In the following section, I will offer tips on how to buy a Mustang.
First of all, as always there is no one method that applies to everyone. You will fit in to one or more of the following categories. #1. Someone with absolutely no mechanical abilities. #2, Someone with some mechanical capabilities. #3, Someone with pretty good capabilities. #4 Someone who is a professional mechanic.
The next thing you must do is rate yourself as a Body man (or woman). Use the same scale as above.
Lastly, and possibly most important of all is to rate your financial status. #1, Poorer than a church mouse. #2. Not destitute, but my budget is tight. #3. I’m doing OK, the bank will lend me money. #4.No kids and working wife, have plenty #5. Rolling in money, don’t actually know or care how much.
If you cannot fix the mechanical or the body defects yourself, I suggest you buy a fairly nice daily driver and leave the fixer uppers alone. First of all body work is not cheap, parts are not cheap, as a matter of fact they are both damn expensive. The more work you have to do to a car, the more expensive it gets and it is not just in small steps. It happens exponentially. The smallest thing can cascade into a huge bill. Remember these cars are old and were not too well built originally. Who’d have thunk they would be around 55 years later.
The more money you have, the less you will need to worry about your skill levels. But, do you want to sink your retirement into a hunk of metal. And yes, these older cars are really made of metal. Cheap metal, but metal none the less.
People still luck into good even great deals today. But, they are getting fewer and farther between. As the supply of dependable daily drivers decreases, one is relegated to either forage in junk yards, scour for old cars in rural areas, or buy a new and not such an old car. This article is being updated in 2019 (it was originally written in 2009 and updated again in 2014), there are still plenty of good cars from the 1980’s out there to be had, some will even be collectors items in the future. Today they can be bought, not cheap but you won’t have to sell your soul. 1960’s and 1970’s have become quite hard to find in good condition for a reasonable price.
OK, how to buy a car. What to look for. What to avoid. Where to look.
Looking for the car:
First I will cover where to look. Look close to home first. Look in local newspapers and daily rags. Also a favorite place of mine is www.craigslist.org. When you go there, select the state you live in and then select the biggest town near where you live. Put in the key words you want to search for such as “1979 COBRA” or “COBRA II” or “1967 MUSTANG”. You may get no results from the search or you may get plenty. If you get none, keep searching in towns and then states farther away from where you live.
The reason I did not send you to eBay, is because they do more bidding and generally get higher prices for the same car. But that is the next place I would look.
Finally, go to the gas stations and buy a “Trading Times”, “Thrifty Nickel” or some such magazine that sells Mustangs. The reason I suggest this last is because these cars are usually very expensive and tend to not be much of a bargain.
OK, there is one final place to look. If you want a collector car and want a very good one. Go to a vintage car sales lot. The one I am thinking of is was very close to my house, but they went out of business. There are others at least 60 miles from where I live, and that is a lot closer than the trip I took to Florida to buy my 1970 Mach 1. Some vintage car dealers rate their cars and sell on consignment. His cars are usually very nice and I would trust them more than buying from an individual. The other advantage of buying from a vintage car business is that they can arrange financing for you, on the car you buy.
Getting your car home:
If you don’t have a truck and you don’t have a trailer, rent one! Buying a car, then driving it home is crazy. It is like a game of Russian roulette. You do not know the car, its mechanical capabilities or record. The brakes could fail, the carburetor go kerplunk or any other malady you cannot even begin to conceive of. If you have a buddy to go along with you and you do decide to drive, make sure he is a mechanic. I guarantee the guy you bought the car from is going on vacation even as you pull out the driveway, so don’t count on them!
Evaluating the car:
When you buy the car, go look at it first. Expect the seats to be worn and possible torn. Expect old clocks not to work. These are little things and very seldom do work after 55+ years. Wear old clothes, go on a nice day. Take a tarp and a small hydraulic jack and jack stands. Take an extra battery, because the guy might say “well I think the battery is dead but it does run”.
Most importantly, take a tablet of lined paper with you and a camera. As you look at the vehicle, write everything down that you find is good or bad with the car, TAKE PICTURES. Good on one page bad on other page. Estimate what each defect will cost to fix. Before you go, you can talk to an upholstery shop or a body shop and mechanic to get hourly rates. Better yet, if you have a knowledgeable friend, take them along.
Start under the hood. Open the radiator and look inside. Is there water. Is there a white liquid or scum on the water? If there is, it is probably oil form the engine and you could be looking at a major engine repair.
Next check the oil, is there plenty of oil and is it black or dark brown. A whitish hew in the oil again may indicate a cracked head. While you have the dipstick out, put some oil on your finger and hold it up to the sun, does it sparkle. Could be lots of worn metal flakes in the oil. Engines are not cheap to rebuild. A good rebuild job will cost $1200 at a minimum with machine work, a rebuild kit and you putting it back together.
Next, try to start it. Does it turn over? If not, will a battery make it run. Hook up the spare battery or jumper cables. Check for water in the battery. Now does it turn over or start.
If it turns over, but doesn’t start, open up the fuel tank, does the gas smell like fresh gasoline you smell at the pump or, does it have an odd smell. Old gas, does not start well, nor does it run well. If you can get it started, does it knock? Does it smoke like the city bug sprayer?
Don’t worry about belts, hoses, windshield wipers, vacuum hoses and brakes. I always replace them on any car I buy as soon as I get home. That’s a given. check everything. Windshield wiper motors, fluid squirters, brakes, headlights, brake lights, radio, does the door sag as soon as it is opened? Is the door properly aligned? How is the alignment on the hood and deck lid?
Check for rust. Mustangs, especially the early ones are notorious for rusting in the rear quarter panel behind the rear tire. Also, open the trunk and look behind the rear wheel in the trunk drop off area. Is the trunk floor solid? The front fenders are also very bad for rust. Now look at the floor pans how rusty are they? Remember, take pictures.
Look for bubbles under the paint. They are an indication something is wrong, Usually there is rust of some nature it can be from a poor repair job or the metal is just rusting through. In any case, note the defect on your list. Take a magnet with you and hold it up to the car’s paint. If it won’t stick, chances are there is body filler under the paint.
When you are looking under the car, you might see a seam along the inside of the transmission tunnel. If this is the case, part of the floor has been repaired. This is a common practice. Some people think that it may make the car unsafe. Generally this is not true if it has been repaired by a good welder or body person. However if you see a seam that divided the car in half, that can be a warning that the car has been clipped. Clipped cars are when the front of one has been wrecked and the back of another has been wrecked. Someone cuts them in half and welds them together again. These cars should be avoided. Run a check on the VIN to make sure they are not salvage cars.
If you notice sheet metal parts that are pop riveted on or brazed and not welded, avoid the car at all costs. Braising is like soldering it puts a thin layer of molten metal between 2 layers of another metal. This is a surface joint like using glue between plates. It does not fuse the two pieces together, simply surface joins them. Structurally, this is no good at all!
On other thing that almost anyone can notice is if the doors, hoods and deck lids align properly. If not, then perhaps the car has been in an accident and the frame (unit body) is bent.
Most rust can be fixed, the really expensive rust is when it happens in a major body area. Frame rails, and torque boxes are a bitch to fix. On my last car I had to replace 3 of the four torque boxes. They are buried very deep in the structure of the car. It took about 3-4 weeks of work to replace them. I also replaced the entire firewall and complete floor pan in the process. Not cheap! Replacing the torque boxes also mandates that I put the frame on a frame machine before I do an alignment or ever attempt to drive it. More money!
If you weld, and have a grinder, don’t worry about small rust areas on easy to access areas such as the floors. If you don’t weld, an option is the Ag, or mechanic shop at your local high school. There is some good talent that can be found cheap to help you get panels installed.
Expect to pay $900 to $1200 for a complete interior kit to fix your dash, doors, seats, sun visors, headliner, carpet, kick panels, etc. Besides the kit installing a headliner can cost between $100-200 dollars. Covering the seats will cost between 50 and 100 dollars per seat depending on location and how bad they are. Seat cushions run about $100 per seat, $200 for the pair.
Rusted fenders are just about as cheap to replace as they are to fix. The problem is that the cheap knock-off fenders do not fit very well. I bought on one time and made the mistake of painting it before I fit the fender. I threw it away and fixed the old one.
Bent or dented hoods are a bear. A good remanufactured hood can cost up to $500. And still require body work to make it really nice. Don’t let someone talk a damaged piece of the car down. Parts and labor are expensive. Deck lids can be expensive as well.
Door glass is really expensive. Tinted door glass on early models is very hard to find in good condition. New door glass runs at least $300 per window. Remember, record every defect. If you intend to fix the car, these defects can be a bargaining point when negotiating a fair price. The won’t give the car away, but they might come down quite a bit.
Before you go to look at a car, get a magazine from a Mustang parts house. While you are there, looking at the car, you can use the magazine to price broken parts that need to be repaired.
The web lists a ton of parts. Buy from a reputable dealer. Kits are the way to go. Buying an interior kit gets me everything I need to restore a vehicle’s interior. I don’t get doubles and save up to 20-30% over buying individual pieces. It also bundles shipping and saves lots of shopping time.
Do I have your attention? I hope so. Some cars you just cannot get parts for. For example try buying panels and non-engine parts for a 1974 through 1978 Mustang II. They just don’t make them! Someone going to sell you one cheap. That is because they are hard to get parts for. Not only that, but they had very poor rust protection and rust very easily. You might buy one cheap, but never get it fixed up.
Negotiation a price;
This is a tricky part. You need to use tact when dealing with sellers. Some people think that their car is worth a fortune even though it is really a rust bucket. But they might be right if it is a Shelby or Boss 429, etc. You need to do your homework before you go to look at the car. See what they are selling for on e-bay. Print out the results and take them with you. Use your defect list you made to point out the car’s flaws. Many times an owner has seen them for so many years, they just don’t see them any more. Use the pictures from under the car to show rust, oil leaks, broken parts. This is called negotiating. Estimate how much it will cost to fix up the car, then decide if what you are going to have to pay plus repairs expenses is good for you. If not walk away and keep looking.
Finding a body shop:
OK, so you bought your vehicle and it needs body work. How do you select a good body shop?
1. Go visit several near you. Look at their work and see how they do. Is the paint good. Do they use lots of body filler or just a small amount?
2. Ask if they have restored any other vehicles and if so can they give you the names of the clients so you can check their work and verify information.
3. Explain exactly what you want. Have them describe what they are going to do, IN WRITING! Get their warranty, again in writing.
4. Compare estimates from various shops. Prices and time to get a job done and out. Times may vary especially if one is going to use your job as filler work and charge you less. But still get a maximum time quote.
5. Review everything and make a decision.
6. When painting or doing body work on a car, always remove the trim and do a 100% good job. Make sure your body shop is bidding on doing a job like this. I knew a man once who took a low ball bid. got his car painted, then had to replace a piece of trim. Guess what, the trim was smaller than the original part and the old dull paint and paint lines showed. If they had done a better job to begin with this would not have been a problem later.
7. Good luck!