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Car Lust--Ford Mustang Boss 302

Boss3021_2 I've been doing a little bit of introspection lately, and in the course of that introspection I've realized I've done a really poor job of representing muscle cars. Okay, I started off with a few bona fide muscle cars, but after that most of the muscle car-related Car Lusts have been poseur muscle cars, or cars like the Chevy Cavalier Z24 or Shelby Charger. Don't get me wrong--I love those cars--but frankly my inattention to true, glorious muscle cars is scandalous and unrepresentative.

I've also realized that the only love I've thrown the Ford Mustang's way, in the form of dubbing the Mustang II a poseur muscle car, was pretty backhanded. Happily, Anthony Cagle responded with a post extolling the virtues of his Mustang II. Well, no more of this shabby treatment.

In the Mustang's 40+ years of life, the 1967-1970 Mustangs are my favorites--they're beautiful and aggressive, and somehow haunting. They avoid the bland innocence of the first Mustangs, the elephantine dimensions of the early 1970s Mustangs, or the ... well, I've already beaten up the Mustang II enough. There's something about these Mustangs that's timeless--a fact obvious in the success of the new Mustangs that borrow their looks heavily from the '67-70 Mustangs.

Boss3022_2 Besides the looks, this generation of Mustang was also available in a variety of interesting flavors, with all of Ford's performance engines of the time. That includes the 428 Cobra Jet, Ford's creme de la creme performance engine, as well as the more basic big-block 390. This particular Car Lust, however, focuses on the Mustang Boss 302--which made up in flinty-edged aggression whatever it might have lost in cubic inches.

The Boss 302 has a lot going for it--for starters, one of the cooler muscle car names of all time. Remember, back in the late 1960s, "Boss" was a hipster word used as we'd use "cool" or "sweet." For example: "You burned your draft card--boss!" I love the audacity. The modern equivalent would be the Dodge Stoopid-Fresh Challenger, the Toyota Celica Awesome, or the Mitsubishi Totally Ill Eclipse. In the realm of great muscle cars, only the Pontiac GTO Judge can compare.

The colorful name was actually a bit inappropriate, because the Boss 302 was remarkable mostly for its single-minded intensity. The Boss 302 was packed with a high-compression, high-revving small-block V-8, a four-speed manual, front disc brakes, and a heavy-duty suspension--all of which made the Boss Mustang the closest thing to a to a street-going race car American automakers were putting out at the time.

Boss3023 There's a good reason for that. At the time, Mustangs, Camaros, Javelins, and Barracudas were engaged in mortal combat in the wildly popular SCCA Trans-Am series. The series later featured purpose-built tube-frame race cars, but at the time it was contested by modified production cars. As you'd expect, every manufacturer went to extremes to get the most trick hardware certified for Trans-Am; certification meant limited street production. The Camaro Z-28 and the Boss 302 Mustang, though bitter rivals, were in fact very similar. Both boasted 302-cubic-inch engines and high-potency performance hardware meant to easily translate to the Trans-Am series.

Both were gorgeous, and both were as close as Detroit got in the late 1960s to producing a high-revving, great-handling sports sedan.

These three photos are all from Flickr--the first from Flickr user Mitchell de Moor, the second from Steve Brandon, and the third from omniNate (which is in itself a very cool name).

--Chris H.


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I have to admit though, I don't much care for the design after 1968. They seem just too large after that. Still, I think the Boss 302 is my favorite engine from that era. My motorhead mechanic kept threatening to put a Boss 302 in my II and were it not for the probably atrocious mileage it would have gotten, I probably would have let him.

Gotta be in yellow, too. There are some things you just can't be subtle about,

Beautifully written Chris. And a nice tribute to a great car.

"1967-1970 Mustangs are my favorites--they're beautiful and aggressive, and somehow haunting"
"Mustang Boss 302--which made up in flinty-edged aggression whatever it might have lost in cubic inches."

Classic lines, beautifully stated. This is a nice counterpoint to the EXP, and I think goes a long way towards defining what was great about Fords in the mid and late 60s.

As far as I'm concerned all the mustangs of the 60 were Boss. I love the first generation and the Boss gen too. I'm particularly drawn to the nice bare aluminum air dam on the red track car. hmmm... ideas.

I've never owned one, but I like 'em. As items like the Chevelle contemporary to this car reach stratospheric values, the Mustang can still be had for something that could be considered reasonable, for a vintage classic American sports car. The fact that it has been re-launched in a modern form just adds to the panache of the classic.

I gotta give Ford credit, the current-generation Mustang is a worthy tribute to the classic Boss.

Where I grew up, our neighborhood largely consisted of families with large sedans and station wagons, with economical cars added to the mix in the early '70s. BUT, there were two guys up the way, brothers in their 20s, who didn't fit in, which of course meant that we "kids" felt mysteriously drawn to them. These brothers had Mustangs, not just any Mustangs, but beautifully painted and somewhat modified beasts with mag wheels and sidepipes whose low burbles at idle and sharp bursts when revved made us stare in awe while the brothers tuned and tinkered with their engines. I don't know if they were "Boss" Mustangs, but they looked a lot like the ones in the first two photos. Definitely objects of our lust, even before we knew what lust was. Great post, Chris.

BTW, tucked away in my memory of those two Mustangs was a reference to "Windsor" vs "Cleveland," one brother's 'Stang having a Winsor and the other a Cleveland. Was that the carburetor, or engine block, or? The brothers endlessly debated whose was better.

OCG: the "Windsor" is a 90-degree small-block pushrod V8. ( The "Cleveland" is a slightly larger V8 introduced later that was supposed to replace the Windsor. (

Thanks, Cookie the Dog's Owner. I think both the Windsor and the Cleveland were made in a variety of displacements.

There were also "Windsor" and "Cleveland" 351s, which were different engines despite the identical displacement. Even more confusingly, the Boss 302 used Cleveland heads on a Windsor engine.

Fundamentally, the Cleveland was a newer design with more performance potential, while the Windsor was more durable. While they were different engines, I don't think the differences in performance or durability were that significant. A quick Google search reveals lots of arguments as to which was "better."

Spotter's guide:


It's okay. I'd prefer a 1970 Challenger T/A though. 340cid v8, fiberglass hood, and the coolest decal package known to man: strobe stripes. :) Oh yeah, and it had side exit exhausts.

Uhm... "Stupid-Fresh" is a couple decades old and no longer cool to say. Also, "totally" isn't used. An Ill Eclipse would be satisfactory though.

I had a '67 soft top coupe with a '69 302 shoe-horned in. The engine was unfortunately a Windsor and not a Cleveland, but while long gone I can still hear the burble of that little V-8 in my mind.

When it comes to muscle cars you absolutely must disabuse yourself of any thought like "made up in flinty-edged aggression whatever it might have lost in cubic inches." Every engineer in Detroit in those days had the following motto on the top of his drawing board, "There is NO substitute for cubic inches" with good reason No amount of "flinty-edged agression" would make a Z-28 outperform a COPO L72 Camaro, or make a Boss 302 outrun a CJ 428 for that matter.

The guy who sold me my first hot rod, a 1966 396 Chevelle, and who raced a small block Camaro told me, "small blocks have pizzaz, but they don't have balls."

A couple of memories about the Mustang...

First, I remember the (Boss?) Mustang in white, with two thick sky-blue stripes running the length of the car down the hood, roof and trunk. Still the most totally awesome paint job for a Mustang IMHO.

Also, as I was a wee lad at the time, Hot Wheels were the passion of every boy in my school. I remember stumbling upon a special offer for a Boss 302 in CHROME with black stripes. I dutifully put my money (what, $3 bucks maybe??) into the envelope with the order form, mailed it to Mattel, then drove my mother CRAZY asking her EVERY FREAKING DAY after school, "DID IT COME IN THE MAIL YET!?!?" Then one day I got..... a letter, telling me that "due to the high demand, it would be ANOTHER 4 TO 6 WEEKS" before my car would arrive. AAAAGOOOONEEEEEEE, as Bugs Bunny would say.

Finally it showed up. It was my most treasured Hot Wheels car ever, holding a special place of honor in my Hot Wheels carrying case. The older I get, the more I miss them...

Oh, and I loved those rear-window louvered sun screens, especially on one with a gold paint job. As we used to say at the time, "stud".

The big differences between the 351 Windsor and the 351 Cleveland were:

Heads. The Cleveland had huge intake valves
Compression. 10.5 in the Cleveland. It did not do well on regular.

And I think the Cleveland had a 5 bearing main as opposed to a 4 bearing main on the Windsor. The Cleveland was conservatively rated at 335 horsepower but I heard that was just for insurance purposes.

The only vehicle I ever ordered from the factory was a 1970 Ford Ranchero with the 351 Cleveland. Close ratio 4 speed, positraction rear end, no power steering. I curse the day I ever sold it!!!!

Cars today are ugly and dull. No uniqueness or personality at all. Transportation--nothing else. :(

New Car # 1: A 1966 GTO, bought right after I got my BSME job offer. Before I graduated. 93,000 miles in 23 months. Drag strip racing in "pure stock" for the two summers I had it. Eight sets rear tires. Or, was it nine or ten ?

New car # 2: A "nameless" 1968 "foreign car BIG mistake".

New Car # 3: A 1970 1/2 Camaro Z28. Daytona Yellow, real painted black stripes. Two "COPOs" (Central Office Production Order). A M-22 rock crusher four-speed. And, the "tall" three-piece D80 real spoiler. My favorite new car of all time. Jeez, I wish Michigan winters hadn't "got" that car. I lost track of how many tickets I got with that car.

New Car # (???): I don't have any idea which number. A lot of cars have graced my driveway. A few were good. A lot were mediocre average. A lot were tow trucks for my travel trailers.

My last new car is a close second to my '70 1/2. A 2004 Corvette Z06 Z16 "daily driver". "Z16" is the Lemans Commemortive Edition. 2025 built in '04. Lemans Blue (dark) with BIG silver stripes over the carbon fiber hood, top, and rear deck. Coming up four years old. 37,000 miles. I live on a ridge reached by a mile of private ungraded dirt road. No garage or trailer queens for me. The last time I got stopped by a local policeman, I got a warning ticket.
Only my second in the Vette. None "real". Two warnings. The last policeman said, so how fast have you had it going ? Go ahead, tell me. I said, I can't tell a lie to a nice man like you. According to my GPS, 148.3 mph. But, that was IN NEVADA. Actually, it was in CA.

But, the Vette has a "Placer Gold" 1971 Camaro Z28 as one of its garage mates. You can't go back to your "childhood". But, you can never forget it either. And, if you search enough, you can find a first love car. Harder to do with women, and they don't look so sleek after 40 years of "hard driving". {:^)

Some Clevelands had over 11:1 specified compression from the factory, Jreid, like the 1970 351C 300 horse (hyrdaulic lifters). All the Ford SB and Clevelands had 5 main bearings; you may be referring to the 4-bolt mains of the Boss block, a Windsor deck height block with cooling openings for the Boss head. No other low-deck production SB Ford block had them!

The Boss 302 of 1969 introduced the canted valve head that would spread to the different deck height 351s the next year. Together with its contemporary Z28 Camaros, these two solid-lifter cars were among the most sensual of all production cars to be around when lit, especially with the metallic tingle of aftermarket tubular longtube headers. The book on Boss 302s at the time was that they sent oil first to the lifter galley (true, tell me about it, I owned and modified the even-worse 351Cs), would crack pistons (forged from the factory, so the owner had to be running 50 degrees of total timing), liked to spin rod bearings once you disabled the factory rev limiter, blah, blah. These things didn't seem to stop Parnelli Jones et al in 1970 Trans Am racing.

If an owner did blow one up, you could always take the beautiful 780 CFM vacuum secondary Holley that Ford equipped them with for your own car (I did, from a complete Boss 302 with lower end problems that had been dropped off minutes earlier at a Barnes Ave. junkyard in Utica NY !)

They weren't as fast at the drags as their head flow suggested, but, man, who else can trace their cylinder head of fall 1968 to the current NASCAR head in an unbroken if uneven lineage? Not bad, and as much affection as I had for the old Challenger T/A, it marked the beginning of cartoon-cars. It may have had factory side exhausts, but the Boss 302 Mustangs had a manual choke, Chris.

R.B has the goods on these motors. For NHRA Super Stock racing, Bob Glidden used to radically modify the Cleveland heads by milling off the exhaust port side of the head about an inch (!) deep and bolting an aluminum slab with straighter exhaust ports onto it. Problem solved!

A great post on The Greatest Generation of Stangers. The current S197 gen has so many of the styling cues and vibes from the '67-'70s, that I got two of them. A V6 (Windveil Blue, named Dixi Candance) and a GT (Legend Lime, named Luci Elinor). Luci's a Boss tribute car, with the striping, louvers, rear blackout, the works. There's so much aftermarket stuff available for today's Ponies, it's mind-boggling -- not to mention wallet-draining. But Brian's right: The Mustang is The People's Car, great looks and nice power for a very reasonable price. I love mine to death!

Wow. Lots of posts from musclecar guys. This is what I don't understand about mustang owners: everyone has one. So why do you still like them? They're decent cars, but it just seems like the typical hot blonde at a party. Me? I'd rather go for the equally hot but more bizarre redhead. :P

DanP: Is that vette you own just a regular ZO6 with a sticker package? Or does it actually have special go fast bits? I hate special editions when the only thing that makes them special is a sticker. :|

"This is what I don't understand about mustang owners: everyone has one. So why do you still like them?"

Complicated answer. Why do certain folks love their VW Beetles when seemingly everyone had them? The Mustang developed a certain aura about it that a lot of other muscle cars didn't. It wasn't the first *muscle* car, but it was the first pony car and I think it's because of that that people formed an attachment to it. It was arguably the first car to bridge the gap between fun but impractical (and expensive) sports cars and plain-jane practical but decidedly un-fun sedans and coupes. That was part of Iacocca's genius in bringing it out; the other was that Mustangs generally have had option sheets a mile long so you could customize even a base model to your heart's content.

I think there's always been a market sitting out there for a sporty 2-door with decent performance at a really affordable price and Mustangs have not often strayed too far from that ideal (and when they have they've paid for it). Certain imports have fulfilled that market better or worse at various times, but Mustangs still have that legacy out of the '60s.

There is nothing more beautiful than a '67 Ford Mustang. Their grunt is amazing. I LOVE THEM!

Thanks for featuring my photo! I have seen this vehicle cruising around the Glen a few times now, and it really is a great machine.

mustang harika bir araba mükemmel.

Ford Mustangs RULE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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