Heritage Done Right

I’ve long been a big fan of the original Boss 302 Mustang, and almost bought a mint 1970 example back in the early ‘80s. No surprise then that I’ve been itching to try the new Boss 302. I‘ve read the road tests and talked with a number of colleagues, and it’s clear something special is going on.

Ford Motor Company threw me the keys to one for the Monterey Classic Car week in August, and I picked up the bright orange beast in southern California on one of those classic sunny California summer days. I headed north to the Monterey peninsula on Highway 5 and, as I got in the central valley I saw a sign that said some major roadwork was bring done a number of miles ahead and to expect traffic delays. A quick look at the map (remember those?) uncovered a back route that looked nothing short of stupendous. The best part (Highway 58) ended up being a 70-mile stretch of two-lane road that weaved and ducked its way through rolling hills with an incredible combination of straights, tight corners and sweepers that could be taken at speed.

Over the next hour-plus I saw maybe five cars, and the Boss steered, braked, and rode in superb fashion, eating up the asphalt like a true thoroughbred. The only thing holding back my rate of progress was the amount of artwork I had in the car for the photo exhibit at The Quail; it’s not a good thing when framed images start flying all over the place while going through some corners! The way the whole Boss package integrates all its performance attributes so one doesn’t clearly outshine the others makes it clear extensive development work was done, rather than just throwing on a bunch of parts in an effort to make the car go faster.

In short, the Boss is a great Mustang and a wonderfully composed performance car, especially at its mid-$40s price point, and it got numerous thumbs up from the general public. But after all those miles the question still remained: Was it a real Boss, or just a great car?

The new Boss. Nimble, very quick, high revving, great personality. No question it is the real deal.

That’s what I wanted to find out, so several days after the Monterey collector car lunacy concluded I hooked up with Robert Canepa, a bud who owns a 1970 Boss 302, ’71 Boss 351, and a ’70 Boss 429. His Bosses are totally restored or unmolested low mileage examples, and we spent a full day driving them back-to-back over the same route.

Robert’s Boss 302 had just been completely restored and wasn’t completely dialed in, so the looseness of the suspension and steering prevented true spirited driving. But the car talked to you a mile a minute with sensations through the seat of your pants, your hand on the shift knob, the sound of the V-8’s solid lifters clattering away, and more. The engine didn’t have much grunt down low but loved to rev, and the gearbox was nice and tight.

The Boss 429 was an utter revelation, and blew my socks off. I was expecting a heavy, front engine whale and it was anything but, being much more nimble through the corners than I expected. And the engine—omigod!—that incredible NASCAR-derived V8 is worth the price of admission alone. The animal-like bellow it emits when the carburetor’s secondaries open when you are hard on it is absolutely spine tingling, and the big powerplant’s uncanny smoothness is astounding. It reminded me of Bentley’s silken W12 in that if you covered the tach, you wouldn’t know if you were turning 1000 or 6000 rpm, it is that vibration-free.

In short, if I had a spare $200,000 or so, I know exactly what would be in my garage. Right now.

The 1970 302 V8 came from racing experience, and loved to rev.

The Boss 351 was equally as revelatory. The ride, steering, and comfort were quite surprising as was the way it went into corners at a decent clip. The engine sounded better than the 302’s and pulled with considerably more grunt down low, thanks to those 50 extra cubic inches.  Back in the day the B351 was seriously quick, hitting 60 in under 6 seconds, and nearly breaking the 14-second quarter. If only it had the body of the previous generation, we’d all be saying this is one of the best Mustangs ever.

But it doesn’t so we can’t. A true contender for that title is the new Boss 302, and both Robert and I agree it is indeed the real deal. If the boys at Shelby hadn’t built me the exact car I wanted several years ago, I know what would be sitting in my garage in the near future. And the only reason I’d wait is I am willing to bet the 2012 Boss will have the “hockey stick” graphic along the side, as seen in the 1970.

In short, if you have around $45,000 or so to spend on something new, it is awfully tough to beat a Boss.

Two generations of Bosses: two weeks with the current model and a day with three classic Bosses (including the 1970 seen in the background) made the heritage link abundantly obvious.The original Boss. Nimble, quick, high-revving, very talkative.

The new Boss. Nimble, very quick, high revving, great personality. No question it is the real deal.

The 1970 302 V8 came from racing experience, and loved to rev.

New Boss 302 loves to rev as well, all the way up to 7500, and also benefitted from racing experience.

The original Boss had a very businesslike interior.

New Boss interior has few frills, and those Recaro seats really hold you in place during hard cornering and braking.

Boss 429 was a complete surprise, one of the most engaging collector cars I've driven in years. If I only had a spare $200,000 or so...

One of the most under-appreciated Mustangs is the Boss 351. In many ways its muscular personality reminded me of a Ferrari 365 GTC.

The verdict is in. You are looking at four real Bosses

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