List of Tips n' Tricks for Early Mustangs....and others

by:Walker Perry Blanchard

Ok - here is a list of things that I have found out over the years from trying to get parts........
some are specific to the mustang, others are more general....

Jump to a section below, or scroll down the page:


AIRCLEANER - got one of those fancy chrome 14" air cleaners and don't want to pay for the fancy filter? The filter from a late model Chevrolet truck with the V8 should be right - if you want a REALLY tall air cleaner - try the one from the late model chevy truck with the diesel motor (it's a 3 inch air cleaner element!)

BELLHOUSING - Have an early V8 (pre 1965) you want to switch from a 3 speed to a 4 speed? Remember, the early mustangs that had a 3 speed also had a 5 bolt bellhousing not a 6 bolt. And if you have a 3 speed manual, the bolt pattern matches up with that of the 4 speed, but the front bearing retainer on the 3 speed is 1/8" in diameter smaller than a 4-speed you can't just bolt a 4 speed in place of a 3 speed - and you cannot just swap bearing retainers as the front bearing race is larger on the 4 speed....keep this in mind when doing a 3 speed to 4 speed conversion....and keep in mind that 5 bolt 4 speed bellhousings are around $250 where the 3 speed ones are only $45.....since they quit making these in 1965, they are getting hard to find (all ford small blocks switched to a different bolt pattern for the rear of the block in mid-1965).

CLUTCH - if you have an early ford 10" LONG STYLE clutch - here is a Great Trick part....just find a remanufactured 10" RAISED DIAPHRAM clutch from a 1983-84 ford mustang/capri/thunderbird with a V8...even though it is physically a different spring and casing, the bolt holes line up is cheaper....IT WON'T CHATTER ...and best of all, it holds MORE POWER while being easier to hold down at a stop...(ps, use the same 10 spline friction disc and the appropriate throwout bearing for the year of your car)

CLUTCH EQUALIZER BAR - gone on your -1964-1966? The part for the 1967 works, it's just that the reproduction part they sell is welded at a slightly different angle! not to worry - just get an adjustable "equalizer bar to release fork" bar and you're set! Can't find such a creature? Well, a 1.24" wood boring drill bit works....just drill a hole in the flat spade end to connect to the equalizer bar, and then cut the bit to the appropriate length, rounding off the end with a file so that it fits nicely into the socket on the release fork. Mine has worked since 1986!

CLUTCH EQUALIZER BAR SQUEAKING - just tap a small hole in the center of the bar (where it pivots) and tap out the hole. Now thread in a small grease fitting. Fill that sucker up with grease till the grease comes out the pivot ends....won't squeak now! And if it ever starts again....just get the grease gun...

CYLINDER HEAD GASKETS - if the gaskets say "no retorque necessary" do it anyway. It's a pain in the @#$%.. but they never stay torqued the first time (I found one that could be turned by hand!)...Yeah, I got your "no retorque"....

GENERATOR gone bad? Well, as they are now well over $90 to replace (they used to be cheap as dirt just 5 years ago) is a nifty replacement....just look in any "performance parts" magazine and you will see a "one wire alternator". What this thing is - an alternator that has a BUILT IN self exciting voltage regulator. This means that there is only ONE wire coming out of the unit. Just hook that to the positive side of the battery (along with an appropriate FUSIBLE LINK) and you're set.....just remember, this replaces the WHOLE charging system on the early generator mustangs (it's a bear trying to fit in an original alternator and harness in place of a Generator....). The whole original generator system consisted of the generator, voltage regulator, the wires from the starter relay to generator to DASH LIGHT (yep - this little booger was part of the charging if the light blows, not only will the system not charge....there is no light to warn you that it is not working! Stupid engineering...) and finally to voltage regulator back to generator. One little wire replaces ALL of that. Simple. Less than $100, and it puts out 80 amps compared to the stock 32!

HEADLIGHT SWITCH (1964 - 5/31/65)- these for the early mustangs (before 5/31/65) are pricey....the good thing is that they are identical to a 1962-4 ford truck switch! The dimmer does not function on these....but for $10.95, who cares? Check the price on an ORIGINAL switch from on the the mustang houses, and ask yourself where the extra $40 is going?

REAR MAIN SEAL - on a 1965-66 body style, this can be done with the motor in the car. The rear main seal was a 2 piece seal made of rubber with a steel wire core. Remove the starter, the front frame crossmember (fat bar looking thing) and the oil pan. Remove the rear main cap - be careful with the bearing in the cap... now, using a small punch or nail, gently tap (don't scratch the crank journal!!) one side of the seal that is still in the block - tapping one side should make the other end rotate around enough to grab with a pair of pliers and pull it on out. Make sure you put the seal back in the way the old one came out (the lip should face in towards the center of the motor)!

SPEEDOMETER CABLE - doing the good old transmission swap? Check your speedometer cable to make sure that it can reach the new location on the new transmission - in my case the 3 speed had the opening on the driver's side, where the 4 speed toploader I bought had the opening on the passenger side.... and don't forget to take the little nylon gear out of the old transmission to put into the new one!

STARTER - the starter listed in the newer parts catalogs for the 1965 mustang with a 260 V8 and a 3 speed manual is the wrong one - if it won't fit, try the one for the automatic (slightly smaller casing). If that doesn't work, just take the front of the casing off the old one and put it on the new working one.

STARTER RELAY - replacing your starter? Is your Starter Relay old too? Replacing this at the same time may be a good idea to insure good starts - and these relays are fairly cheap. PS - keep the old one handy if you ever have to troubleshoot a ford starting system.

VOLTAGE REGULATOR - for a Generator - you must polarize the field coil of a generator if replacing or rebuilding the generator! If you do not polarize the field coil properly, the generator will not put out the correct amount of volts, resulting in an undercharged battery. Here's how: Briefly touch the center wire marked "F" (for field) to the bottom wire marked "I" (for ignition, or switched power - do this with the ignition in the "ON" position). Careful! You will see a small spark - it is best to touch the leads, hold for 1-2 seconds, and then release. DO NOT HOLD THEM THERE PAST 5 SECONDS! If you do, you will short out the windings in the generator (you will know if you short it out - it smokes a lot - smells like burning plastic...)


HEI - replace the rotor on these distributors at least once a year - the heat somehow damages the plastic of the rotor so that after a few years the spark will short right through the rotor to the engine block, instead of travelling along the contacts to the posts on the cap.

General Car Care:

BATTERY - clean the contacts on the battery if they have buildup on them. Get those felt washers from the auto store, this keeps the buildup off the battery posts. If this is not enough, you can periodically clean the top (or side) of the battery between hte battery terminals. The dirt buildup can actually carry a minute charge between the posts, discharging the battery. If you occasionally spray the contacts and the top of the battery with WD-40, then wipe it off, it will help protect the terminals from the excessive buildup that can occur (that wonderful white or green powdery substance!).

BATTERY CABLES - If the cables look worn or frayed, REPLACE them. Battery cables are inexpensive, and this ensures your car will start when you most need it to. Another thing to check is the ground cable that goes from the negative post of the battery to the block of the engine. If that cable is loose or really dirty where it attaches to the block, you will not get a good contact, and a poor circuit - a clean ground connection is a happy one!

BRAKE FLUID - is your brake fluid more than 3 years old? Have it replaced. Regular brake fluids are hydroscopic - they attract water. This is bad because you get corrosion of your braking system from the inside out. Air bubbles also can become immersed in the fluid, and will cause the brakes to feel mushy - replacing the fluid every other year helps prevent corrosion, and makes those brakes really responsive.

BRAKE JOBS (general) - always have the drums/rotors turned and replace them if they are too thin to turn! Turning, or resurfacing, the drums/rotors lets the pads "seat" better....they "break in" better and will last a whole lot longer. ALSO - if you get grease or dirt on the pads...use #150 sandpaper to clean them, NEVER use a solvent to remove grease from the pads - this will keep them from "breaking in" properly and they will not last very long...ALWAYS inspect the brake lines for leaks/cracks too!

COOLING SYSTEM - almost all of the breakdowns that occur in the summertime are caused by overheating - having your cooling system checked and serviced is a must....just remember to check the fluid level periodically (don't do this with the engine hot! that coolant will get ya!) inspect the belts and hoses for cracks, etc...and REPLACE them if they are over 3 years old (or do like my dad and "don't fix it if it ain't broke" it's gonna break in the comfort of your will always fail in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere.....then that $25 will seem like a real bargain...)


  1. when doing a tune up - spray liberal amounts of WD-40 inside the cap, and then use a rag to wipe off the excess. The coating that the WD-40 provides keeps moisture from sticking in the contact area of the cap, it now beads up and rolls off. This helps prevent the wonderful thing that happens when you get water in the cap during a rain storm, and you hit that big a matter of fact, you can now fill that thing up with water, dump it out, put the cap on the distributor, and the car will start!
  2. is your cap vented? No? drill a small hole (1/8) in the side of the cap (do this with the cap off the distributor, please). This will vent the cap, and help keep the air inside from becoming ionized, which can lead to excessive "gapping" or "arcing" where the spark arcs across the space BETWEEN the contacts, firing cylinders out of order.
DRUM BRAKE JOBS - when servicing DRUM BRAKES.....ALWAYS replace the little plungers and seals inside the brake see, after you put on new shoes, the plungers rub against a different area of the inside of the cylinder, and this often causes them to the little $10 brake cylinder kits and save yourself a headache.....

DRUM BRAKES cont. - brakes not adjusting? After years of abuse the little "star wheel" type of adjusters get very worn and do not "ratchet" properly.....replace these, and those brakes will adjust just like new (note of caution....they are different for each side....don't reverse them! hehe)

FLUID LEVELS - every single time you fill up with gas, you should check - coolant level (overflow reservoir type), oil level, brake fluid, and clutch fluid reservoir (if applicable). My sister could have saved a motor in her celica this way - and my father is going to lose a motor in an old pickup very soon - when I used to drive it I noticed it burns a quart every 1 -2 tanks of gas. He never checks it, except every 500 miles or so. By that time it's 2.5 quarts low. And don't believe the pressure readings either - this truck shows ample pressure at 3 quarts low - and my sister's celica was OUT of oil (4+ quarts) and still registered on the meter at over halfway. Of course that engine died.

HEADLIGHTS - clean them! Did you know that the human eye (for the driver!) will not notice the light diminishing from dirty headlights until you lose almost 50% of the illumination? Other cars, however, WILL notice, or more precisely, will notice your car later than they normally would. Wipe the headlights off occasionally between car washings to ensure maximum illumination.

OIL - change that oil! this is probably the most important thing you can do for a motor. Use the manufacturer's recommended oil viscosity, if you are unsure what to use. Regular oil changes will make your engine last a long and happy life. Just ask my truck - over 190,000 original miles (1986 model) and it burns less than 1/4 of a quart every 2000 miles. I change that oil every 2000 miles.

POINTS AND CONDENSOR - if you still have a mechanical ignition, remember to replace the condensor everytime you replace the points. Remember - the points gap will get smaller (resulting in higher dwell) as the points get broken in - maybe plan for this by adding a degree to the value for the dwell (also remember to check your timing after you have set the dwell - for every degree change in the dwell, the timing will change as well).

SPARK PLUGS - looking for a little extra power? Just use an old hot rodding trick from the 50's.....side gap those plugs! Normally on a spark plug, the top electrode goes all the way over the center you file the top electrode from the SIDE so that it gets shorter and only sticks HALFWAY over the center electrode....this exposes the spark to more of the air fuel mixture....kind of like a "splitfire" (which are NOT recommended in supercharged motors, as they tend to fail.....which means that they suck eggs...PAXTON actually recommends NGK, by the by....) and can increase your low end torque a bit....and it can be done for FREE!

SPARK PLUG WIRES - this is the most overlooked area in a tune up. Old spark plug wires. Replace them at major tune-ups. Of course, mine get replaced once a year on the high mileage vehicle. Why? Because I get 23 miles to the gallon in the city and the previous owner couldn't manage over 18. Tune ups pay for themselves. Especially these days.

TRANSMISSION WORK - standard transmissions - once you remove the slip yoke from the tailshaft, to keep the fluid in the transmission if removing the transmission, use the rubber bulb from a turkey baster to plug the end of the transmission - it fits nicely in the gap between the tailshaft and the tailshaft housing. Less mess and you don't have to drain the transmission.

WINDSHIELD WIPERS - if they are over a year old, replace them.

  1. Check the spring pressure in the wiper arm - get a "spring scale", like the ones used to weigh fish (or like the ones used in physics labs for the non fishermen/women in the audience) and use the scale to pull the wiper arm away from the window (attach it where the wiper blade attaches to the arm). You should have 1 lb. per inch of length of wiper blade - ie. a 14" wiper blade should have a 14 lb. pull.
  2. Clean the wiper blade itself with isopropyl alcohol or some kind of window cleaner - put some on a paper towel or a rag and wipe the rubber part of the blade down. They get all kinds of road grime on them.
  3. Align the wiper arm - with the blade off the arm - check to see that the flat of the arm is parallel to the glass - the flat part of the arm should be at the same angle as the glass - if it is bent, the wiper blade will not sit correctly on the glass and will tend to chatter. To adjust, use 2 pair of pliers (and some rags to keep from scratching the paint off the wiper arm) and twist the arm until it is aligned with the slope of the windshield.
YEARLY MAINTENANCE - set a schedule for yearly maintenance. Make a list of things to replace. If you do this yourself, it costs around $100 in parts. Of course, your car will be safer, get better gas mileage, and last longer.
  1. Transmission fluid - manual and automatic - replace it. On automatic, relpace the filter as well.
  2. Transfer case - 4x4 only, replace fluid.
  3. Brake Fluid - replace it
  4. Coolant - flush and fill the radiator.
  5. Tune up parts - cap, rotor, spark plugs, spark plug wires. Replace them all.
  6. Oxygen Sensor - if your car has one, replace this once a year (or if you are lazy, alternating years). Better a $30 O2 sensor now, then a $500 catalytic converter later. Plus you pass emissions with flying colors. AND your car runs better.
  7. Air cleaner - new one.
  8. Rear axle fluid - rear wheel and 4x4 drive only. Replace.
  9. Universal joints - lubricate
  10. Wheel Bearings - rear wheel and 4x4 - clean and inspect them, then relubricate and reinstall. Inspect brakes at this point in time.
  11. alternating years
  12. Belts - replace all fan and accessory belts.
  13. Hoses - replace all radiator, and heater hoses.