By Angelo Van Bogart
When Scott Meadows brought his 1966 Mustang coupe into Jeff Lilly Restorations in Helote, Texas, the little black 289 V-8-powered “pony” looked like a good “20 footer.” But Jeff Lilly knew better. Little hints, from the twisted bumpers to misaligned fenders, indicated the Mustang had been battered in the past. Lilly’s experience in restoration also told him that multiple repaints can hide a lot of defects on a 45-year-old car, especially when that old car is an early Mustang with a few bumps and bruises.
The recent restoration also set out to correct some of the manufacturing flaws when the car was originally mass produced in 1966. Ford was starting to build its second million run of Mustangs in 1966, offering them in hardtop, convertible and 2+2 fastback models built in plants at Dearborn, Mich.; San Jose, Calif.; and Metuchen, N.J. The cars were available with three- or four-speed manual transmissions or the C-4 automatic behind the 200-cid six-cylinder or one of three 289-cid V-8 engines with V-8 power ratings of 200, 225 or 271 hp. Buyers preferred the V-8 engine, with 58.3 percent of 1966 Mustangs receiving one of the 289 engines.
For 1966, Mustang prices slightly increased with Ford raising the price of the hardtop by $44, the 2+2 by $18 in its second full year on the market and the convertible by $49. That brought the base price of 1966 Mustangs to $2,416 for the hardtop, $2,607 for the 2+2 fastback and $2,653 for the convertible. For 1966, Ford built 607,568 Mustangs, with 72,119 being convertibles, 35,698 of them 2+2 fastbacks and 499,751 of them hardtop coupes, including the project car undertaken by Jeff Lilly Restorations.
This Mustang hardtop’s real story was exposed once the paint was removed and the car was stripped and its parts inventoried. There was rust. Serious rust. The inner rear quarter panels needed significant repair. The floor pans had been previously repaired with rusty salvage yard pans that were installed crooked. There were rust pinholes at the bottom of the doors and, as is typical of 1960s Mustangs, the water drain vents beneath the cowl vent were rusted clear through, allowing water to enter the passenger compartment. Even the outer roof skin and its inner structure were significantly rusted, requiring a new roof to be taken from a California parts car.
Throughout the car, there was rust eating away in small places at each panel, earning the car the nickname “Rustang” by Lilly’s employees. The scope of the project didn’t scare Lilly and his team, however, and they stayed true to their path and cut and replaced the damaged areas to make them like new on this back-to-stock restoration.
“Original Ford sheet metal from salvage yards was used with Ford repro parts and others,” Lilly said. “Some [parts] were fabricated if the quality [of the replacement] was not up to our standard.
“You have to sort through repro parts and avoid the rough parts, but companies that had good parts a year ago may sell rough ones today, so they have to be checked regularly.”
Whenever new metal was installed, those parts were treated with zinc chromate to prevent further corrosion. Areas of original metal that had been blasted were sprayed with black epoxy primer to stop rust from forming in the future.
Once the roof, floor, cowl and rear quarter panels were repaired, Lilly and his team began fitting the doors and front clip to the body tub. These parts included repaired original doors and some reproduction metal.
“Factory original Ford metal, when available, is used,” Lilly said. “We use a very limited amount of imported metal, because of the inconsistent quality.”
Lilly and his staff then went about fitting the panels to the body tub, checking for consistent 3/16-inch gaps between panels and a flush fit from panel to panel. Once the panels were fitted, the car was mounted to a rolling cart and the panels were given a 1/16-inch skim coat of filler to smooth out factory flaws in the metal. Then the doors, hood, deck lid and front fenders were removed again for a coat of high-build primer that was then sanded smooth.
“In order to get this pony straight and true, it required a lot of hand blocking, using a myriad of the 70 sanding blocks we have made over the years,” Lilly said.
Once the Mustang’s surface was smooth and the panel fit was perfect — and certainly better than what was offered when new — the car was sprayed Ford Wimbledon White and sanded and polished to a 1,500-grit buff for a smooth, ripple-free luster.
Once the paint dried, the chore of fitting the trim was undertaken. The exterior emblems were fit to the car to ensure they fit flush against the body. When trim parts did not fit flush, the backs of the parts were filed or ground smooth. The door handles and trim in the trademark Mustang cove had to be tweaked with a grinder. Sometimes, trim parts required replating after grinding them smooth.
Although incorrect for this 1966, the owner preferred the red of the 1965 Mustang interior, so the car was upholstered with the previous model year’s materials. The remainder of the interior was restored to 1966 specifications down to the finest detail. Just as on the body, all of the interior components were restored to original, from the C-4 automatic transmission gear selector to the pedals to the heater box and instrument cluster. Lilly noted that the reproduction parts in the gauge cluster needed adjustment for the proper fit, but worked well once they were in place. Meanwhile, the restored mechanical components were then bolted in place and plumbed. In the only other nod to unoriginality, the owner elected to add air conditioning. Only 9.5 percent of 1966 Mustangs were fitted with air conditioning, so the aftermarket unit was made to look like the stock unit available back in ’66.
The project was finished about a year ago, and the owner has been enjoying the car on “nice days only.” We’d say he’s doing so in a car nicer than what was available in 1966.
Go to www.jefflilly.com for more about Jeff Lilly Restorations.
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