Engine compartment Detail tips and pointers...

CarMichael Angelo

my rearend will smell so minty fresh,
15 Year Member
Nov 29, 1999
Birmingham, al
It's something everyone of us can do, but most of us don't, or won't. For the few that care however, this is for you.

If you're interested in making the most visual impact under the hood, the difference between bad, average, and excellent isn't about how much money is spent under the hood,......it's about how much time was spent there. Keeping an eye on the small stuff is what sets a bad looking engine compartment apart from a great one. Typically, a couple of days, a bucket of soapy water, some rattle can paint, small paint brushes, sandpaper and a wire brush are the only things needed to get the job done.

Wire and hose clutter is the biggest enemy of a good looking detail. If you have a stock engine, that will be the biggest hurdle to overcome. I will not go into what is required to move the wires, as there are several threads within this forum that details that process. If you have the technical ability to move that mess, the move that mess, if you don't....we'll have to deal with it.
The hoses are a necessary evil.

The first step of your process is to remove everything that can be removed. But first get your phone, and take as many pictures of the existing engine and every accessory as you can, so that it will be easy to remember how to put it back together again. After that,.......then start removing Accessories, brackets, the battery, the distributor cap, and wires, the coil, the induction tube....everything. Even the hood latch, and those little rubber baby buggy bumpers that sit on the top of the inner fender that the hood sits on when closed. The AC compressor will have to hang somewhere, as you don't want to blow the charge. So,...after you get all of the other stuff removed, unbolt the compressor, get some cord/wire/or a bunny, and hangthat thing onto something for now. If it was me and I was doing this, the intake, the valve covers, the exhaust headers, the master cylinder and the brake booster would come off too. And while I was at it, those two brake lines that span the cowl would come off too.
Put the front end in the air, put it on stands, and remove the front wheels.

Group every bolt with its respective bracket. Get out your wire brush, and brush the rust off of every freakin bolt that holds the brackets on. If they're greasy, the wire brush fixes that too. If you have a drill with a rotary brush and a vise, then the process will go even better, but get the freakin bolts clean. You don't know how many guys will clean and paint everything all real nice and purdy,...then put it all back together with rusty/greasy fasteners. Once the bolts are clean, get a can of flat black paint, get a piece of cardboard, poke each bolt into a hole in the cardboard, and paint them.

While they are drying, do the same to the brackets that hold the accessories. Clean, sand the rusted crap, prime them, and paint them.

The accessories themselves need it next. The compressor with have to be dealt with in place.

Now,..The engine and engine compartment. If you have access to a pressure washer, get it. Bag the engine with a big assed trash bag.

And then wash it. Everywhere. On top, on the sides, under the fenders. The k member, the control arms, the struts, everything.If your engine is greasy and you intend to paint it in place, clean it as best you can. deal with it before you deal with the surrounding sheet metal.
Mask off the wires and hoses that you can’t remove, ( some people wrap this in foil for ease of removal), and paint the engine first. When it’s dry cover it back up with the big yard bag.
Pay attention to the dirt you can get to, stuff hidden behind brackets, hoses, or lines that you removed can now be cleaned. If it’s body color, leave it alone,..just get it clean.

If the valve covers are off clean and paint them sepeartely. The same for the intake. Refrain from trying to polish anything unless you have access to the proper equipment..it takes for freakin ever to properly polish metal.. but it takes only a few minutes to paint it... And when comparing a half polished piece to a painted one,...the painted piece looks better every time.
If you do choose to polish a part, be wary of the surrounding stuff. A polished small part only brings the eye to the bad that surrounds it. It will be better to make something disappear from view by painting an item flat black than to highlight it it, especially if that part is buried in a rats nest of hoses and wires. And...if you just have too much time on your hands and you just have to polish something....look at the whole part.a polished piece with rusty bolts attached was just a waste of your time.

Most guys will attempt a wire tuck in an attempt to get rid of the clutter. Getting the wires out of sight will do wonders to bring attention to the shiny bits when you decide to start adding them in place of painted stuff. If you have to keep things where they are, Wires and hoses can be cleaned with mineral spirits. Hose ends typical of what is attached to your compressor need the wire brush. If it’s your intention to leave the wires exposed, nothing looks worse than a colored loom, or contrasting color corrugated wire wrap. Wires need to hide, not be made to stand out with some bright color. The corrugated factory covering is probably brittle by now, and trying to save it is not going to go well. The factory fabric tape used to seal the ends will have long since frayed by now as well. It’s best to replace what can be replaced witoh new black overwrap. There are many options in the aftermarket out there to do this, several of which look better than the corrugated junk that is on the car, so be sure to shop around. Whatever you do,..choose black.

If you have removed everything and exposed the factory front inner panels, clean them if you can and leave them alone. If this is a factory engine compartment, the sheer menagerie of stuff that has to go back on will cover most of the factory strut towers and fender aprons back up anyway.

Strut mounts should be left alone so as not to disturb your front end alignment, but mask the surrounding sheet metal and spray them black.

*Heres a note about color...avoid painting anything a loud contrasting color ( like the sway bar) and keep your color palette down to 3-4 different colors max (silver/aluminum; black; engine color; body color.) Again, nothing looks worse than a red this, a yellow that, and a blue something else.

Remove any overspray that got on stuff like the brake lines that run across the cowl. And start putting it all back on.

Be mindful of small brackets that you missed...if it’s rusted the eye will go right to it, hose clamps come to mind, don’t reuse skanky hose clamps, and get the the right size..a “too big” clamp tightened down to compensate will look just as bad as a crusty one tat was the right size.
Be wary of hose and wire structure, there are kits to manage your wires and keep them neat and ordered.

Now,....If you took all of time to do this right, you’ll have an engine compartment to be proud of..a spot on stock engine detail will earn Significantly more praise than a hastily thrown together neglected hodgepodge, regardless of what’s under the hood.

It’s about as stock as it comes...clearly some time trying to keep it that way....all except the distributor hold down. They ran out of paint that day.

Who wants to work on this?

Now this is what I’m talking about...looks like day one off of the assembly line.


Then there’s this...typical drag car. engine probably makes stupid power...can’t get past the brake booster.


The polar opposite...but everything in place. Functioning AC, power steering, TFI, and all of the factory engine control and fuel management wired but hidden..

It all comes down to time and effort on this one. 90%of us will never have an engine compartment that looks like the bottom example, but with a bunch of sweat equity, a few days, and an keen eye for detail, it’s easy to have something to be proud of with very little money spent.
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Wayne Waldrep

Before I post a pic, do you have one of yours?
15 Year Member
Apr 14, 2003
Cuba, AL
Excellent post. That bottom pic is nice but all I see is tons of work to keep it like that. I hid all my wires/lines once for a few years but got sick of trying to get to stuff when I needed to. Now I'm more of a keep everything as close to factory or what could be factory looking as possible.

Thanks for the reading material. :)


I can swing up to 11”
Jul 23, 2018
chardon, Ohio
This will be next winters project for me. I'm going to pull the engine though. I think in the long run it will make the job easier. I will hide as much wire as i can without making myself crazy and recover it all with braided loom.


I leave the horn on while driving
10 Year Member
Apr 26, 2010
My low buck cleanup with my first engine build, and my most recent.

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If you're the village idiot what's that make me?
15 Year Member
Nov 29, 1999
Over the years. From Start to Now ....

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So while I wait to figure out my rear end issues
Dec 29, 2017
Long Island, NY
Great thread and tips! Some beautiful work in those pics!
I started with the soap, water, and brushes, then evolved to painting, to removing/ hiding things, to tucking wires, etc. I have a long way to go, but it’s definitely been a satisfying ride, especially looking back to where I was.

Somewhere near the beginning:

After a lot of cleaning and adding some color:

The decision to paint:

Where I’m at now, waiting for my Tesa tape to get delivered for my harness. Still a long way to go.

and one more thing.... @CarMichael Angelo is right: cardboard for the bolts works great!
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So while I wait to figure out my rear end issues
Dec 29, 2017
Long Island, NY
I just found a pic from before I even took ownership. Pic does not do justice to how filthy it was. It was BAD!
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15 Year Member
Nov 29, 1999
Boca Raton, Florida
My before an after is quite drastic. I even repainted and fabbed some stuff. Most wires in the fender (especially passenger side).

Untitled by jpjr501, on Flickr

Untitled by jpjr501, on Flickr

My Vibrant Red 94 had everything polished when it was supercharged.

94 Mustang Sleeper Supercharged by jpjr501, on Flickr

Then went 347 and tucked most of everything.
Untitled by jpjr501, on Flickr
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So while I wait to figure out my rear end issues
Dec 29, 2017
Long Island, NY
Just catching up on some old threads and realized we had this one going. Here’s where I’m at right now, and a few pics along the way.

I’m not gonna lie, I had some worries when i had all these wires all over, but take your time and it all comes together.


Somehow I got em all through that hole (main headlight sockets had to be cut).


Everything taped up and starting to fit it all. Next step is to extend my coil harness.
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