Even though Ford had a two-year start in the pony car segment with the Mustang, it didn’t take long for Chevrolet and its answer, the Camaro, to catch up. By 1968, two years after the Camaro had arrived in dealerships, Chevy’s small- and big-block V8 engines were superior to their Mustang counterparts.
Building A Car Around An Engine
Ford needed to act fast in order to remain competitive and came up with two new powerplants by the end of 1969. One of them was the Boss 302, created by combining a 5.0-liter “Windsor” engine block with the cylinder heads of the 5.8-liter Cleveland. The optional V8 was also offered with an entire vehicle package that included aerodynamic and handling upgrades under the Boss 302 Mustang name.
Designed by Larry Shinoda, a former General Motors employee, the Boss 302 was more than just a pony car aimed at the road-going Camaro. The 302 cubic-inch (5.0-liter) displacement was selected so that the car would also become eligible for the SCCA Trans-Am, a racing series established in 1966.
Basically, the Boss 302 was part of a two-car assault against the Camaro on both the road and the race track. The other vehicle was the Boss 429, which was created with the intent of homologating Ford’s new 7.0-liter V8 for NASCAR.
The name “Boss” is believed to have two meanings. Some historians claim that it came about when Larry Shinoda was asked what project he was working on, and he answered “the boss’s car,” because the project was kept secret before 1968. Others say that Shinoda had called it the “Boss” as an homage to Ford president Semon “Bunkie” Knudson, who had brought Shinoda over from GM’s Chevrolet division.
Design-wise, the Boss 302 was highlighted by many extra features over the standard Mustang. The most visible add-ons were the front spoiler lip and the small wing on the decklid. The latter was optional. Both features enhanced both aerodynamics and handling.
A unique stripe package added black graphics on the fenders and doors, as well as a black engine hood center section. Reminiscent of the stripes that graced the sides of Ford’s GT40 race cars, the decals incorporated “Boss 302” lettering.
Ford also deleted the fake air scoops in the rear quarter panel fenders of the regular production 1969 Mustang for a cleaner look. As the Mustang was revised for 1970, the Boss 302 also ditched the outer headlamps in favor of extra vents. The high-performance coupe also gained a hood scoop and a revised graphics package.
The hood stripe was much thinner, while C-shaped stripes were replaced with hockey stick graphics that started along the top of the hood and descended just above the side skirts and onto the rear wheel arches. A louvered rear screen added more sportiness to the already aggressive looking ‘Stang. The color choices expanded from the four offered in 1969 (Bright Yellow, Acapulco Blue, Calypso Coral, and Wimbledon White) to 13, including the flashy Grabber Blue, Green, and Orange.
The drivetrain was also retuned for spirited driving and track performance. Disc brakes were standard on the front axle, the sway bars were larger, while the shock towers and spindles were reinforced.
The ride height was lowered for improved handling. The Boss 302 also had an enlarged footprint thanks to the F60 Wide Oval tires mounted on Magnun 500 wheels, which also required modified wheel arches.
The V8 engine with its Cleveland-style heads and larger valves was officially rated at 290 horsepower. Hitting 60 mph from a standing start took only 6.9 seconds, while the quarter-mile was conquered in 14.6 seconds at 98 mph.
Much like any high-performance muscle car from the era, the Boss 302’s output had been largely underrated. It’s believed that the 290-horsepower rating was selected to match that of the Camaro Z/28, but in reality, the Boss 302 came with more than 300 horses on tap.
Dyno tests revealed an output of 314 horsepower, while removing the air cleaner and headers increased power to 390 horses. For 1970, the drivetrain carried over unchanged save for the addition of a rear sway bar and smaller intake valve and crank that was no longer cross-drilled.
With 1,628 examples sold in 1969 and 7,013 units in 1970, the Boss 302 is somewhat rare and can fetch in excess of $100,000 depending on condition and mileage. Granted, it’s not as powerful as the Boss 429, but it has the same road racing pedigree. And it’s less expensive than a 429 too.
Speaking of racing, the Boss 302 led Ford’s assault on the Trans-Am series in both 1969 and 1970. The Boss 302 scored four wins in its maiden season, but that wasn’t enough to defeat the strong Chevy Camaro team, which took an easy championship win with eight victories.
Ford achieved success in 1970, when the Mustang dominated the series, beating American Motors, Chevy, Dodge and Plymouth. It was Ford’s first win since 1966. Unfortunately, it was the Boss 302’s first and final success, as American Motors returned with a better car in 1971.
The Boss 302 name returned in 2007 on a limited-edition Saleen Mustang and one again in 2012, when Ford revived the iconic badge, but that’s another story for another time.
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