production numbers and variations for every model year and it's quite extensive. While I haven't verified all of the details, I can tell you that Jim Smart is a sharp guy who understands the issue with production information of Fox Mustangs: even the factory information has quite a few inconsistencies — and he's made an effort to address that problem. On a personal note, it's nice to have another curated source of production information on these cars in my library. As an enthusiast and hobbiest, this kind of information is invaluable.
While I've dinged this book quite a bit on its restoration content and some recommendations, that doesn't mean I think Fox Body Mustang Restoration: 1979-1993 isn't a good introduction to the subject of a complete tear down and reassembly of a third generation Mustang. It is. While I don't like some of the modification options, I will say that many of the mods are invaluable to know about if you find yourself needing or wanting an upgrade. Best of all, they're all right here, because in order to come up with these ideas yourself, you'd have to do quite a bit of research to find them.
If you're picking up this book because you're inexperienced, I can tell you from lots of experience that 5.0s may be one of the most basic modern cars to work on, but they are also rife with complexities someone without experience isn't ready for. You will break shit and find yourself stumped if you don't have a good introduction before you begin and Fox Body Mustang Restoration: 1979-1993 will do that for you.
If you're looking for a genuine restoration manual that focuses on recreating the Fox Mustang as it rolled off the assembly line, this book won't have much for you — and if you're hoping that this book alone will give you all the knowledge you'll need to do your restoration, it won't. But using this book to give you an idea of what you have in store for you and as a jumping off point for deeper research is a great idea.
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