Talk to a Mustang Expert
Mon-Thu 8:30a-11p, Fri-Sun 8:30a-9p

Free Shipping on Everything. Seriously. Details

Fox Body Restoration 101: Body Work

Written By: Connor MC

With Fox Body Mustangs reaching the 20+ year old range, there are plenty of areas on these cars in need of restoration. Let's start out by taking a look at the body itself.

American Muscle

What You Should Know About Restoring Your Fox Body

  • An older stang needs extra attention
  • Winter environments put a heavy lining of rust on a vehicle
  • You can always go back to original parts to restore your Mustang but there are also plenty of aftermarket body kit options

Back in the day of Fox Body production, Ford used a single stage colored paint and atop of that, 1 layer of clear coat. Compared to the cars of today, the paint quality and overall painting techniques were pretty primitive. It is not surprising that after a while rust will begin to bubble up here and there, the paint will fade (and perhaps even peel, if you’re lucky enough to live down south) and various parking lot encounters will leave a few dings – unfortunately, these are routine occurrences. However, there may come a time when you begin toying with the idea of restoring the exterior of your Fox Body. We also have a restoration guide for Fox Body hoods and interior restoration tips that can aid you in reviving your aging Mustang. Want a car show finish? make sure you've taken care of the finer details that go into the restoring your Fox Body and reap the rewards found in perfecting every little detail instead of taking the easy way out.

Two Foxbodies at the AM 2013 Show

Fox Body Restoration Basics

When talking about Fox Body restoration, the first thing that often comes to mind is sending the Mustang in for a kick-ass paint job, and rightly so! The only thing that trumps a freshly painted Pony is a freshly painted Pony WITH a model in the passenger seat! However, in most cases, painting is not going to be the only expense. Body work to remove and fix the rust patches, pulling and evening out any dents – this small stuff can quickly add up. The question to be asked is not one regarding whether to paint the car or not, but rather to have a body shop repair any blemishes over replacing the entire piece.

The aftermarket has procured direct-fit, replacement panels for just about every major exterior section of a Fox Body. Bumper covers, front fenders, rear quarter panels, LX and GT moldings, floor panels etc. These are the major components that will receive the brunt of a treatment during a restoration. All of these are available as unpainted, replacement pieces or pre-painted to match the factory OEM color.

Restored Foxbody

Side Moldings

The GT side moldings, in most cases, don’t really suffer from irreparable damage. The majority of damage results from flying rocks and typically just need to be repainted. In the event that a simple re-spray will not do the job, the aftermarket has every molding necessary, from the front fender moldings to the rear quarter panel scoops. Paint to patch and install with double-sided 3M automotive adhesive tape – just like the factory pieces.

Front fenders: For whatever reason (well, probably due to living in road grime), the main area susceptible to rust on the front fenders is actually on the underside of them. Replacement steel fenders are ideal for those cases where the rust is already too heavy, or moderate enough that sanding it down will only last temporarily. If you see rust bubbling through the surface of a front fender, this is usually an indication that the fender is beyond salvage (not worth the man hours to fix – replace instead).

Foxbody Front Side Molding

Fox Body OEM Bumper Covers

Both the front and rear lower-portion of the car are urethane-molded bumper covers, available in GT or LX trim. Now, as they are urethane, the bumper covers will not rust, but in the event of a small collision or prolonged exposure to the sun, it is not uncommon to see them missing chunks, cracked or otherwise warped. Any other conditions than a light scratch or peeling paint really isn’t effectively repairable.

Foxbody Front Bumper Cover

Fox Body Floor Pans

Another big area of concern is your Fox Body's floor pans. Due to the unibody design of Fox Body Mustangs, the floor pan actually plays a critical role in overall strength of the chassis. A rusted through floor pan can severely compromise the structural integrity of the vehicle. On a lighter note, no one likes wet feet! Rust on a floor pan is forewarning to a hole, and will eventually need to be replaced. Replacement floor pans come as a direct fit, and are made of very durable, 18-gauge stamped steel. Now, installing floor pans requires welding, and for the best fit, finish and overall strength, it is recommended to have a professional do it.

1987 Foxbody with a Rusty Floor Pan
25 years of road grime has taken its toll! Winter project: replace floor pans…

Rear Quarter Panels

Rusting quarter panels and Mustangs go way, way back – like, to their inauguration in the sixties, back. Akin to the front fenders, they are susceptible to rust in the wheel well, but perhaps the greatest mystery is their ability (and love) to sprout the bubbly brown iron smack in the middle of the quarter panel. Not only is this an unpleasant aesthetic landmark, once they pop up, they’re difficult to smack down. It is similar to an endless game of whack-a-mole. One patch bubbles up, is taken care of, and then a new one moves into town. The newcomer is taken care of only to have the original area resurrect itself! A new quarter panel is going to end this problem once and for all, and you’ll save some dough on the preparatory body work.

White Foxbody Rear Side View

Fox Body Restoration Final Considerations 

The idea when doing an exterior restoration is to accurately evaluate what can be repaired, and what needs to be replaced. Nearly all aspects of a Fox Body can be repaired, but at what cost? In many cases, purchasing a new replacement part will actually cost less than the amount you would spend on labor fixing the old part! Now, when you buy new parts, of course there is the issue of installation. The good news is, apart from the floor pans, all components mentioned above can be removed and installed by the average Joe, with a simple socket set. Thus, if you have an afternoon to spend removing the front end, you can further shrink your costs by only having to pay for paint work if you order your parts unpainted. Removing the body panels is not really difficult at all, and as stated, a solid afternoon of work can have the entire front end of the car apart! Restorations typically conjure images of empty wallets and massive credit card statements. With careful part selection and a can-do attitude, this doesn’t have to be the case!

Mustang Foxbody Stock GT

Aftermarket Mustang Body Kits

The above talked exclusively about OEM restoration pieces – i.e: how to make a Fox look like it just rolled out of the Ford factory, 80’s style. On the other hand, Cervini has devised a body kit to replicate the limited-edition Saleen Mustang’s. Direct-fit like the OEM pieces, the Saleen kit changes the front air dam, rear valence and side skirts on LX models.

Tips for Sandpaper choices

When restoring the paint on your Foxbody, you'll want to use the right grit paper for the job.

40 Grit - very rough, used for pre-bodywork prep (not waterproof)

80 Grit - rough sanding before bodywork, use for sanding body filler

180 Grit - final sanding and feather edging body filler

320 Grit - optional for final sanding before using primer

400 Grit - rough sanding primer or for fine sanding spot putty

600 Grit - final sanding primer, use before applying basecoats

1000 Grit - wet sanding a panel to be repainted

1200 Grit - wet sanding a panel to be repainted

1500 Grit - final sanding of clearcoat to remove defects, pre-polish

2000 Grit - finsh wetsanding

Restoring Urethane Mustang Parts

Repairing body parts that have extensive sun damage or minor fender bender can be costly. While the material is not the main concern when considering cost for repair, the fixing of the broken body parts can be labor intensive. Using bondo to repair body parts is common, although depending on the extent of the damage, it could be inefficient to repair. Unless one is a body repairman or has extensive experience with body parts, it is not advised to repair parts. In some cases, it can be cheaper to simply replace them and get repainted rather than actual repairment and repaint.

More About Restoring Your Fox Body Mustang

Cowl Style Hood on a Foxbody
Fitment includes: 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, GT, Cobra, LX, SVO