For the last touch, we bolted on the freshly blasted and painted crank and water pump pulleys from the 289. At this point we’re pretty much ready to prep the engine bay and drop our 408 into the Mustang and finish bolting on the last bits. We’ll save that for next update!
(Image/Christopher Campbell)

When it comes to friendships, there’s not much that people value higher than loyalty and steadfastness. You know, that type of friend that you can always count on to be there no matter what, even if it’s not easy for them. There will be great stories and memories. Those friendships create strong bonds that can last a lifetime.

For car lovers, there’s a mechanical equivalent to that good buddy.

It’s just as easy to get really attached to a good car that’s been by your side for many years, through thick and thin. Sometimes it’s a dream car that you always wanted, but most often it’s the one that always got you home and never left you stranded, no matter how much it was put through. Think of all the miles and adventures shared. Or maybe there is sentimental attachment. Or both. That’s why some cars end up being more like a member of the family than a machine.

That’s the case with the ’68 Mustang coupe that we’ll be rebuilding with parts sourced through Summit Racing’s vast catalog. What makes this coupe special to someone? It was purchased by the author’s mother in 1971 when she was 16 for $1,782. It had 18,299 miles on it then but now has over 250,000 miles on the original drivetrain and suspension. Though it has been parked for the past few years, there are nearly 40 years of memories built up in it.

While it was complete and in good overall shape, the Mustang had reached a point of just being worn out everywhere. It really needed everything redone. Life was busy and time was short, but you don’t just sell an old friend, so the Mustang was placed in storage until a couple years ago when it was pulled out and readied for a second life.

As you can see, the paint and body have already been redone in the original Brittany Blue and the drum brakes have been upgraded to Wilwood 6-piston calipers on 13-inch rotors up front and 4-piston calipers on 12-inch rotors in the rear. The rolling stock is 17 x 8 and 17 x 9.5 Vintage Wheel Works V50 with 235/45 and 275/40 Nitto NT05 tires. That took the 60-0 stopping distance from 210 feet to 115 feet. We’ve told mom it’s going to look just like the car she was so proud of in high school, but be a lot more fun and safe to drive. Think restomod; mild, but fun. She has seen the paint, but that’s all she knows so far.

This isn’t a deep pockets build. It’s going to be a DIY, afterhours project that two friends are working on in their spare time. It’s not in a home garage because, well, to be honest, there physically isn’t room at the moment. So, we’re utilizing a corner of a terrific Mustang specialty shop called Mustangs Etc in Van Nuys, CA. As Mustang nuts, we’ve worked with these guys many times in the past, so considering our subject is a 1968 Mustang, and we’re starting out with a drivetrain swap, they gave us the go-ahead to work on stuff once the shop’s work day is over. Plus, we may need their know-how down the line.

Keeping with the “more fun” mentality, we’re going to start with a budget-friendly crate long block that is a direct bolt-in for our original V8 car and then bolt on parts to take it from stock to something that can run with 2015 cars–but without becoming a handful to drive. Throughout the whole project we’re going to keep it as approachable as possible using parts that don’t require extensive know-how or professional level tools. Everything we’ll be doing can be done at home with basic tools that you likely have in your garage.

So follow along as we reform this trusty ’68 into something that can make many more years of memories.

408ci blueprint engines ford windsor crate motor
Blueprint Muscle Series aluminum cylinder head
stamped steel rockers in a cylinder head
lifters with dogbones installed
edge of cylinder head along lifter valley
fitting gasket to a cylinder head
gasket overlap on a ford cylinder head
lifter valley of a ford v8 engine
installing Edelbrock RPM Air-Gap intake manifold
installing Edelbrock RPM Air-Gap intake manifold
summit racing harmonic balancer installed
Edelbrock aluminum water pump installed
water pump bolt kit instructions
Clearance between Edelbrock water pump and balancer
timing marks on an engine balancer
engine oil pressure sending unit and log
aluminum thermostat housing and t-stat
accessory mounting bolts on a ford v8
rear view of a 1-wire Summit Racing 140 amp alternator
disassembling alternator on workbench
disassembling alternator on workbench
adjusting alternator housing on workbench
re-clocked alternator with bracket
underdrive power steering pulley installed
vacuum advance distributor from MSD Performance.
lubed shaft of a distributor
distributor with heavy advance spring
msd distributor spring tuning chart
mechanical advance system on a distributor
ford 408 engine on stand

Since our ’68 was originally a 289, we decided to take the opportunity to upgrade to a 408ci Windsor from Blueprint Engines since it’s a 99 percent bolt-in and the cost difference is marginal. Blueprint Engines also have the advantage of arriving fully dyno tested and broken in, so you’re purchasing more than just a set of specs; you know what your particular engine made. Ours made 418 horsepower at 5,000 and 464 ft.-lbs. of torque at 3,300; it’ll be a lot of fun, but still have a mild attitude that will work with A/C and a very usable power street range. Not bad for only $4,695.

Blueprint uses their own line of Muscle Series aluminum heads that are cast specifically for them. All of the machine work happens at their headquarters in Kearney, NE. These well-designed head are part of the secret to the strong power band of Blueprint engines.

Though our 408 uses a roller cam, the rockers are standard stamped steel. We may upgrade these to roller tip later on, but for now they’re perfectly fine. Note that all of the head bolts used are ARP.

The roller cam swap uses dogbones on 5.0 style roller lifters and a retaining spider that bolts to the valley. Kits like this can be retrofitted into most none-roller V8s.

When assembling a longblock, the most common place that many non-professionals end up making an error that comes back to haunt them is installing the intake manifold. It’s just so easy to accidentally create a vacuum leak, but there is a way to prevent it. To start, lay a smear of RTV on the block and let it dry. When we’re ready to drop the intake on, a large thick bead will be laid over this.

The gaskets get the same treatment, but with a different goo. We liberally spread Gasgacinch on the side the faces the head and let the gasket material soak it in. The paper will soak must of up, so when we’re ready to drop them on the heads, they’ll get another coat.

Make sure to cut off this invasive little bit of gasket. If not, it’ll likely end up in your cooling system eventually.

Another simple trick that is a great help in dropping the intake into place easily and without disturbing the seal is to use guides. We made these just by chopping the head off of some 6-inch bolts. Wala, instant guides!

The guides make it possible to drop the intake down square and even, and without any movement side-to-side. It’s even more helpful if you use a heavy cast iron intake.

Edelbrock’s RPM Air-Gap intake is one of our very favorite all-around street performance intakes. Despite being a fairly tall dual-plane intake, it will fit under the hood of classic Mustang, though will require a deep drop base air cleaner. We also picked up an Edelbrock bolt kit that uses small 12-point heads that fit in the tight areas around the runners nicely- plus they look good.

A good harmonic balancer is a must for any engine, especially high performance ones. Summit Racing’s bracket racer dampers are affordable, but they have also been spin-tested to 12,500 rpm and carry an SFI-18.1 rating.

Edelbrock is most known for intakes and cylinder heads, but their aluminum water pumps are our go-to choice for better cooling on street and race engines. The quality is second to none, we’ve always noticed greater cooling capacity under hard use, and we’ve never worn one out.

Speaking of bolts, we can’t say enough about how nice it is to have specific bolt kits for your project. Mustangs Etc had a water pump bolt kit in stock, which came in handy when we discovered a couple rusty bolts while removing hardware from the 289.

Clearance was quite tight between the Edelbrock water pump and the balancer, which required a tiny bit of clearancing of the pump’s backing plate.

Another thing we love about the Summit Racing balancer is the deep engraved timing marks that make reading the numbers easy. Some dabs of metal marker at the 10 degree points will make it even easier to read when dialing in the timing while the engine is running.

The oil pressure sending unit and log were pulled from the 289, cleaned up, and bolted into the 408 with zero modification, though we did give the threads fresh teflon tape.

Since we have an aluminum intake now, we went with an aluminum thermostat housing too. The Milodon thermostat is a 180 degree. Note the little dab of RTV on the housing; two 180 degrees apart each side will hold the thermostat in place as it is fitted to the intake.

Our plan is to reuse all of the accessory brackets from the 289, but to do so with the wider heads and taller deck of the 351W requires this offset bracket. Summit carries these under Scott Drake’s products.

Our new 1-wire Summit Racing 140 amp alternator bolts up without issue, but the post hits the head. To fix this will require re-clocking the housing.

To do so, we have to pull the retaining nut and fan off so the housing can slide forward. An impact wrench will be needed for the nut, but the fan is just a snug fit.

Not all alternators are clockable, but with four equally spaced bolts holding the housing together, the Summit Racing one is.

Only move the two halves of the housing far enough to be able to rotate them; do not pull the alternator all the way apart. Doing so will likely result in brushes falling out and having to take it to a specialist.

Now the re-clocked alternator fits perfectly with the original brackets from the 289.

Our 289 did have one upgrade already in the form of late model remote reservoir style power steering pump from Unisteer. These are great, cooling running pumps that have less drag on the engine than the original style. Summit Racing has several versions of these at very affordable prices including ones, with attached reservoirs.

For the distributor, we went with a drop-in vacuum advance model from MSD Performance. Some roller cam conversions requires a bronze gear, if they use a billet steel core. Our cam is cast, so we will stick with the cast gear included on the distributor.

MSD includes heavy gear break-in oil that should be liberally applied to the gear (you can the green stuff sticking out a bit.) The white lithium grease is just to ease sliding the o-ring into place.

MSD always ships these distributors with very conservative heavy advance springs, which may work fine for stock engines, but are very poorly suited for performance ones.

To aid in tuning, MSD does also include an assortment of spring and bushings so you can dial in the curve needed with the aid of a chart. The advance we want uses one silver and one blue spring paired with the blue bushing.

Fortunately the distributor was shipped with the bushing we wanted, so simply popping the springs off and replacing them with the lighter ones was all the was needed.

For the last touch, we bolted on the freshly blasted and painted crank and water pump pulleys from the 289. At this point we’re pretty much ready to prep the engine bay and drop our 408 into the Mustang and finish bolting on the last bits. We’ll save that for next update!

Parts List

Blueprint Engines 408ci Windsor:  MLL-BPF4084CT
Edelbrock Performer RPM Air-Gap Intake:  EDL-7581
Edelbrock Intake Manifold Gaskets:  EDL-7220
Edelbrock Intake Manifold Bolt Kits:  EDL-8524
Fel-Pro Water Neck Gaskets:  FEL-35067
Milodon High-Flow Thermostats:  MIL-16401
Edelbrock Victor Series Mechanical Water Pumps:  EDL-8841
AMK water pump kit (Mustangs Etc):  WPB-C9OE-308
Trick Flow Track Max Harmonic Dampers:  TFS-19006
MSD Pro-Billet Ready-To-Run Distributors:  MSD-8354
Summit Racing Alternators:  SUM-810308
Scott Drake 1969 351w alternator bracket:  SDK-C9ZZ-10145-A

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Christopher Campbell has been heavily involved in the automotive world since he began building his first car, a 1967 Ford Ranchero, with his dad at the age of 14. That started a lifelong passion with custom hot rods and muscle cars. After graduating from Cal State Long Beach, he went to work for HOT ROD magazine as Associate Editor. From there he became Technical Editor at Popular Hot Rodding magazine. Currently he creates freelance content for OnAllCylinders as well as many diverse enthusiast magazine titles such as HOT ROD, Muscle Mustangs and Fast Fords, Mopar Muscle, Super Chevy, Mustang Monthly, and 8-Lug.