Project Rehab Fox-Body Mustang Build Updates

The Fox body Mustang is the car responsible for the resurgence in Ford performance and horsepower during the 1990’s. Seeing that StangTV was in need of a Fox body project car to round out our stable, Editor Creason stepped up to the plate and located a low mileage ’88 coupe, which we dubbed Project Rehab. With just over 70,000 miles on the clock and a mechanically sound, mostly unmolested engine, Rehab was the typical Fox body starting point.

Project Rehab 2.0 is our in-house 1991 Fox body Mustang project designed for street/strip use on a budget. The original Project Rehab was a 1988 model that we were restoring for street, track, and daily driver duties. That car suffered an interior fire that damaged it beyond what we felt was feasible to repair.

Out of the ashes Rehab 2.0 rose, purchased as a mostly stripped, rolling hatchback this car is virtually rust free, and while the body has plenty of dings and scratches, the foundation is solid enough. Given that Fox body Mustangs are quite possibly the most popular platform for street car drag racing, we chose to reevaluate our goals for Rehab 2.0 and make it more of a strip oriented car.

Our goal with Rehab 2.0 is to go well into the 10-second zone on a budget, this will include eventually throwing some nitrous oxide at it, bolt-on upgrades to the engine, and the rest of the car, and a number of DIY style stories that readers can easily replicate at home. Eventually we’ll build a stout engine to replace the stocker, but until then we intend to push the limits of what a stock short-block is capable of. We’ll be driving this car to and from the track, and even competing in some street car shootout races. Follow along as we give new life to an old Fox body, and save it from the scrap yard.

Homecoming March, 2015

Barrickman’s Towing did the honors of bring the car to its new home.

Last spring, we had to move Project Rehab, to a temporary home. Editor Creason’s friend John Cotton was kind enough to loan us the use of his garage, and lift for nearly 6 months as our editor waited for his new house to be completed. Finally, Project Rehab was transported to its new home and with that we’re anxious for warmer temperatures and work to resume on Project Rehab.

We have tons of work left to perform, and we may even put a roll bar in the car before we get it back on the road. With racing season just around the corner, its thrash time to get the car up and running.

We need to tie up some wiring needs, including getting our headlights and tail lights operational. We also need to install a shifter for our transmission, something we managed to pick up on eBay a while back. We’ll also be getting the driveshaft in place, and getting the front end alignment squared away.

Project Rehab has a slew of performance upgrades planned for later this spring and summer, most of which will involve modifying the engine. One thing we’re anxious to do however, is get the car out on the drag strip. We’re also curious as to what the car weighs. We’re thinking our stripped Fox body hatchback, probably will tip the scales around 2,900 pounds, possibly less. We’re looking for a mid to low 8-second 1/8-mile ET out of the car with its stock engine, reduced weight, upgraded TCI transmisison, Mickey Thompson Drag Radials, and newly rebuilt 8.8 rearend.

We’re counting down the days, and hoping to hit the track with Rehab sometime soon.

Knowing Your Limits On DIY Projects -An Editorial, July 2014

By StangTV Editor, Don Creason

I’d consider myself better than average skill level with anything automotive related. I’ve never built an automatic trans but might try it under the right circumstances. I’m not a diagnostics guy, but I can do my own basic troubleshooting. Nuts, bolts, wiring, modifications, and basic fabrication are what I excel at. I can even paint. There’s a certain pride that comes from building a car, and completing a project yourself. .

What started out as a simple brake upgrade turned into something a bit more complicated.

I’m in the process of completely reworking Rehab’s brake system and installing Aerospace Components brakes at all four corners. You’ll read all about this install in a later article. The installation requires modifying the front spindles, including drilling out three holes to a larger size and tapping them for bolts. The first of these went without too much trouble although, working a tap through cast steel by hand is time consuming to say the least. I began work on the second and proceeded to brake off three taps, the last two of which I couldn’t get out of the part.

After quite a lot of grumbling and frowning on my part, I pulled the spindle off and took it to my local machine shop and engine guru Steve. He wouldn’t touch it and suggested I check with the tool and die outfit next door. After explaining the situation and learning that the parts store taps I had been suing were better suited for chasing threads than tapping hard metal I exchanged business cards with the owner and left my damaged spindle there on a Friday afternoon.

Left: The broken tap wrench should have been my first indication to withdraw and seek advice of those with more expertise than me. Right: The three former dust cover holes have been drilled but this one spindle ate three taps before I gave up and took it to the machine shop.

The following Monday I received a call that my part was ready. I braced myself for the total, expecting a few hundred dollars. To my surprise the bill was just $45 for one hour of shop labor. Astounded I headed over, thanked them profusely, paid, and took my part back to the garage.

The moral of the story is that sometimes, even those of us who view ourselves as able to tackle almost anything still need help. In this case I could have saved myself hours of frustration had I just taken the parts to a qualified and willing machinist in the first place. Next time when I’m frowning at something like this, I’ll know better.

Spring Is Finally Here, April 2, 2014

It has been a long and cold winter for much of the USA, including for editor Creason and Project Rehab. With weather setting back timetables it seemed that spring would never come and Rehab might never get to the street.

Alls well that ends well, and it appears winter is finally gone, and with the arrival of spring, editor Creason and a few friends can spend more time in the garage getting Project Rehab ready to hit the track and the streets.

We’ve recently run several stories on installs and projects that involved Project Rehab this winter. That included installing our TCI Streetfighter AOD transmission, as well as building a new rearend with help from Motive Gear. We also recently completed installing new suspension on the car thanks to QA1 and LateModelRestoration.com, an article you will see here very soon.

On deck next up is to handle the wiring, with a custom harness sent to us from Ron Francis Wiring. We had intended to install this harness much sooner, but other projects demanded our time, and poor weather conditions limited how long we could stand to be in the garage this winter.

We’ve also just received two packages from Aerospace Components, containing all the parts needed to upgrade Rehab’s brake system to a more respectable street/strip combination capable of hauling the car down confidently. There are these stories and many more planned for the spring and summer season. We’re hoping Rehab 2.0 the car which replaced the original Project Rehab coupe will be street going sometime in may, and ready to hit the dyno and drag strip for testing and eventually competition.

Keep watching as we continue to update and upgrade Project Rehab, our street and strip 1991 Mustang hatchback.

Death and Rehab, December 20, 2013

Sometimes our best laid plans and best intentions don’t pan out. In late October we were doing some welding on Project Rehab. This was to tack in position a few parts under the car, that would be followed by removing the carpet and front seats to do the finished welds. While creating one of the final tack-weld son the driver’s rear side of the car, we noticed a hole had blown through the floor pans. This is not uncommon on Fox-bodies, we tend to think Ford made the floors out of more construction paper than metal, as they’re notoriously thin.

At the same time we ran out of shielding gas creating this weld, sending sparks everywhere. Rolling out from the drive on lift, our plan was to go get a gas refill for the welder and continue the project, as we’d allocated several hours to do this. Things would turn out that way though, we would not get more shielding gas that day, nor would we get to finish our welding.

Rolling out from the back of the car, we found flames licking the rear glass, the back seat was on fire, as was the rear carpet, and both front seats. Having moved our fire extinguisher inside the house for kitchen protection we were sent scrambling, we sent one person to the electrical panel to kill power for our welder, and the other to the hose mounted outside. Within 90 seconds we had the fire extinguished, and we don’t know that having an extinguisher mounted on the wall would have done better.

Regardless, the damage was done, our new interior was toast. In the days that followed, we realized that the damage was far worse than cosmetic alone. The wiring harness to the rear of the car was melted, it sparked when the car was powered on. The dash had warped, all of the glass in the car was damaged, with both windscreens being cracked. The rear seat had melted into the bulkhead, and was a cold, wet, crispy hunk of foul smelling crust.

Quickly we began surmising what it would take to replace the interior, the glass, and the wiring harness alone. The dollar figure was incredibly high, we ran the numbers three times, and each time it came out the same. This didn’t include the hours to remove everything from the car, chip away and remove the melted plastic from the floors, or the labor to have a glass installer put in new front and rear windscreens.

The decision was made that Project Rehab was finished. While it pained us to say so, for the total dollar figure, which we estimated at nearly $2,000 we could buy another car with less rust.

Fortunately there were silver linings in our debacle. The first was that no one was hurt, and StangTV east, did not burn to the ground. The second was our Dakota Digital gauges, which were installed just days earlier were operating normally, and undamaged by the fire. A few more seconds and that might not have been the case. Regardless there will be a fire extinguisher mounted to the lift from now on.

Rising From The Ashes

With the decision made to replace the skeleton of Rehab, with a new car, we stripped Rehab 1.0 for parts. The engine, transmission, and Dakota Digital gauges will all find new life in our new car. As well many of the hard parts we saved find life in other Mustangs such as the doors, fenders, and various other pieces.

Stripping Rehab 1.0 we found a host of other issues, including rust large enough to put our fist through leading from the inner fender structure to the rocker boxes. It turns out it may have been a hidden blessing that we decided to change cars.

Meet Rehab 2.0, a virtually Rust-Free 1991 Mustang that we purchased for less than the cost of repairing the old car. We're transferring parts into this car as fast as we can to get it ready in time for the start of the 2013 racing season.

Rehab 2.0 as sourced, a 1991 Mustang hatchback, this was a 5.0 car originally, and bought a s bare roller. We will be installing all of the parts that were destined for the original Project Rehab in this car, along with many new ones. Rehab 2.0 will be more of a street/strip bruiser, and we intend to do more racing with this car at the drag strip, than Rehab 1.0 was intended for.

Keep watching for the next few months as we begin the process of transformation, getting this rolling shell running in time to do a little drag racing next summer.

Project Car Update September 27, 2013: Fall Projects Preview

It’s been two months since we last brought you an update on our ’88 Fox-body Mustang, Project Rehab. This is largely due to the fact that shortly after Rehab’s last excursion to the drag-strip in July (see below), we began encountering issues with the aging AOD transmission. The transmission has lost lockup, and is beginning to slip in lower gears. While we’re sure taking it to the strip didn’t help, the truth is that the long interstate drives to get there and back again were probably harder on it.

Dakota Digital’s new VHX cluster for Fox-body Mustangs is one of the hottest new parts for these old favorite cars.

We played with the idea of installing a manual transmission, but opted instead to take a different route. We’re working with TCI to get our hands on one of their Street Fighter AOD transmissions and converters, and will highlight the swap in an upcoming story.

New Gauges

Dakota Digital shipped us one of their new VHX Fox-body instrument clusters. This cluster is a replacement for the factory unit, and does require some wiring work. It will also upgrade us from the clunky old cable driven speedometer to a more modern electronic speed sensor. We ordered ours with silver faces, and red illumination, and will be detailing the complete installation in an upcoming article.

Ron Francis Wiring sent us a complete new engine wiring harness.

 

SN95 Spindles $100 at the local junk yard.

Harnessing The Engine

Ron Francis Wiring has also sent us a complete engine wiring harness to replace our 25 year old original. This harness will be an ideal upgrade for our project car, and should install in just a few hours. Again we’ll be bringing you all the juicy details on the harness and the work involved in an upcoming story.

Five by Five

Last we’ve recently scoured Craigslist and the local bone yards for a few parts we’ll need for upcoming stories. We scored a completed rotor-to-rotor 8.8-inch rear end from a ’94-’98 Mustang on Craigslist for $150. We’ll be stripping this one and building it with all new parts from Motive Gear shortly. We also picked up a pair of SN95 spindles which will make our budget conversion to five-lug that much easier.

SN95 rear end, complete, $150 on Craigslist.

There is a lot left to do with our ’88 Mustang project car, so stay plugged in, as we continue our work on Project Rehab.

Project Car Update June 25, 2013: Drag Testing

Every once in a while we open the door to Editor Creason’s cage, hand him the keys to something, and tell him to go have some fun. This week that fun consisted of shaking down Project Rehab at the local eighth-mile drag strip. As far as we know Rehab has never been down the track, and it hasn’t been while in our possession. With that in mind, before we get deeper into modifications we wanted to see what kind of numbers the old faded Fox-body could turn out.

With 229 hp, and perhaps more importantly 308 ft-lbs at the rear wheels, we were hoping for a low 10-second eighth mile time slip. Rehab has received no new modifications lately, so it sits as it did when we last updated you on our power numbers.

Unusually cool weather for late July had blown in, with the day’s high temperature barely breaking 80 degrees, and no humidity to speak of. With temperatures slated to drop into the low 70‘s over the evening this was our best chance for good numbers all summer. Our first two runs greeted us with no traction. It probably didn’t help that Rehab was the second car down the track for the night, thus a cool, green track, and our tiny ten-hole wheels with cheapo tires didn’t provide any traction. The car struggled for bite, spinning through first gear off of a 1,200 RPM launch. The second pass was worse, a hot-lap with tire-spin in second gear and the car getting somewhat squirely.

Our best run of the night highlighted in yellow, we were in the right line, car number 923.

Our third pass was the key, a less than 1,000 RPM launch and easing into the throttle, 60-ft times were terrible with a 2.38, but we were rewarded with a 9.59 at 75.37 MPH. That roughly equates to a 14.86 1/4 mile. We’re not setting any records, but this gives us a starting point for our project. Rehab is not going to be a drag-only or even a drag racing oriented car, but the strip provides a good test-bed for modifications and a proving ground for horsepower, we look forward to improving those numbers in the future.

Project Update: May 5, 2013: Chasing Oil Leaks, Steering Issues, and Rusty Starters

The joy, and the agony of working on a project car is that there is always something to do. For our ’88 Coupe, Project Rehab, lately that has been fixing a lot of problems or potential problems that come with old cars

Project Rehab’s Engine, the day we brought it home.

Starting Off

During a recent upgrade and install we had to remove the starter. We found that the car might be wearing the original starter and that it was in poor shape to say the least.

The starter was caked with oil and crusted with rust. It would seem the oil had preserved half of the starter’s housing, protecting it from the elements, while the other half had begun to rot. We’ve not seen a starter that had a hole actually rusted through part of the housing still work, but Rehab’s did. The oil probably wasn’t good for it either, as at least some had likely wicked it’s way into the housing, which will eventually damage internal pats.

Left: A hole rusted in our old starter Right: Old and new side by side.

Right now we’re strictly dealing with bolt-on levels of power for Rehab, so we decided to just install a remanufactured starter from the local parts retailer. We also threw in a new battery for good measure, since Rehab required a recharge on a regular basis.

Getting Racked

That same install also required that we remove the steering rack. Upon disturbing the tired assembly we were greeted with a steady flow of black power steering fluid. A second trip was made to the parts store for a rebuilt unit, and new hoses. We replaced the pressure and return hoses, and refilled the power steering fluid, problem solved.

Left: Old, leaky rack, the hoses were so badly rusted we couldn't remove them. Right: Our replacement rack from a local parts store.

A Hole In Time

We had previously replaced Rehab’s intake and valve cover gaskets, as well as the o-ring on our distributor. We were getting a significant oil leak however on top of the timing cover. Initially we thought it was either our intake or even a head gasket leaking. Further inspection found a hole, about the size of the business end of a ball point pin, in the top of our timing cover. We would surmise that given the pitting present in the surrounding area of the timing cover that this was due to neglect by the car’s original owners.

In spite of our best efforts we were scratching our heads for about two weeks as to the source of this oil leak.

When we had replaced the intake gaskets, we noted that they were leaking coolant into the area in question, a common problem on 5.0 Mustangs, especially when the thermostat housing leaks. It is likely that this leak had been going on for years. Ethylene-Glycol based anti-freeze becomes acidic with age, and corrosive, that’s why proper maintenance requires changing it periodically. Years of exposure to dripping, and pooling anti-freeze likely ate a hole in the timing cover, this would explain the pitting in the surrounding area as well.

 

The arrow points to the hole that was the culprit, we placed a penny here for size comparison, and also circled the areas that were pitted but not leaking yet.

We removed the bolt directly above the hole, and cleaned the top of the timing cover thoroughly, blowing it off with compressed air to dry it. We dug out the hole with a pick to remove any dirt, loose debris, or dried anti-freeze from the area. Then using our favorite epoxy-putty we patched the top of the cover and crossed our fingers. The next day we reinstalled the bolt and were rewarded, after a ten mile test drive, there were no signs of leaks, further driving has also revealed no more leak. Normally we’d replace the timing cover, but since future upgrades might require it’s removal, we weren’t keen on doing this job twice.

We sealed the leak with epoxy putty, which will work for now since Rehab isn’t a daily driver. The proper fix will be replacing the timing cover with a new one at a later date.

Tightening the Belt

Our last, and most recent endeavor was eliminating our smog-pump and a/c compressor. We have no desire to rebuild Project Rehab’s air conditioning, and the smog pump needed to go as part of a recent install.

Our engine, now with the shorter 72-inch belt installed and the AC, and Smog pump removed.

We installed a Ford Racing Parts AC Eliminator Kit, part number M-8511-A50, to remove our old compressor. The kit contains a pair of brackets, one bolting to the head, the other to the water pump. It also includes the necessary bolts to complete the installation.

Since Ford never sold this configuration from the showroom on a Mustang, and it’s been over a decade since we last installed one, we made several trips to the parts store to find the right belt. We tried the string-method, but in the end that was still six-inches off the mark of the needed belt. We ended up with a 72-inch long belt from NAPA, part number 25-060716. The next size down is far too small, and the next size up is too large.

With our old smog and ac parts out, we lost a total of 29.2 pounds of weight.

With Rehab back on the road, and the easily accessed, and rapid oil leaks squared away we’re ready to move on to our next part of the project, or our next repair -whichever comes first.

Project Update: April 15 2013: Setbacks and Baseline

Project Rehab is factory equipped with a 5.0 HO engine and AOD transmission. Per the door tag we also know the rear differential is carrying 3.27 gears from the factory. We have replaced the leaking valve cover and intake manifold gaskets, as well as installed a new thermostat, repaired a few vacuum leaks, replaced a faulty fan clutch, and put some cheap, but new tires on the car. This was all done in the name of safety and reliability. We also installed a new set of spark plugs, and spark plug wires and changed the oil.

Our Initial dyno pull revealed something was very wrong.

We headed out to the dyno hopeful for around 160 hp to the rear wheels. We were still skeptical of the car’s odometer, even if the seller had included an affidavit stating the mileage was actual from the original owner.

After three pulls on the dyno and we were only seeing 139 hp at 3,800 rpm. Our initial suspicion was that the timing was way off, and the distributor module or coil might be going bad. We headed home to begin assessing the situation, determined to find our missing power.

As luck would have it, a traffic jam caused a detour on the way back home, and we were forced to drive back roads rather than interstate. Rehab didn’t complete the journey, climbing a steep hill the car began misfiring and losing engine power. We suspected maybe we’d run it out of gas. Blazing a trail at a whopping 8 mph we limped into a shopping center parking lot and called for backup, that being Mrs. Creason, followed later by a tow truck.

The fuel tank lock rings were permanently rusted to the old tank, it had large pieces of metal flaking away, and deep rust in the seams. A mud-wasp had also built a nest on top at some point in time. We elected to replace the tank with new parts.

Not having any advanced diagnostic equipment, we were left to our devices for trouble shooting. Jim and Joey Keown stepped up by allowing us to swap first a known good ignition coil, then a known good distributor from their own running cars. Neither part fixed our car and they were subsequently returned to the Keowns with an appreciative thank you.

Our new LateModelRestoration.com tank and fuel pump installed and ready to go.

We borrowed a diagnostic fuel pressure gauge from a close friend and found the car had only 24 psi of fuel pressure at idle, dropping to less than 20 psi as soon as we took off in drive. We’d confirmed our culprit was fuel related. Checking the fuel filter first, we found it was not clogged as we easily blew air through it, leading us to drop the tank to check the pump.

Repairs completed, we headed back to the dyno.

We removed our fuel tank, and found a crusty, rusty, barnacled mess that looked like it belonged next to the Titanic, not under our project car. A quick call was made to LateModelRestoration.com for replacement parts. We ordered a new tank, straps, fuel sending unit, fuel pump bracket, fuel filter,  fuel pump to ensure we wouldn’t be doing this project again.

While the tank was out we also prepped and painted the underside of the trunk floor and the rear frame rails, killing and stopping the surface rust that was trying to take hold there.

With repairs completed, we set the base timing to 14 degrees and filled our tank with some quality 93 octane fuel. Back on the dyno we kept our fingers crossed for a good number. We were more than a little shocked when the first pull showed 215 hp at the rear tires, by the third pull we were up to 221 hp and 296 ft-lbs of torque. The gradual climb in power might be due to the EEC-IV’s tendency to increase performance with aggressive driving.

The fruits of our labor, a best pull of 221hp and 296 ft-lbs of torque to the rear tires.

Back home with a solid baseline from the dyno we’re ready to begin the next phase of Project Rehab, check back for more coming soon.

About the author

Don Creason

Don Creason is an automotive journalist with passions that lie from everything classic, all the way to modern muscle. Experienced tech writer, and all around car aficionado, Don's love for both cars and writing makes him the perfect addition to the Power Automedia team of experts.
Read My Articles

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