Why is the Boss 302 back? Aside from pressing all the right nostaligia hot buttons and providing enthusiasts with a high-performance car that’s good for the road or the track, the real reason might be the engine. Without a “302” there could never be a Boss 302 in the first place.
The new Boss wasn’t possible until the 2011 model year when the 412-horsepower 5.0-liter V8 (302 cubic inches) replaced the 4.6 in the GT model. Thus the road was paved for the revival of the Boss 302.
But just what kind of nostalgia are we talking about, here?
This legendary race-bred model helped set the Sports Car Club of America’s Trans Am racing series on fire in 1969 and ’70, providing spirited competition for the rest of Ponycar pack from General Motors, Chrysler, and American Motors.
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Fast forward four decades. In early 2011, two versions of the new Boss 302 will arrive to do the original proud: a fully dressed dual-purpose street/track edition; and a track-specific (but not track only) “Laguna Seca Package” model. This name originates from the California racetrack that was the scene of the Boss’s first victory of 1970 with driver Parnelli Jones at the wheel.
Using the 5.0-liter V8-powered Mustang GT as the starting point, the Boss gets a less-restrictive intake system and revised camshafts as its main tweaks. Output is increased to 444 horsepower from the GT’s 412, but peak torque is down 10 pound-feet from the GT’s 390. This is not an uncommon trade-off for additional high-revving horsepower.
The engine is hooked to a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission along with a heavier duty clutch.
In back, the standard dual exhaust outlets are joined by two additional openings that split from the main pipes and exit just ahead of the rear wheel housings. These create a bit more street-legal exhaust resonance while increasing flow.
The stiffer suspension includes manually adjustable front struts and rear shock absorbers with five different settings, ranging from soft to extra firm. You’ll need to take a screwdriver to the tops of the shock towers to dial in the desired ride attitude.
Similarly, the standard electronic traction- and stability-control systems can be fully disabled, or set for partial intervention so that it will operate only if a serious loss of control is detected.
Aiding traction are Pirelli tires mounted on 19-inch-diameter wheels that are wider by half an inch in back to accommodate the wider rubber. Ford claims that skid-pad grip with this combo exceeds 1.0 g of lateral acceleration, which is in supercar territory. For fade-free stops, the massive 14-inch Brembo-brand brakes use a high-performance pad compound.
For visual cues, the Boss wears the historic “C-stripe” along each side, a blacked-out hood scoop and roof and front and rear spoilers. Inside, there’s a special Boss steering wheel, suede seat inserts, or optional Recaro-brand bucket seats that are identical to those installed on the current Mustang GT500.
Also up for grabs is the dealer-installed TracKey system. The black key is for street driving, while the red key is used for days at the track. The latter provides a more aggressive tune, complete with a raggedy competition idle as well as “launch control.” Ford does not recommend red-key use on the street as the throttle response is hair-trigger.
The limited-production Laguna Seca Package, which features a less-than discrete paint job, has been designed for hard-core racer types who are more likely to spend their weekends driving flat out than using a driver on a golf course. The car adds a significantly firmer suspension, bigger and stickier tires and larger front and rear spoilers that generate added downforce. Oh, and you won’t be taking the kids with you in this beast as the rear seat has been deleted in favor of a cross-brace between the wheels for added chassis stiffness.
The $41,000 Boss 302 ($48,000 for the Laguna Seca) should get Mustang lovers’ hearts pounding and possibly elicit some response from its competitors. Perhaps reviving the Trans Am race series of the late 1960s and early ’70s would be the best way to promote the Boss and its rivals, generate enormous fan interest and even settle a few decades-old scores.