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Project

Car Cancer

Table of Contents

Introduction

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Car cancer — it's all too real and if you're a serious car enthusiast, the diagnosis can be devastating.

The Survivor has a severe case, but it's not beyond saving.

Project: Car Cancer has been more than a decade in the making and I want this '87 Mustang back on the road.

Background

The Survivor is a Light Gray 1987 Ford Mustang LX Sedan packing a 5.0 V8 and a Borg-Warner T5 5-speed manual with about 14,000 original miles on the odometer — as noted on the biography page. I bought it on eBay back in 2006 in a failed attempt to replace the '97 Saturn SL I was driving at the time.

For those who want to know more, here's a little further back story:

After my '95 GT had succumbed to age and wear from hard use, I had to use the New 351 until, it too, failed due to pre-existing conditions. At that point, I was forced to spend money I didn't have to get something that would simply transport me to and from work while saving enough in gas and upkeep to afford the extra I was putting out to pay for it. That's where the 1997 Saturn SL came into the picture.

The Saturn ended up being a low-mileage dud and I quickly tired of driving it with its wimpy, prematurely worn-out, smoking 4-banger and front wheel drive — all sins in my book, especially at that time.

That prompted me to find something to replace the Saturn, although, I wasn't seriously looking.

One day, I happened across this '87 Mustang LX on eBay, and although it was well out of my price range, after I saw it wasn't moving, I contacted the seller and we made a deal.

In the listing, the seller had written that the car had a few minor spots of rust on the upper body with photos to illustrate, but stated that the car was otherwise in pristine condition. During the negotiating process, he verified several times that was indeed the case, but was unable to lift the car to photo the undercarriage.

Against my better judgement, I decided to take the risk: I really wanted to drive a real car again.

After the 2000-mile journey to get here, I picked the Survivor up at the local DAS terminal and brought her home. That's when I got the horrifying news: car cancer.

Everywhere.

I mean, parts of the car looked like they were a WWII plane that had been submerged in the ocean for 60 years.

Although, the worst of it was confined to the undercarriage, it had spread throughout the engine compartment, on the doors, and in the trunk. Not to mention the spots mentioned in the eBay listing.

After some heated words, I got half the purchase price refunded, but it was nowhere near the amount it was going to take to get the car repaired.

As mentioned above, the car was — and continues to be — savable. So, I tore into it, getting it partially disassembled before running out of time and money to go any further.

Now it sits in pieces, waiting for me to get back to it and return it to a condition befitting a 14,000-mile original 5.0.

Description

As it sits, the engine compartment is partially disassembled, the interior is entirely out of the car, and the trunk is completely removed as well — including the deck lid, taillights, and rear bumper and bumper cover.

At this point, I have a solid idea of the overall condition of the car. The body — although especially ugly on the undercarriage — is almost entirely surface rust, while the hardened steel parts attached to the body — such as the springs — are corroded well beyond use or repair.

As far as I can tell, the most difficult repair on the entire car will be the rusted area on the trunk lip, which is rusted through and effecting several sandwiched layers of sheet metal — meaning the junction between several separate body panels.

What that means for the success of this project is that virtually everything appears to be either easily replaced or repaired, putting this project within the realm of reason.

Reasons

There are a number of reasons to do this project beyond just "wanting it back on the road," which explains both the project and why the Survivor has remained in my collection for the last 13 years.

  • Although the '87 5.0 Mustang was one of the biggest reasons for the rebirth of the Muscle Car, the Sedan was the fastest of the breed, making it historically significant.
  • This is a low-mileage, virtually all-original 5.0, something that is becoming rarer every day.
  • I want the experience of driving my first '87 — the 347 — all original, as it was when I first bought it — something I didn't get much of an opportunity to do.
  • I also want the experience of driving a like-new '87 Mustang LX Sedan — something I never got to do with the 347.
  • I failed to save this car the first time around and I want the opportunity to succeed — with this specific puzzle and this specific car.
  • I abandoned my first car, the Original 351, after it went down and I wasn't able to resurrect it. Since then I've had a real aversion to doing so again. To not abandon this one, and instead succeed at putting it back on the road would be incredibly fulfilling for me.

Lastly, I've been through a number of challenging times and have worked hard to keep this car through them. I don't want all of that effort to be rewarded by having the onerous task of sending this car off to an unnecessary grave as my reward.

Goals

The goals for this project are pretty straight forward: Return the car to a like-new condition that appropriately represents a car with 14,000 original miles.

To do that, the following criteria have to be met:

  • No rust left on the car.
  • The final result must be an all original car or very, very close — no modifications allowed.
  • There may be two places where a non-original to this car scenario may be acceptable: no A/C (the 347 was a factory non-A/C car, this one has A/C) and possibly, though unlikely, the use of either Titanium Frost or Black paint in place of the original Light Gray.
  • Don't cut any corners — the results can't sacrifice drivability, durability, reliability, or condition of any surfaces.

That means no rusty parts, no worn-out parts, and that all surfaces are brought back to a like-new condition. It also means that the use of good, used, unrestored parts are acceptable in lieu of brand new or restored parts.

Scope

The scope of this project includes any and all work, parts, and other resources, necessary to return the car to a like-new condition (with the caveats mentioned in the Goals section).

The scope precludes any modifications of any kind.

Timeframe

There is no estimated start or end date for this project as of right now, but the targeted length of the project is a year.

As best as I can surmise, based on past experience, I'll be limited to about five real working hours per day and that I'll be limited to approximately two days a week. As much as I would like to work all 52 weeks of the year on it, the reality is that I'll probably only be able to work about 36 of them.

All that means I'll probably personally be working on the project for about 360 hours. That doesn't include contractor hours, which — at this time — may include body work and paint.

Below is a table summarizing my planned personal hours spent working on the project:

Per: Day Week Year Totals
Hours 5 10 360 360
Days 2 72 72
Weeks 36 36
Years 1

Budget

As of right now, there is no actual money budgeted for this project, but my goal is to have a target budget of $25,000 or less to complete it.

Although there is no money now, I've put together a preliminary scheduled budget, below, evenly divided for the timeframe described above — but not budgeted for planned repair areas or types of work:

Week: 1 2 3
Initial Financing $16,000 $0 $0
Scheduled Financing $250 $250 $250
Scheduled Cost -$694 -$694 -$694
TOTAL $15,556 $15,112 $14,668
4 5 6 7 8
$0 $0 $0 $0 $0
$250 $250 $250 $250 $250
-$694 -$694 -$694 -$694 -$694
$14,224 $13,780 $13,336 $12,892 $12,448
9 10 11 12 13
$0 $0 $0 $0 $0
$250 $250 $250 $250 $250
-$694 -$694 -$694 -$694 -$694
$12,004 $11,560 $11,116 $10,672 $10,228
14 15 16 17 18
$0 $0 $0 $0 $0
$250 $250 $250 $250 $250
-$694 -$694 -$694 -$694 -$694
$9,784 $9,340 $8,896 $8,452 $8,008
19 20 21 22 23
$0 $0 $0 $0 $0
$250 $250 $250 $250 $250
-$694 -$694 -$694 -$694 -$694
$7,564 $7,120 $6,676 $6,232 $5,788
24 25 26 27 28
$0 $0 $0 $0 $0
$250 $250 $250 $250 $250
-$694 -$694 -$694 -$694 -$694
$5,344 $4,900 $4,456 $4,012 $3,568
29 30 31 32 33
$0 $0 $0 $0 $0
$250 $250 $250 $250 $250
-$694 -$694 -$694 -$694 -$694
$3,124 $2,680 $2,236 $1,792 $1,348
34 35 36 Totals
$0 $0 $0 $16,000
$250 $250 $250 $9,000
-$694 -$694 -$694 -$24,984
$904 $460 $16

Location

The location for the project is wrought with unknowns.

As of now, I have no facilities to work on a car in. Since I'm planning on doing a good chunk of the work myself, it will be necessary for facilities to be in place to get started. The facility development, however, isn't a part of this project. That will be a separate project in the Service Garage section.

The body and paint work will likely occur at an as yet unknown body shop by an outside contractor — but time will tell.

Work Requirements

For the work requirements section, I've broken down the types of work necessary by vehicle system.

Body

  • Glass removal and installation
  • Rust removal
  • Body panel replacement
  • Body panel adjustment
  • Primer and paint
  • Mechanical part replacement
  • Plating
  • Powder coating

Interior

  • Rust removal
  • Sound deadener replacement
  • Upholstery removal and installation
  • Mechanical part replacement
  • Primer and paint
  • Plating
  • Powder coating

Powertrain

  • Rust removal
  • Mechanical part replacement
  • Drivability adjustments
  • Primer and paint
  • Plating
  • Powder coating

Chassis

  • Rust removal
  • Mechanical part replacement
  • Drivability adjustments
  • Primer and paint
  • Plating
  • Powder coating

Electrical

  • Rust removal
  • Mechanical part replacement
  • Drivability adjustments
  • Primer and paint
  • Plating
  • Powder coating

Trim

  • Rust removal
  • Mechanical part replacement
  • Straightening
  • Polishing
  • Primer and paint
  • Plating
  • Powder coating

Hardware

  • Rust removal
  • Mechanical part replacement
  • Primer and paint
  • Plating
  • Powder coating

Sealing

  • Rust removal
  • Mechanical part replacement
  • Material reconditioning
  • Primer and paint
  • Plating
  • Powder coating

Schedule

This is a preliminary look at the major milestones needed to complete this project. They are in sequence as best as I can tell without assessing the car and sitting down to do a detailed plan.

This arrangement may very well change as I get into it.

Assessment, Feasibility and Go/No Go

Before anything can move forward I need to assess the condition of the car and its state of disarray. Once assessed, I can move on to exploring whether or not the project is truly feasible given the work needed.

At this point I can tell you my hobby is in absolutely no position to launch this project.

Which leads me to the last important part of this milestone: project launch. If a careful exploration of feasibility doesn't turn up any red flags with the car, itself (which doesn't include the ability of my hobby to produce the project results), then I will prepare for project launch.

Planning

Once launched, I will begin the planning of the project in earnest. That will include working out the sequence of work and lining up any required contractors. It will also involve organizing the disassembled pieces of the car since the project really is in physical disarray at this point.

Disassembly

This is where the principle project work begins.

I will pick up where I left off 13 years ago: tearing the car apart. This time, however, I won't be wasting my time trying to figure out how to repair the car without going down to the unibody. That much I now know is a lost cause.

It must be completely blasted apart.

Parts Repair, Rust Removal and Replacement

Before getting into the challenges of the body — or maybe during, should that be left to a contractor — I will be repairing, de-rusting and replacing components so that I can have a complete inventory ready to go for re-assembly.

Body Repair and Rust Removal

I'm looking forward to trying a product that hit the market long after I began this project: Dr. X rust remover. I think it may completely resolve my rust issues. I can say that, while it's doubtful I'll be able to do the panel replacement or paint for this car, I have every intention of performing the rust removal.

I want to make sure it's done right and as least destructive as possible using non-traditional, fairly experimental methods.

At the point the rust removal is successful, I plan to take the body to the body person for the panel replacement. If my hobby is at a point where I can do all of the body work myself by this stage in the project, I may do so.

Body Primer and Paint

This is another activity that will more than likely be farmed out to the body person. But, like the body work, if it becomes possible for me to do it myself, I certainly will give it serious consideration.

Assembly

I have every intention of just reversing the disassembly procedure here. I didn't provide any sort of outline for that, so let me address what I think that may look like with the body and paint already completed:

  • Final installation and adjustment of body panels, glass, trim, and related components — if necessary.
  • Electrical system installation — minus components related to other assembly procedures later in the process.
  • Interior installation including HVAC and instrument panel/dash.
  • Powertrain and chassis installation — this car will be completely apart, which means these two groups will be easier to put in together much like they were at the factory as complex sub-assemblies.

Adjustment and Quality Control

At this point, the car will be assembled, but I will still need to do things like fire her for the first time, set ignition timing, and other computer/drivability adjustments. This will also be the time the suspension and brake adjustments are made.

In theory, I would like to do the suspension alignment myself, but, because of space and equipment limitations, I may need to have someone do the alignment for me.

That really isn't something I want to do — I'm extremely picky about my alignments and I will be much, much happier if I can work out the kinks myself.

Once all the adjustments are completed, it'll be time for final testing and a last, comprehensive quality check.

Delivery

After the car passes testing and quality control it'll be ready to use, which is when I put it into rotation in the collection to take on adventures and even do a little racing.

After all, it is a 5.0 — even if it is all stock, it's still a mean little race car and it's my intention to appreciate it fully.

Close Out

This step might seem a little silly for a hobbiest, but, this isn't my only rodeo, I plan to keep doing this, so this is a time for a final review of the project to learn from what went right and figure out how to resolve issues that didn't for future projects. Although not mentioned above as a reason for the project, it will provide me an opportunity to learn more before I dive into the New 351, my Mom's Mustang, or my Grandpa's El Camino.

Summary

Project: Car Cancer is intended to achieve a number of goals, but the primary objective is to bring the Survivor up to a condition that befits an original 14,000-mile 5.0 so that I can enjoy it after more than a decade of pointlessly staring at it.

Progress

Ha, ha!

Not yet.

Still working on it.

Stay tuned.

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