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Collectible Ford Mustang Boss 302

by Bob Hagin

July 2, 2001

It would be hard to put a single label on the Boss 302 Ford Mustang that was produced only in 1969 and 1970.

"Pony Car" for sure. In 1964, the Falcon Sprint-based Mustang was the first of its type and its name gave birth to the genre.

It could also be called a "Muscle Car," for although its 302 cubic-inch V8 engine only put out 290 horsepower, its alter-ego, the Boss 429, certainly qualifies with 375.

To label it a "Sports Car" wouldn't be far off base either. Its suspension was jarringly tight and its handling was on a par with any of its sporting contemporaries of the period. Traditionally, sports cars (as opposed to "sporty" or Grand Touring cars) are built for two occupants, but only masochists would try to ride in the back "seat" of a Boss 302 Mustang.

It could also simply be called a "Sedan," since that's what the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) officially and internationally labeled the type of cars that raced in it's near-stock Trans Am road races of the '60s and early '70s.

But the most appropriate title for the '69 and '70 Ford Mustang Boss 302 is "Race Car," since that was the acknowledged purpose Ford had in mind for the machine.

In the mid-to-late '60s, performance sold cars and all the auto makers wanted a piece of the pie. Muscle and pony cars had to look fast and be fast, and the way they proved their mettle was to race each other in events for cars exactly like the ones found on showroom floors.

NASCAR with its Grand National (later Winston Cup) circuit provided a venue for the muscle cars to show their stuff, but the proving grounds for the smaller pony car was the SCCA Trans Am series that was eventually limited to American sports sedans such as the Chevrolet Camaro, the Dodge Challenger, the AMC Javelin, the Pontiac Trans Am (albeit in Canadian form), the Plymouth Barracuda and the Mercury Cougar.

As the competition heated up, Ford came under increased pressure to field a car that would match the Z28 Chevrolet Camaro and the awesome AMC Javelin team of the Penske juggernaut on the Trans Am road racing circuits. Its response was the Boss 302.

The Boss 302 was a performance "image" machine that made a visual statement about its owner. It would have been just as fast and just as nimble had it been painted gray, but making a statement needed visual impact so Ford stylist and GM expatriate Larry Shinoda adorned it with swooping stripes and graphics that virtually said "don't mess with me." It's 302-cubic inch engine fit just under the 5.0-liter engine displacement limit for international racing and was endemic to the Mustang Boss 302. No other Ford ever used it. The blocks were specially selected and modified for racing. The cylinder heads were similar to those on the Ford "Cleveland" engine as used in the De Tomaso Pantera. The intake and exhaust systems were also upgraded for performance and its 290 horses gave the 3200-pound Boss 302 spectacular performance. The engine was backed up by a close-ratio four-speed transmission and enough other performance items to make the Boss 302 nearly race-ready.

The name itself was a sign of the times. Among other meaning, in the '60s, "boss" was jargon for "good" or "the best" and that's the image Ford wanted to forge for the car. There weren't a lot of Boss 302s produced during its two-year life span, just under 8000, and most of them were made during 1970, its final model year.

The car was designed to be a winner in the SCCA Trans Am road racing series and it fulfilled that objective. In 1969, its first year of competition, it was easily a match for the front-running Sunoco Camaro of Mark Donohue driving for the Penske team. Indy 500 winner Rufus P. "Parnelli" Jones won only two of the events but nonetheless finished second in the Trans Am points standings at the end of the year.

The following year, the Ford team got its revenge, winning six times with five second-place finishes and four third-place finishes between lead driver Jones and teammate George Follmer. Jones won the driver's championship over Donohue by a single point.

Ford Motor Company dropped out of racing altogether in 1971, followed shortly after by the rest of the American auto industry. It was a time of fuel shortages and an emphasis on anti-pollution, and high-powered cars became a pariah. High performance Fords were produced for another year but the end of that Golden Era was at hand, not to be revived for a couple of decades.

Today, all of those Boss model Mustangs are collector's items and they're still head-turners when they roll down the street.

So although they're more than 30 years old, like Bruce Springsteen, the name that best fits the Ford Mustang Boss 302 will always be "The Boss."