Modern Meets Classic: Smart Upgrades for Your Mustang Without Losing its Soul

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Owning a classic Mustang is an exercise in love, but how do you bring a classic pony car into the 21st century without losing its legendary muscle car soul?

Upgrading a classic pony car can be confusing if you aren’t sure where to start, but there are several upgrades that owners can make to any older Ford Mustang. From seat belts to upgraded suspension, brakes, or even audio systems, owners are finding ways to improve the performance of their cars.

The joy of owning a classic car like a Mustang comes from driving it, but let’s face it, compared to today’s models, the older cars just don’t have the same abilities. Now that you’ve owned it for a bit, there are probably a few things about your classic pony you wish it had. From safety features to audio systems, owners are quietly installing modern components to help improve their classic car’s ride. The rub is not to change it so much that it becomes an entirely different car and loses the charisma that attracted you to it in the first place. We have good news if you have ever wondered how to upgrade a Mustang without losing its soul. Let’s examine some of the top upgrades owners are making.

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The Reasons To Upgrade Your Classic Mustang?

The truth is that most classic cars are simply not built with the same precision as their modern counterparts. While the engineers and factory workers did their best to assemble things correctly, the science behind many components was less advanced than it is today.


During the sixties, most car companies were not interested in vehicle safety. It would take a nationwide bestseller, written by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, to change the dynamic. His book, Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile, was released in 1966. The book explored the hazards of driving and forced governmental regulations to begin. The mandate of safety belts, low-impact bumpers, and even, eventually airbags was the result of heightened awareness of road vehicle safety.

Upgrading your classic Mustang can be a responsible thing to do for yourself, your family and your car. Not only can upgrades help protect your investment but things like brakes, or LED lights could save the life of riders or other drivers on the road.


Many classic upgrades can help your car run better than it did in the past. Suspension upgrades can improve ride quality, and replacing the fuel tank can keep the feeder system clean and optimize fuel economy. While many people think that engine upgrades are the best way to improve performance, improvements in other areas can also help.


Should you ever decide to sell your classic, upgrades could help make it more attractive to a potential buyer. Upgrades like electronic ignition or a rear backup camera can improve the car’s worth.

Maintenance and Insurance Costs

When you upgrade the components of your classic Mustang, you can bet that the newer parts will require less maintenance than OEM parts. If you don’t have to spend your time constantly replacing or repairing the various components of your car, then you save both time and money. (Not to mention the fact that if your car runs better, it costs less to keep running).

Insurance is a vast expense for most classic car collectors. Consider upgrades that might not only make your car safer, but lower insurance premiums. For example, many carriers will offer discounts if three point safety belts have been installed, or if there are anti-theft measures installed. While the upgrades may not pay for themselves, they can go a long way to helping the family budget.

The Classic Mustang Upgrades

Several upgrades can be performed on a Mustang that will help it’s performance and ride quality. Here are some of our favorites.

Disc Brakes

Since disc brakes were not standard on Mustangs until 1993, vintage Mustangs are often equipped with four-wheel drum brakes. The older systems used brake pads that pressed out against an outer drum and are considered inefficient compared to modern-day disc brake systems. In addition, drum brakes require more maintenance, are less safe, and don’t provide stopping power. Replacing the older drums with a newer braking system can improve your stopping distance and save your life if you ever need them in an emergency.

To make the switch, you must use a disc brake conversion kit like the one from Master Power Brakes. Depending on whether you need to do the front only or all four wheels, the cost is usually around $1000 - $1500 per axle. In most cases, the job is simple enough to be performed by a DIYer and will take a weekend, but once done, it is worth the time and effort.

Fuel Tank

Many early vintage Mustangs are notorious for having fuel tanks that rust. If the car has not been driven in a while, or you suspect it has old gas in the tank, you must upgrade. Rust can flake off the inside of a tank and clog a fuel line and filters, making it hard for your Mustang to run efficiently. The last thing you want is to feed your Classic Mustang dirty gas.

Most restorers have a choice when replacing the gas tank. You can “cream” the inside of an existing tank with a rust-inhibiting solution. (This is an option if there are no noticeable rust spots on the tank's surface). We think installing a stainless steel tank is often a better idea so there is no chance of future rust. If you are a purist who wants to replace the tank with a stock OEM part, many purveyors make them.

For an example of fuel tanks, we like the ones at CJ’s Classics. For a rust-inhibiting solution, see the POR-15 Small Gas Tank Sealer. Don’t forget that this is an excellent time to check the fuel lines and replace the fuel filter to ensure a steady flow of gasoline to the engine.


If your old Mustang is bouncing over potholes or you hear some creaking from underneath, chances are you need a suspension upgrade. A coil-over system will lower your Mustang’s center of gravity, making it more stable and better able to handle curves. In addition, you can ride in your Mustang without feeling beat up or your teeth shaking loose.

If you don’t want to change too radically, try upgrading the shocks and springs. The technology has come a long way since the early days of muscle car Mustangs, and new hardware can only improve the ride. Mustangs are notorious for having loose rear ends, so when this happens, the first thing to look at is suspension.

We recommend Bilstein Shocks like the rear ones we prefer. They are a great value and are very effective at reducing the bounce that sometimes comes when the Mustang runs over rougher terrain. Shocks are an easy enough upgrade, but if you intend to do a coil-over (which is much more involved), it might be best to have someone assist you who is familiar with how to install them. Our recommendation for classic Mustang coilover kits is Ridetech, which makes systems for all kinds of different makes and models of classic cars.

Anti-Theft Devices

One of the easiest upgrades to perform on your classic Mustang is to use a hood lock. If your Mustang is parked on the street, you can improvise a lock with a couple of chain links, a cam washer and a Master lock, or you can buy a keyed lock from a purveyor. This is a very cheap upgrade that will keep unwanted strangers from opening up your hood and allowing them to help themselves.

Seat Belts

If you own an early Mustang, it likely has safety lap belts. However, rear seat belts were a dealer-installed option until they were made mandatory in 1966. Swapping a lat belt for a more modern three-point system, as is often used in contemporary automobiles, is an intelligent upgrade. If you plan on cruising with your family in your newly restored Mustang, then this is an improvement that you must make to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Seatbelt Solutions makes a three-point safety restraint system designed explicitly for older Mustangs. While the installation requires some vehicle modifications, it isn’t enough to force your vintage Mustang to sell its soul. The great thing about these kits is that they come in various colors, so matching your car’s interior should be easy enough. In addition, they are durable and might save you some money on your insurance premiums if installed correctly.

Seat Swaps

The low-back seats in many first-generation Mustangs can be uncomfortable, but replacing them with high-back versions is relatively easy. (Ford used the same width on ‘79 - ‘04 Mustangs, which makes them almost interchangeable). In addition, headrests were an option in the ‘66 and ‘67 Mustangs, so many early vintage Mustangs don’t have them.

If you are worried about fading or ripped interiors, a good solution is to order a low-back seat with a built-in headrest from Classic Car Interiors. The great thing about these seats is they will give your classic Ford Mustang a great sports car look and come already assembled, so all you have to do is bolt them in.

Electronic Ignition

Because Ford didn’t start installing electronic ignitions in their cars until 1974, many classic Mustangs don’t have these systems. Most restorers know that electronic ignition systems are more reliable and produce better horsepower while giving better fuel economy.

Installing electronic ignition is one of the easiest upgrades and is cheaper than other modifications. MSD makes a great kit that is reasonably priced and relatively simple to install.

LED TailLights

Consider this upgrade if you take your baby on a drive at night. Classic Mustangs were notorious for having low-lighting headlights, and the taillights were much better. LED lights are brighter, more visible, and hardly ever need to be replaced. If you are considering this option, we like the offerings from Top Flight Automotive, but there are many aftermarket purveyors out there.

Depending on the kind of lights you want to install, you can make the conversion for less than $400. Don’t forget to replace side parking lights (the fronts were actual lights, while the rears were often reflectors).

Back-Up Cameras

Most current cars have a backup camera to help keep owners from backing into items they might not see. Installing a new rearview mirror with a backup camera or a standalone system can be an excellent way to improve your car's safety. You may need to double-check to ensure you don’t need to upgrade your alternator to handle the additional system.

There are many ways to install rearview cameras, but most are easy to adapt to your classic Mustang. One of our favorites is the AutoVox, which comes with adapters that fit over 90% of the cars on the market and are perfect for a classic Mustang.


Consider upgrading your alternator if you plan on wiring in things like upgraded ignition, sound systems, or different lighting schemes. Most early Mustangs were equipped with simple 60 amp alternators, which need to be more robust to power many of the electrical components Americans have grown used to. If you will create a higher power demand on your vehicle, upgrade your alternator to one that produces 120 amps. We like Powermaster’s brand, which you can find on the CJ Pony Parts website.