Vintage Engine Bay Detailing
Detailed To Perfection
From the May, 2012 issue of Mustang Monthly
By Mark Houlahan
Photography by Mark Houlahan
Many of us have been around long enough in this hobby to remember when major Mustang shows were often rows of painstakingly detailed concours cars with just the right finish on all the bolts, nuts, brackets, and what not. You'd often find a gaggle of judges overlooking the car, clipboards in hand, to discuss the finite details of oil and phosphate versus bare metal. While we applaud those in the hobby who have the time, finances, and interest to detail a concours car, the majority of the hobby has swung towards driver cars and late-model Mustangs. I know some of you have been dragged into the 21st century kicking and screaming, but frankly, any interest in the Mustang hobby, be it modified cars or brand-new G.T. 500s, is good in our book. The last thing we want is for the Mustang hobby to die off with its elder generation.
That said, one thing we've not taken a hard look at in a long time (as far as our feeble minds can remember) is the task of detailing an engine compartment with an eye towards the restomod side of the hobby. Unlike a concours engine detailing job, where 95 percent of the time your engine bay will look identical to the Mustang parked next to you, the modified classes look at cleanliness and workmanship--there is no"correctness" to engine detailing with a modified car. Essentially, the engine detailing is left up to your imagination, budget, and even a theme, if your car has one.
We've seen countless vintage Mustangs with nice"driver" paintjobs, shiny wheels, and decent interiors at cruise nights and weekend shows, but often with their hoods left in the closed position. A quick poll of five different Mustang owners at a recent Saturday night cruise showed that four had their hoods down because they weren't proud of the way their engine bay looked (the fifth thought the car displayed better with the hood down but was willing to open the hood for anyone who asked).
We didn't have to search too hard for a similar story in the '66 Mustang coupe you see here. The owner has four Mustangs (the '66 and three late-models) and likes to cruise with the '66, but is quite ashamed of his engine bay (his words). After sitting down and discussing his desires and budget, we offered to roll up our sleeves and help, along with a few local club members, to turn his dingy engine bay into something to be proud of. Check out the work and the results and start making your plans to do the same. It'll put a smile on your face when you lift the hood at your next cruise in, we guarantee it!
What We Used
While this is by no means an exact list of what you have to use to dress up your engine compartment, we wanted to provide a list of the parts we used from Mustangs Unlimited; this way if you see something you like for your project in these photos, you'll know what to order.
|Ford Racing Valve Covers
|Chrome Master Cylinder
|60-amp Chrome Alternator
|March Pulleys (4-bolt crank
|Power Steering Pump Pulley
|Chrome Thermostat Housing
|Alternator Bolt Kit
|Power Steering Dipstick (67-73)
|Chrome Dipstick and Tube
|Valve Cover Gaskets
|Chrome Monte Carlo Bar-Curved
|Chrome Shock Tower Brackets
|Chrome Oil Breather-Push On
|Adjustable Hood Bumpers
|U-nut for Hood Bumpers
|Fender Bumper Kit
|High Note Horn
|Low Note Horn
|Throttle Linkage Kit
|Chrome Export Brace
1 Your engine bay might look...
1 Your engine bay might look a little worse for wear, just like this '66 coupe. But with a good cleaning, some paint, and the right selection of new parts, you can make your engine bay a winner. It's hard to believe that our lead photo is the same engine bay, huh?
2 While it might make you...
2 While it might make you nervous, it's really best to remove your hood for this kind of work. You can much more easily get to the firewall for cleaning and painting. Mark the hinge location with some tape, protect your fender and cowl area with fender covers or blankets, and then unbolt your hood. Store it safely where it will not get damaged.
3 Our '66 had a rusty chrome...
3 Our '66 had a rusty chrome export brace that we'll be replacing. First, the shocks are unbolted and then the shock mounting brackets are removed from the shock towers.
4 With the shock brackets...
4 With the shock brackets removed, the export brace can be unbolted from the cowl. Note that this export brace was installed incorrectly under the cowl edge. Export braces should be mounted to the top side of the cowl edge as you'll see later in our project.
5 The majority of the Mustang's...
5 The majority of the Mustang's engine bay wiring can simply be unplugged and removed. If you're not familiar with the stock wiring, be sure to take notes or photos of what plugs in where. To remove the headlight harness, you'll need to remove your headlights for access to the headlight and turn signal connections.
6 You certainly want to get...
6 You certainly want to get your radiator out of the way for a project like this. Not only will you get better paint coverage of the core support area, but with the radiator safely set aside, you reduce the risk of damaging the radiator core with other parts or tools.
7 Moving on to the engine...
7 Moving on to the engine itself, the more you can remove or disassemble, the better the cleaning and detailing success you will have. Removing things like headers/manifolds, accessories and brackets, and so forth will really help. The power steering pump is one item you might want to simply wire out of the way so you don't have to deal with hoses and the potential of fluid leaks.
8 The car owner had recently...
8 The car owner had recently upgraded to an HEI-style distributor and, due to the larger footprint of the unit, we felt removing it from the engine would be beneficial. Mark the rotor/shaft location in relation to the distributor body with a permanent marker, as seen here, then remove the distributor from the engine. As long as the engine is not rotated, you can drop the distributor back into place by aligning the marks.
9 Since we'll be cleaning...
9 Since we'll be cleaning the engine and engine bay, we didn't want any chemicals to stain or etch the finish on the Edelbrock carburetor. Plus we're planning to paint the intake manifold so removing the carb will help us produce a better finish on the intake.
10 Any wiring or hardware...
10 Any wiring or hardware that you can't remove easily can be wrapped with painters tape to prevent overspray. The neutral safety switch/backup light wiring harness is shown here. It was taped up and then pushed back through the firewall.
11 Our '66's engine bay is...
11 Our '66's engine bay is stripped down as far as we plan to take it. You might opt to remove your battery tray, master cylinder, and a few other items, but the battery tray mounting hardware looked like it didn't want to be messed with and we didn't want to deal with bleeding the brakes (our plan was to make this a weekend project with a couple of club members).
12 This might look scary...
12 This might look scary to some, but as long as your engine is sealed (we used tape on the intake openings, rubber plugs in the spark plug holes, and a thick shop rag in the distributor opening), you shouldn't have anything to worry about. A solid cleaning of all areas to be painted is critical. Paint will not stick to grease, dirt, or oil.
13 With the engine bay degreased...
13 With the engine bay degreased and dried, the amount of sanding/prep needed to prepare the surfaces for paint is entirely dependent upon the layers of paint and any damage that needs to be repaired. This '66 had a good two or three layers of engine bay paint to sand off, but be prepared to possibly do some light bodywork if your engine bay has errant screw holes, rust, or cracks.
14 Once you've prepped the...
14 Once you've prepped the engine bay to your satisfaction, grab some more painters tape and something to mask the fenders and cowl, such as newspaper or craft paper. Pay special attention to the edges of the fenders.
15 Normally we'd be concerned...
15 Normally we'd be concerned with getting just the right sheen of black for the engine bay, but since this is a modified car and we're detailing it as such, the type of black paint used is a lot more open. Of course, you can paint the engine bay body color too if you like that look. The owner of this '66 opted to keep the engine bay black, but wanted more of a semi-gloss sheen than the satin-like look of the original.
16 Reattaching the engine...
16 Reattaching the engine bay's electrical items, such as the starter solenoid, voltage regulator, etc. with new hardware is a small yet noticeable touch. We found some zinc-plated hex head tapping screws at the local hardware store to bolt these accessories into place. Notice too that we've started to clean and wrap our wiring with black plastic split loom and harness tape.
17 Painting your engine while...
17 Painting your engine while installed can be tricky, but with a little patience and careful masking, it can look good and save the extreme hassle of removing the engine. A can of dark Ford blue gets this '66's small-block looking good in short order. We did pull the intake manifold to paint it separately for better looks (and to repair an oil leak).
18 Things are starting to...
18 Things are starting to take shape in our engine bay now. We have our power steering pump (with new chrome dipstick) and brackets painted and bolted back up, plus our aftermarket aluminum intake is wearing a fresh coat of aluminum-look paint and bolted down with new bolts and gaskets. We’ve also refinished the radiator with gloss paint and bolted it back in as well.
19 Besides dress-up goodies...
19 Besides dress-up goodies like new valve covers and chrome parts, now is the perfect time to handle any maintenance items that can be replaced with better parts to aid in the visual improvements. A perfect example is the blue silicone Goodyear Hi-Miler hose kit offered by Mustangs Unlimited. The chrome thermostat housing from Mustangs Unlimited features a robust O-ring seal to prevent leaks common to other chrome housings.
20 The owner purchased the...
20 The owner purchased the car with long-tube headers already in place. They were in solid shape, but their surface was nothing to be proud of. While they were removed for engine block painting, we gave them a good sanding and a coat of hi-temp black header paint.
21 Valve covers can be a...
21 Valve covers can be a tough decision. Flip through the Mustangs Unlimited catalog and there are easily over a dozen styles to choose from. We kept things simple with a pair of Ford Racing polished aluminum covers. They'll give our engine a great look with a minimum of maintenance.
22 To put a bit more bling...
22 To put a bit more bling under hood, we opted to swap out the stock steel pulleys for a set of billet aluminum underdrive pulleys. Mustangs Unlimited sells March Performance pulleys and they have pulleys for just about any combination, including engine swaps, which is a good thing since this is a late '70s 302 in a '66 Mustang. The power steering pulley is a separately ordered part and will require both a removal and installation tool to swap it out.
23 The remaining pulleys--water...
23 The remaining pulleys--water pump, crank damper, and alternator--all simply bolt on in place of their original steel counterparts. The new alternator pulley bolted right up to the Powermaster chrome alternator from Mustangs Unlimited. Note these are underdrive pulleys and shorter belts will be required (MU does offer stock size pulley kits as well).
24 We planned all along to...
24 We planned all along to install a new export brace, but the owner of this '66 wanted to chrome it up a bit more with a new Monte Carlo bar. Mustangs Unlimited offers several styles, including straight and curved models, chrome plated steel, powdercoated steel, and stainless steel. We saved a little of our parts budget by going with the basic chrome plated steel model. Note that to install you will have to drill a pair of holes on the inner fenders. Often raising the front of the car with a floor jack will help aid installation too.
25 The '66's throttle linkage...
25 The '66's throttle linkage had seen better days. Instead of trying to straighten out the mangled mess, replace the linkage bushings, and paint it, Mustangs Unlimited came to the rescue with their heim joint throttle linkage kit. Due to the width of the Edelbrock carb, we had to make a small tubular spacer at the gas pedal end to prevent the linkage from binding/hitting at the carburetor.
26 Like the Monte Carlo bar,...
26 Like the Monte Carlo bar, installing an export brace is made much easier with the use of a floor jack. Raising the front of the car via the number two crossmember under the oil pan helps the shock towers flex outward to allow the export brace to slip over the shock tower mounting studs. Thread a couple of nuts on finger tight to hold the brace in place so you can remove the floor jack.
27 With the car back on terra...
27 With the car back on terra firma, the four mounting holes at the cowl need to be lined up and hardware installed. A tapered punch or large Phillips head screwdriver helps here. Insert your line up tool into one of the bolt holes and tweak the brace in whatever direction needed to get a bolt started. Repeat as needed to get all four bolts started and then tighten them down to secure the brace. Remove the previously installed retaining nuts at the shock towers and install the shock mounting brackets and shocks to finish everything up.
28 As stated earlier, we...
28 As stated earlier, we didn't disturb the battery tray due to seized fasteners. The tray is an aftermarket part designed for J-bolt retainers. A quick trip to the local auto parts store netted us a universal hold-down kit with J-bolts, hold-down strap, and hardware. We also replaced the positive cable with a new cable with red jacketing so there's no question as to which cable is which.
29a When determining what...
29a When determining what you're going to replace or upgrade, don't forget the area immediately in front of the engine compartment. When your hood is up, this area is visible as well.
29b Things like the hood...
29b Things like the hood latch, grille, horns, hood bumpers, and more should all be examined and cleaned/painted or replaced as necessary. Here we've opted for a pair of non-concours direct replacement horns along with new hood bumpers and adjusters.
30 It took a three-day weekend and three people working hand in hand, not to mention about a half-dozen trips to the local parts store and lots of paint, tape, and sand paper, but the end results speak for themselves. No longer is this owner ashamed of his engine bay and is ready to proudly pop the hood at his next cruise night.