By the late 1960s, some mod jargon had made its way into the American lexicon. One example was the word “boss.” Meaning good, great, very cool, etc., we suddenly had “boss radio” with its high-strung line-up of top-40 songs and screaming “boss jocks.”
Ford Motor Company ran with the word too. For the 1969 model year, a new Mustang joined the lineup as a hard-core performance machine essentially ready for the racetrack. Ford called this special Mustang the Boss 302. It carried over through the 1970 model year, but it then went away when the Mustang became larger and safety and emissions laws began to doom the entire muscle car segment.
For the 2012 model year Ford has brought back the Boss 302, and like its predecessor, it offers performance that’s ready for the nearest twisting road course while skipping some amenities of other Mustang models.
Available only as a coupe, the Boss 302 goes beyond the horsepower and performance of the Mustang GT, which is no slouch itself. The 5.0 liter overhead cam engine (5.0 liters = 302 cubic inches) is tuned for not only higher output, but increased durability as well. If you were to use this car for club racing on the weekends, the engine is stout enough to get you home after each event and even to the office on Monday morning time and time again.
The performance theme is carried over with the sole transmission offered: a 6-speed manual with a short-throw gear shift. If you prefer an automatic, this isn’t the car for you. (This further solidifies the kinship to the ’69-70 Boss 302. That car came with a 4-speed manual only.)
Upgrades continue underneath the Boss where a special suspension is tuned for flatter cornering, and massive Brembo brakes help slow the car down in a hurry. Wheels are staggered 19” aluminum units shod with special Pirelli high-performance tires.
The first twist of the ignition key tells you this is no ordinary Mustang. The engine breaths through tubular exhaust headers which then send the gasses and sound through a unique quad exhaust system. It splits off into mini hidden side-pipes that exit under the car, as well as traditional chrome pipes out the back.
Stabbing the gas pedal hard sends the engine screaming up the rev band, to a redline set at a lofty 7500 rpm. The motions of the gear shift lever are short and precise, and each gear ratio and each run up to maximum engine speed takes the speedometer climbing higher until you’re solidly into “Gee officer, I really don’t know how fast I was going” territory.
But unlike that original Boss 302, this one can still be driven gently as an everyday car. Back in ’69 you couldn’t get power steering or air conditioning with your Boss. This new one not only has those things, but cruise control and a pretty decent stereo too. There’s also the usual remote locking, power mirrors, rear window defogger and so on.
The features list kind of ends there, however. The interior is rather plain by current Mustang standards. No leather to sit on, though the optional front bucket seats are wonderful cloth Recaro units that are designed to hold you in place during hard cornering. Beyond those and a nice suede-like grip on the steering wheel, the interior is right out of the base Mustang you can rent down at Enterprise.
This is okay for the people who want a true performance car that skips the frills. The money spent for this street-legal racer goes to all the performance hardware, and not for things like navigation systems and leather upholstery.
Speaking of money, the base price for the Boss 302 is $40,310, and there aren’t really many options, aside from those $1736 Recaro seats. One significant and expensive option is the Laguna Seca package (named after the racetrack in Monterey), which is $6995 and takes the car to the next level, making it really ready for serious racing.
Many people fondly look back on the heyday of American muscle cars as “the good old days.” Well, compared to the original Boss 302, this one is better in pretty much every way, and puts out a small fraction of the emissions while only using about half the fuel.
It would seem that these days, right now, are the new good old days.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 8 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz