For those of us who live north of the Mason-Dixon line, the onset of winter means that we find ourselves looking to put our prized Mustangs and Fords in storage, away from the worst mother nature can dish up, including snow, sleet, ice (and if you live in the Northeast or Midwest, the dreaded road salt, which likes to lunch on automotive sheetmetal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But after several months of hibernation the weather has finally broken, the snow has melted, and the salt washed away by spring showers. As a result it’s time to awaken our prized possessions from a deep slumber and get them ready for the show and cruising season ahead.
However, to ensure the best possible result, there’s actually quite a bit more involved than just simply pulling the car out of the garage and heading off to a show. We’ve put together several useful steps to ensure your pride and joy really does itself proud on the show field. If you’re reading this and live in the South or Southwest, chances are most of this info doesn’t apply, since you’ve been out cruising in your car all winter long. We have little sympathy.
Our 1986 Mustang GT lives in the rustbelt. It’s a very original car that’s attracted quite a bit of attention at shows over the last few years and even won a few awards. During the winter months it’s stored in the garage, under a cover. If you’re doing this, take the time to invest in a good quality, breathable cover, that keeps outside elements off the car and allow it to breathe, preventing excessive moisture buildup on the paint, which can happen with some cheap covers.
During the winter, the car is stored on jackstands and the wheels removed to save wear on the tires. Now that the weather has improved, it’s time to get ready. With the cover off the car, the wheels are put back on and it’s lowered off the stands.
Before we put our Mustang away last winter, we changed the oil and poured Stabil in the tank to keep the fuel fresh. That way she’s ready to drive from the get-go.
Even if you store the car under a cover, it can still collect dust and other particles, especially after a few months. So once you roll it out, it’s a good idea to give it a bath. A good quality shampoo and sponge or cloth will do the job. For our soap, we went with Meguiar’s Next Generation car shampoo, which gives a really nice luster once the car is washed and dried.
Choosing the right washcloth is just as important as the right shampoo. Micro fiber mittens like this help absorb and distribute the shampoo better than traditional sponges and don’t hold anywhere near as much dirt and grime.
When it comes to washing the car, the best method is to start at the top and work your way down. Make sure you wash the car in a shaded area or under a cloudy sky away from harsh sunlight, to prevent the shampoo suds from drying on the paint.
Once the car has been shampooed and rinsed off with a hose, it’s time to dry off the water spots. We live in an area with very hard water, which can leave a nasty residue, so it’s important to use a chamois to remove as much as possible.
Today, there are more specialized car cleaning products available than ever before and a good way to obtain them is by visiting one of the winter indoor car shows, like World of Wheels or Autorama. Even outdoor shows, later in the season can be a good time to stock up. This is the Meguiar’s stand at the Carlisle All-Ford Nationals, which has everything from specialized wheel and interior cleaners, to waxes and polishes.
Getting back to our Mustang, once the car is dried off, it’s a good time to polish and wax the paint, prior to the first event of the year. Because our car’s original Oxford White paint was oxidized, dull, and full of contaminants in places (and we hadn’t had much time to do anything in the years before), we elected to polish it. One of the more expensive, but definitely effective ways is to use Meguiar’s professional polishing system and rotary buffer with pads. In our case the process took several hours, but we were able to remove the vast majority of oxidation and grime from the original single-stage paint. Another option is to use a clay bar, available from numerous sources like Meguiar’s, Turtle Wax, and Adam’s Polishes.
Even if your options don’t extend to purchasing a kit such as this, you can still find very good quality automotive detail kits at reasonable prices. One of our favorites is this complete detailing kit from Adam’s Polishes. We picked this up at a car show last summer and it includes a bucket with grit trap, shampoo, polish, buttery or machine wax, clay bar, undercarriage cleaner, interior cleaner, detailing spray, wash sponges, detailing cloths, and even an instructional DVD. It set us back $100 and the results from using it are impressive to say the least.
With the car polished, it’s time to tackle the trim. This is one element that can make or break the car’s appearance. Mid-’80s Fords, like our subject vehicle, came with black or charcoal exterior body trim that’s prone to fading. A specialized plastic and vinyl trim cleaner like this can help bring back that dark, rich luster the car had when new. Using a soft, clean cloth helps prevent scratching the trim.
Another area that often gets overlooked concerns the wheels. We’ve seen lots of cars at shows with great paint, but wheels that are poorly detailed. The original factory rims on our car were restored some years ago, but to keep them looking fresh, we use a specialized wheel cleaner, like Meguiar’s Hot Rims, which is designed to work on chromed and aluminum wheels.
Besides, the exterior, you should also clean inside too, a good vacuum and the use of interior automotive wipes can have the car looking as good as new. If the carpet is dirty, consider using a carpet or upholstery cleaner, some of the modern ones are surprisingly effective. Floormats are another item you shouldn’t overlook. I know it sounds trivial, but you’d be amazed at the number of cars you see at shows that lose votes because of dirty floormats.
Another good idea at this time is to clean car’s engine bay. To do this properly, you’ll need to cover electrical components like the distributor and coil (using a sealed plastic bag is a good method). If it is dirty, you’ll need to use an engine degreaser (companies like Autoglym and Gunk are a good source) and often a brush with a long handle, to extend into hard-to-reach areas. For maximum results make sure the engine is warm (not hot), use gloves and start from the bottom and work your way up to minimize dripping. Once done, you can use a hose to wash away the excess and make sure you remove any traces of degreaser from the car’s exterior paint. Wipe off any remaining residue with a soft cloth. A final touch is spraying on a protectant like Sonus Trim and Motor Kote. A detailed engine bay like this is a great compliment to the rest of the car.
When it’s time to go to a big show, such as the Carlisle All-Ford Nationals, a Mustang Club of America National meet or the Mid-America Ford and Team Shelby Nationals, you need to think about how to get the car there. If it’s a relatively short distance you can drive, but sometimes if the event is several hours, or even a day’s drive away and you have the option, you can tow it on a trailer.
On the way to the show, it’s inevitable that your car will get dirty prior to the event. Some, like the All-Ford Nationals feature a wash area, allowing entrants to clean their cars before placing them on the show field. If you see one of these, take advantage of it.
Here we are. You’ve been allocated your spot and the show is underway. You can take satisfaction in the knowledge that you took the time to clean your car and the results speak for themselves. Fellow attendees are able to admire your nice, clean Mustang or Ford and who knows? You might even come home with an award or two.
Carlisle Events (All Ford Nationals)
Mid-America Ford and Team Shelby Nationals
Mustang Club of America
Stabil/Gold Eagle Brands