Waking Up a Sleeping Beauty

Restoring a 1970 Mach I Mustang that has snoozed for a long time is a big challenge. Here's a step-by-step start

Editor's Note: From time to time, Ted Welch will answer questions from readers about restoring old vehicles. This is the first of a two-part column.

Hi, Ted: I recently located a 1970 Mach I Mustang (351C) that has been in storage since 1979. The car had been kept in a storage garage, but it was not prepared for storage. It had just been covered up, wheels removed and set on jacks. There's still gas in the tank and water in the engine. What steps do you recommend for getting the engine going again? The car is in great condition and is only showing 34K on the odometer. I want to restore it back to original condition as a father-son project. My boy will be 15 this summer, and he is looking forward to driving the car. Any help you can offer us is greatly appreciated. -- Bill W., Missoula, Mont.

Congratulations on a wonderful find, Bill! Twenty-seven years is a long time for any vehicle to be stored, especially one that has not been properly prepared. Before we talk about the engine, let's go over some of the areas that suffer the most in long-term storage. Don't be fooled by good appearances -- all the original parts on your car are 36 years old.

First is the braking system. Most brake fluids of that period were (and many today still are) corrosive, and their hydroscopic properties promote rust. In addition to these nasty things, ozone and ultraviolet rays play havoc with rubber seals found on wheel and master cylinders. If the car is equipped with power brakes, the rubber diaphragm in the booster could have suffered as well.


  I think you will agree that the brake system is the most important equipment on any vehicle, and no chance should be taken on trying to rehabilitate any of the original parts. This can be a big chunk of your restoration budget, but the brake system will need to be gone through completely.

Start by removing the wheel and master cylinders and flushing the brake lines. If you find a lot of particulates or rust while flushing, you may have to take apart the portioning valve for cleaning or replacement. Once your lines are clean, inspect the line condition for excessive surface rust. If you find any flaking rust, replace the line. Rubber lines going to the front brakes must be replaced in any case.

Even though you have a desire to restore the car to original condition, consider updating the brake system with a few modest improvements. The use of stainless-steel brake lines and bronze-sleeved wheel and master cylinders make rust and corrosion a thing of the past. Use silicon seals and silicon brake fluids to add long life to the braking system. Silicon does not suffer the ills of ozone and ultraviolet rays, and it holds up well under high temperatures -- better than rubber seals.


  Use all new brake hardware. i.e. springs, clips, adjusters, retainers, etc. It's also a good time to repack the front wheel bearings and replace the spindle seals. Inspect the rear-axle seals and replace them if needed.

Larger cooling fin brake drums and even reproduction factory disk-brake kits are available for your application. In addition, new brake lining compounds can help the vehicle to stop faster, with little fading. Each improvement affects the originality only a very little and, weighed with the added benefits, are smart choices.

Next, we'll look at the fuel system. A vehicle stored with any fuel in the tank is a near-disaster in many regards. Fuel degrades and breaks down over time, turning into a thick, gooey, and smelly sludge. Even worse, the contents are hazardous waste and must be handled and disposed of in that manner. On top of these issues, the material is still highly flammable and retains an explosive potential, even in its degraded state.


  There's hope, though. New Mustang fuel tanks are widely available and are very reasonably priced. In your case, you're better off removing the old fuel tank intact, sealing it up, and having your local hazardous-waste company remove it. If you have to take the tank to such a company, make sure to do so in an open-bed truck. Place the tank in a secondary-containment container, filled partially with some absorbent media.

You could choose to have the tank professionally reconditioned if you have a local resource for this type of work. But a new gas tank will cost you less in the long run, and it'll be new.

Next, the fuel lines will need to be flushed. Disconnect the line at the tank and fuel pump near the engine. Use a suitable solvent to flush the lines clean. Berryman's carries a host of products suitable for this task. You may have to let the solvent sit in the lines overnight to soften up the varnish. Flush until the solvent runs clear. In a worst-case scanario, you may need to replace the fuel lines.


  Then replace the fuel pump. In your application, there is no need to try cleaning and then relying on an inexpensive part like the fuel pump -- simply replace it. Remember to install a new fuel filter at the tank supply and another one at the carburetor.

There's not much to do with the carburetor at this time. It's a pretty good bet that all the fuel in the carburetor has long since evaporated. Again, you can spray down the carburetor with Berryman's carburetor cleaner to clean off any varnish or dirt before you start the engine. That's it for the fuel system.

In the next column, we'll look at how to rev that old engine.