Flip This Car: 1992 Ford Mustang LX 5.0 Convertible—Part Two

Features I By Christopher Smith I January 10, 2012
In just over a month I’ve already tallied close to 2000 miles behind the wheel of the 5.0. Does that mean I enjoy driving this car? In a word, yes, but it’s a touch more complicated than a one-word answer. The complete road test will be forthcoming in part three so I’ll refrain from sharing the unorthodox similes and astute observations until then. For now, you’ll be happy (or disappointed, depending your expectations for this series) to know that I’ve not yet smacked, slapped, thumped, tweaked, slammed, sideswiped, bounced or otherwise biffed the Mustang into anything moving or stationary, despite the current date which has us well into winter here in the northern latitudes.
To that end, part one of this series had no shortage of reader comments about the 5.0’s murderous intentions in slippery conditions. I believe one person specifically mentioned the word deathtrap, but if I’m honest I’ve yet to experience this Mr. Hyde Mustang that everyone speaks of. Admittedly, this winter has been amazingly free of winter weather in Central Michigan, so aside from a couple trips down some snow-dusted back roads that still had some dirt and gravel for traction, I’ve yet to truly experience the Mustang in full-blown winter  mode. This, after dropping $630 to equip the entire Smith fleet with Nokian Hakkapeliitta 4 snow tires. To those still enjoying clear roads and mild temperatures when you should be waist deep in snow, now you know why. You’re welcome.
Nor have I experienced any unintentional off-road excursions. I say unintentional because my search for a proper Christmas tree did take me two-tracking through some rather muddy fields at a nearby tree farm a few weeks back. Who would’ve thought a convertible could be such a versatile machine? With no roof to get in the way, hauling my seven-foot tree home was as simple as turning up the heat, donning a wool hat, and dropping the tree in the back seat. Yes, there were some pine needle issues later in the day, but that was a small price to pay for an open-air trip during the holidays, the smell of freshly cut pine just over my shoulder. Do you know what the maximum speed rating is for a seven-foot Douglas Fir? Neither do I, but I can tell you it’s at least 75 miles per hour.
So then, it’s safe to say the Mustang is running and driving well. That’s a refreshing change from the last three FTC sagas, all of which had some rather significant mechanical issues that required immediate attention to make them reliable daily drivers. The only mechanical issues with the 5.0 are a minor exhaust leak that I suspect is related to the smog pump, and some minor oil leaks which I’ve yet to investigate. That’s why I’ve spent the last month focusing on the exterior, which as many of you mentioned in your comments last time, definitely needed some help. Aside from dull, dirty paint and hopelessly fogged headlamps, the car had received so-so rust repairs on the fenders and driver side door, the latter of which I believe is what happened to the hideously deformed door molding. Not from rust mind you, but from an inexperienced individual who, as far as I can tell, performed the removal and reinstallation of said molding with a pitchfork.
Here’s a tip from Smitty’s used car shopping 101: Get comfortable with using a high-speed buffing wheel, various grades of polishing compound, and wet sandpaper. Yes, if you’re not careful with such tools you can literally strip the paint right off the car, but once these mediums are mastered you’ll discover a whole new definition to the term paint restoration. This experience also endows the individual with a completely new eye for car shopping, as you’ll be able to score great deals on cars most people would think are piles of garbage, or at the very least, in need of an expensive paint job. But don’t let appearances fool you; once you cut through the faded, grimy paint with a high-speed buffing wheel and some light compound, there’s usually a great looking car underneath. That’s why the photos from part one of this series depicted the car exactly as I found it. When I first saw the Mustang I suspected it would clean up well, and without sounding too arrogant, it came out better than I was expecting.
If you’ve already spied the current photo gallery then you’ll have noticed more than just some polishing on the old girl. The first purchase went to eBay Motors and seller BlueOvalIndustries, for a new set of headlights and marker lights. Ordinarily I’d stick with the factory setup, but I’ve always thought clear corners looked good on white cars, so that’s what I bought. Refinishing the existing lights was never an option; I’ve successfully saved many crusty lenses in the past but these were just too far gone to make a big difference, and with all six lights costing $90 shipped to my door, purchasing new was a no-brainer. With the old lights out I discovered the original headlamp mounting brackets were busted, so another quick eBay purchase—this time from Energizer Racing & Parts—set me back $49 but netted me new brackets, new rubber seals, new adjusters and clamps, and two new halogen bulbs.
The next step was to remove that nasty driver door molding. To my surprise, new replacement strips were proving to be upwards of $100 for just one side, so I removed the offending piece from the door, cleaned everything up and went molding free until I came upon a good used piece. Once again it was eBay to the rescue, and with a quick $50 to Antigo Auto Salvage I had a replacement driver door molding that arrived just before Christmas.
I also performed a bit of paint work at each fender lip, to hide previous paint work that, aside from being the wrong color, hadn’t been blended properly at all, leaving hard, ugly mask lines. Once again, high-speed buffing can not only clean and restore bad paint; it can also repair bad paint work. To properly blend the paint on the fender lips I first wet sanded the ridges smooth with 600 grit, then prepped the surfaces and applied a few coats of matching paint to the area, blending the spray lightly up the fender. Once the paint had set, I wet sanded the area with 1000 grit then buffed the fender to a bright shine with compound, followed by a machine glaze. I should point out that this was all done without air compressors or high-dollar paint guns, but with basic supplies and automotive paint in a rattle can, all purchased from the local parts store. The secret to getting a professional look isn’t in the paint, or even necessarily in how good you spray it. Be diligent on your prep work so the paint sticks well, then follow up with a light wet sand and buff to shine and you’ll have a high-gloss finish that looks great.
So the 5.0 is running good, and after some intense detail sessions and a few new parts, it’s now looking good. The next step will be addressing the exhaust leak, and that has me looking at upgrading the entire exhaust system. With a bit of luck (and some input from the Fox Body community on good exhaust kits) I’ll have some new V-8 music to showcase for the road test in part three.
I’ll also have some serious winter driving adventures to share. That’s because I’m headed north in a couple weeks to watch the first round of the 2012 Rally America series, kicking off in Atlanta, Michigan with the Sno-Drift rally. Last year I conquered these snowy seasonal roads with the Buick, but a lack of snow this year has the roads more ice than anything else. Can the Mustang survive a weekend of Ice Ice Baby in my care, on roads better suited for hockey games? 
There’s only one way to find out.
1992 Ford Mustang LX 5.0 Convertible
Vehicle status: Rollin’
Miles driven: 1640
Observed fuel economy: 19.10 mpg
Times in the ditch: 0
Close calls with the ditch: 0
Broken parts since the last article: None
Total parts investment to date: $89.99 (new headlamps), $48.95 (headlamp mounting brackets), $50.00 (driver door molding), $16.50 (paint and supplies), $310.54 (snow tires, mounted/balanced/installed) = $515.98

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