Our 1980 Mustang hasn’t had the most comfortable life in the last few years. It’s lived in a shed (the sketchy, wasp-filled number that was the home of our Imperial when I yanked out the engine, in fact), it’s been left out in the elements, and it’s only been driven sparingly…usually when I get a wild hair and decide that I need to spin wrenches on something, or when I want to drive a car as old or older than I am. Subsequently, the Mustang has been driven maybe a thousand miles since I first met it, most of which were driven in the first couple of years. Since the plan is to put the Mustang into daily-driver duty, it seemed prudent that before we get started modifying or changing a lot of the story up, that we actually take a look at what is currently going on with the car.
Right off of the bat, the list of what had to be addressed was huge. The car is making coolant disappear, but isn’t showing signs of a head gasket failure or a major leak. Since the 4.2 actually runs like a top…a slow, non-revving, gutless top…we are leaving the mill alone and trying to determine where the water is going. So far, that has been a fruitless hunt. The shocks and MacPherson struts are about dead. The HVAC system needed some immediate addressing, and the brakes…I can’t express just how bad the brakes were. Nevermind that we knew that the driver’s side rotor and outboard brake pad were at the metal-on-metal stage, but it was like the other three braking units weren’t playing along at all. So we hit up our local parts store for what we could for brake parts, and what wasn’t available we ordered out through RockAuto, with the plan of starting to tear the car down right after New Year’s day. That didn’t go quite to plan: I ended up with a rotor for a Dodge Dakota from RockAuto, so while I waited for the right parts to come in, the HVAC system got a once-over.
There were two main issues that concerned me with the Mustang’s climate controls: one was that there was junk in the vent tubes, and the other was that the fan switch, which has four settings, was only an on-off switch. Asking around got me an immediate answer: the fan control resistor must’ve taken a dump. Sure enough, once I pulled out the glovebox and two screws, the problem showed itself: the resistor was nuked. Since I now had a window to see into the housing, I used this opportunity to check out the heater core to see if that was where my coolant was going. Lucky me, it might as well be brand new. Ten bucks and fifteen minutes later, the heater fan was singing all four notes properly and I’d scratched one major worry off of my list. With the fan online, I popped all of the dash vent louvers out of their place and kicked the fan on high. Take my word for it: four softball-sized masses of jute padding, one from each tube. The heater and the air-conditioner have never worked better.
Finally, after a couple of weeks of waiting, the UPS guy brought
the package the box I was looking for to the house, and I would finally get the chance to put that garage we put up last year to some real use. With the Mustang up on the jackstands, we yanked the wheels off of the front and got to work inspecting the damage:
I’ll spare you the details of a front brake job for a Fox body: one new rotor went on, the front pads were changed out for all new stuff, and while I was in there, the bearing were repacked the old-fashioned way, with a palm full of bearing grease and some time to kill. The bearings themselves were pretty dry but still had great movement, so we probably found that in the nick of time. One item of note that was strange: all of the caliper pin grease was the consistency of dried rubber cement. We cleaned off all of that mess and made sure the pins had plenty of mashed Smurf-blue grease during reassembly.
From the fronts, we moved on to the rear brakes. Initially it seemed like there was absolutely no movement whatsoever from the wheel cylinders and we suspected that they were dead. Upon removal of the drums, the only thing that stood out was that both sets of shoes were adjusted too far in. There was no leaking or any sign of distress with the wheel cylinders at all, so the shoes were adjusted to the proper location, the drums were put back on, and the car was lowered down and buttoned back up.
After some light driving and light braking to set in the pads gently, we went to an empty road and let the brakes have it. Disappointingly, it seems that our rear brakes are still AWOL, or at the least are super ineffective. The fronts, however, are on point, clamping down and bringing the car to a halt reasonably well. As of writing, the suspicion is that there is air in the lines somewhere, but the brakes are sufficient enough that we are going to start getting some pre-build fuel mileage numbers recorded while we slowly chip away at the car’s faults. It’s still not a daily-driver and it’s still pretty sketchy, but for the first time in months, the car was driven into Bowling Green on a parts-store run and it felt great. The steering, the noise, the sensation of driving a car older than I am…all of it was awesome. It did crop up another problem to address: the alternator seems to be questionable, at best, and possibly insufficient for the power draw that the Mustang demands with the lights on, and the gauge lights are borderline useless, which may or may not be related. (Great…gauge lights…my favorite.)
A fun anecdote: on that parts run, I stopped in at a Wendy’s to get a bite to eat. As I’m pulling up to pay, the kid at the window does a double-take: “That’ll be $7.50, and what year is that Mustang?!” I tell him, and he looks it over as if I was sitting in a real-deal Shelby GT350. I’m feeling on top of the world right up until he hands me back my change and says, “Dude, I’ve NEVER seen a Mustang this old before.” The car is a model-year 1980. I’m a model-year 1983. Thanks, dude…I’ll drive home and check for gray hair now.
For now, we are on the right path. Once I can get some assistance in the shop, I’ll get to work on bleeding out the whole system, probably to the point of a full flush to be safe. If we’re lucky, that will cure the Mustang’s ills. There won’t be any new parts going on of any real value for a bit, but don’t worry…wait until you see what’s coming up for the next update. Here’s a hint: there won’t be one picture of a Mustang.