CRAPPY PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR.
There is an old saying that suggests that we should never meet our heroes.
The logic behind this statement suggests, to me, that we spend perhaps nearly an entire lifetime building up our heroes until they reach something of a God-like status, they have superhuman abilities, and must be made of sterner stuff, otherwise, how would they be able to accomplish what they did, when they did it, and in some cases, for how long they did it?
When you meet your heroes, you are highly likely to discover that he, or she, or in the case of this Boss 302...it...it is highly likely that you are going to discover that they are not superhuman beings, the destroyers of worlds, and virtual tilters of windmills that you've built them up to be, and in some cases, they're some of the worst human beings in existence. I've met Bob Hope (A long time ago). I've met other actors. I've met famous race car drivers. Only Bob and one other guy were people who I was glad to have met: The others ended up being punchlines in jokes and funny stories.
I mention this because I have met some of my heroes, and I have been sorely disappointed each time, but in some weird sense, the disappointment that I have felt has been lessened with each chance meeting, and in the realm of the automotive, the disappointment I have felt after each test drive of the hero's automobile, the musclecars, the sports cars, and race cars of legend, yes, it was kind of hurtful, but less and less as each meeting came and went.
My wife met two amazing people: One Bill Cosby, and one Jane Goodall. One ended up being perhaps one of the most evil villains in showbiz history...and the other has accomplished some groundbreaking things in the world of Chimpanzee research...and in other unrelated fields as well.
In the end, everyone has to wear pants. And make farty noises. And use a toilet. They're just like us, but we've built them up into something else psychologically.
Enter the 2013 Ford Mustang Boss 302. My automotive hero.
SOME HISTORY. OKAY, A SHORT HISTORY.
The Mustang Boss 302 was Ford's answer to creating a street-going version of their Trans-Am series race car for the 1969 model year. Chevrolet had the Z-28 Camaro, Pontiac had an actual...Trans-Am that was build out of a base-model Firerbird, and other manufacturers had...well, whatever they had.
It almost wasn't going to be, as during the internal competition within Ford Motor Company concerning what their street-going Trans-Am Mustang was going to look like, one of the top two candidates was the SR-2, which was short for Sedan Racing...2 times as boring as any other names that anyone else could come up with.
The other primary, in-house competition for the exclusive title was led by one Larry Shinoda, a former designer with General Motors, brought over with GM president Bunkie Knudsen when he left General Motors and defected to Ford in 1968.
Shinoda was thinking...Boss, which was a popular saying at this time in the 1960's. It is noted that he came up with this name to make his 'boss' happy (Bunkie), but I interviewed Larry for a college paper in 1994 (I actually talked to him for four hours instead of the original, planned-for 20 minutes, and lost a job in the process...and it was worth it), and his story at the time was...because 'Boss' was a popular catch phrase, think 'bad ass' but in cleaner terms.
In essence, it's basically 'Bad-Ass 302', but for a family audience.
His version was radically different than the SR2, in that it had 7-inch-wide wheels (which terrified the bean counters), F60 x15 tires (the widest ever fitted to a Ford up until that time), a functional sport slat rear window shade (brought over from a Chevrolet show car), filled-in fake brake scoops behind the doors (a feature that would show up in all 1970 Mustangs), front spoiler, rear decklid spolier, and attractive and reflective C-shaped side stripes which carried the 'Boss 302' logo, and host of other options. Here is a late prototype image of the finished car below, with the correct wheels (there would be two options of Magnum 500 wheel, black centers, as seen here, and argent/silver versions):
The basic chassis engineering was already done to turn it into one of the best-handling cars of this era, in that it was also the first prototype that was considered to be fast enough that all test drivers insisted on putting on firesuits before driving it. It cornered so hard that the shock towers had to be strengthened to prevent the upper control arms from pulling through.
Although it had some teething problems early on (due to a batch of badly-engineered pistons), it enjoyed moderate success, as at least 500 had to be produced for the car to be legal to run in Trans-Am racing. Some 1300+ Boss 302's were produced for 1969, and 499 produced for 1970, with 1970 being the last year of this car, having been replaced with the one-year-only, best of all Mustangs for 1971, the Boss 351. The Boss disappeared from the Mustang lineup after that
A BIT OF RACING HISTORY.
Two teams were chosen to fly Ford's banner for the 1969 Trans-Am season: Bud Moore Engineering, and Carroll Shelby, during his last active year with Ford.
These cars were extensively modified to run in the Trans-Am series, with some proper cheating thrown in for good measure (the nose was illegally tilted downward towards the front a bit for improved aerodynamics, among other things), and a nasty, 450+ horsepower 302ci engine (with the legendary Cleveland-style, canted-valve cylinder heads), running a pair of Holley 1050cfm Dominator carburetors on top was also utilized for the 1969 season.
If you're having trouble imagining what two 'Dominators' would look like, just walk into your bathroom at home, raise the lid on the toilet, and there you go.
Now imagine two of those dumping fuel and air into a race engine. That's pretty much your standard Holley Dominator, an average home toilet that runs gasoline through it instead of water, and it's a bit more precise in how much fuel it dumps into the engine.
1970 would see rules changes that brought the carburetor count down to only one measly 1050 Dominator.
A few races were won in 1969, but a disaster of a race in St. Jovite somehow ended up wiping out almost all of the factory-effort Boss Mustangs. A Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 driven by one Mark Donohue (a story for another time) would end up winning the championship.
1970 would see Carroll Shelby's Boss team gone, and one Parnelli Jones winning the Trans-Am championship while driving a Bud Moore Engineering Boss 302 Mustang. Ford would slash 75% of all their racing budget that year, and Mark Donohue then won 8 races during the next Trans-Am season...in an AMC Javelin of all things.
Oh, and by the way? A Boss 302 also won a NASCAR race, although NASCAR disputes the results, which happened during the 1971 Myers Brothers 250, where Bobby Allison won the event...in a Boss 302 Mustang. A Boss 302 almost won Talladega in 1969 as well, but an engine failure cost Smokey Yunick's driver the win.
THE BOSS 302 RACE CAR OF GENIUS TEAM OWNER SMOKEY YUNICK, RIGHT OUTSIDE KAR KRAFT, THE OUTSIDE CONTRACTOR THAT MODIFIED THESE MUSTANGS FOR USE IN THE 1969 AND 1970 TRANS-AM SERIES. IMAGE COURTESY OF PINTEREST.COM
WHERE I COME IN TO THE PICTURE.
The 1969 Mustang Boss 302 race car has been my favorite for my entire teenaged and adult life., and for a number of reasons. Those reasons are:
1. I ACTUALLY FIT IN ONE.
This is huge for me...both metaphorically, and literally. I've attempted to climb into more than a few road race cars throughout my few decades of existence, and there are only a few cars that I can squeeze into. Yes, I'm a bit overweight, but fat people drive race cars all the time. My particular curse is simply having a skeleton that's both wide, and also has a long torso, so if my left shoulder doesn't rest against a window or a roll bar, my seated height is also something of a killer, as my head hits the roof of almost every car that I've ever driven.
Open-wheel cars, nope. NASCAR stock cars, no way. Most other sports cars? I'm simply not cut out to fit into most race cars. I'm too short for the National Basketball Association, and I'm too tall for most race cars. If there is a God, he's more than likely laughing at me while I type this.
The Boss 302 is the one exception. I fit. Oh yeah.
2. THIS CAR IS MY BLUE-COLLAR HERO.
At one point, I could have possibly possessed the funds to build one. It's still within my reach. The drivers of these race cars did amazing things, all utilizing parts that were modified versions of pieces that were available on regular production cars. IF I ever got around to building a race car to go and have some fun with...this is it. It's simple, it's easy to work on, and if prices on crappy Mustangs that would be horrible to make street cars out of but perfect to build one to race in would someday get back down to a not-ridiculous level, I just might get around to doing that.
All that aside, this is the car that I see me...driving.
3. THIS IS THE CLOSEST I WILL EVER GET TO AUTOMOTIVE GODHOOD.
I am forever cut off from racing competitively in a large number of race series.
A. I don't have the budget.
B. Remember, I don't fit in most cars.
C. I have kind of gotten a bit too old for some racing series out there, but I could still race a Trans-Am car. Seriously.
This is reachable Godhood. This is as far as I want to go in an actual race car. I don't need anything that's faster, turns quicker, or kills you more spectacularly. This is it. I'll probably die in one the first time I ever make it out onto a track in one of these cars, but I don't really care, because behind all of the screaming like a little girl that I'll do right as I'm about to hit a wall, underneath it all I'll be the happiest man alive, driving the one race car that simply fits me perfectly in all things literal and metaphorical.
In the end, for whatever reason, this particular car just sticks with me.
The street-going version, however, not so much. Weird, isn't it?
MY BRUSH WITH PERCEIVED GODHOOD APPEARS OUT OF THIN AIR.
The 2013 Mustang Boss 302 that's at the top of this article popped into my existence yesterday while at work...and for whatever reason, I was told to take it on a looooong test drive. I don't even work on cars any longer professionally, as I'm...a parts guy.
This was the chance of a lifetime, in that I've never driven either a street-going or track-going Boss 302. I've driven a lot of other Mustangs...and have owned eight...but none with this level of pedigree.
The 2013 Boss 302 was a worthy rebirth of the original Boss, manufactured for the 2012 and 2013 model years, and was an option package upgrade from the regular Mustang GT.
It came in the basic Boss package...as how my particular tester was equipped...and the Laguna Seca edition, which was really more of a track car that had turn signals and a few other options to make it road-legal. You needed little more than additional safety equipment to create a functioning track day masterpiece out of the Laguna Seca edition Boss 302.
They both had the same nasty 5.0 liter Coyote DOHC V8, which was modified by Ford to produce 444 horsepower and 380 ft/lbs of torque. This particular factoid will become important later on.
444 SAVAGE, MASS-PRODUCED HORSEPOWER. AND NO, THIS PICTURE DOES NO JUSTICE IN SHOWING JUST HOW MASSIVE THIS ENGINE IS FROM A PHYSICAL SIZE STANDPOINT, AS IT'S STUPID HUGE. CRAPPY PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR.
HOW ABOUT I JUST SHUT UP AND DRIVE IT ALREADY?
This is how the car first appeared to me:
DID ANYONE ASK FOR A CROWD MISSILE? ONE CROWD MISSILE, COMING UP! IT'S EVEN THE RIGHT COLOR. CRAPPY PHOTOGRAPHY BY THE AUTHOR.
...And this is me opening the door....
RECARO SEATS. NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART...OR THE WIDE OF ASS. PHOTOGRAPHY...IF YOU CAN CALL IT THAT...IS COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR.
...And this is what the steering wheel and the dash look like..
...And of course here's the grinning idiot that's about to drive it:
NOT SOMEONE YOU'D WANT TO KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR DINNER PLATE WHILE YOU RUN TO THE KITCHEN. JUST LOOK AT THIS GUY, HE'S PROBABLY GOING TO START CHEWING ON THE STEERING WHEEL IF HE DOESN'T EAT SOMETHING. PICTURE BY THE AUTHOR. AND YES, I'M HAPPY.
...and that was it, I was in a street-going representation of my dream Mustang, which I initially felt was a better approximation of the 1969 Boss 302 race car than the street version ever was, as this car has a real 444hp versus the original car's gross hp rating of 290.
The first thing I noticed: Remember my mentioning the 444 horsepower, way back in scene 24? Yeah, this car is a bit more throwback to the original big block musclecar versus the Mustang's origin back in the early days of the ponycar wars. Big-block musclecars are a bit touchy in parking lots...and everywhere else, unless you exhibit a bit of throttle control, and this is what the Boss immediately reminded me of, the very last big block car I ever owned, a certain 1970 Torino Cobra, and for whatever reason, I seem to recall the Torino being easier to drive.
If you want to ever do a modern recreation of the famous Bullitt chase scene, paint this beast Highland Green, and be prepared for one hell of a chase, where the Mustang has to slow down in order to keep from rear-ending the slower modern Charger.
Concerning ease of driving, this is not your mother's Toyota Camry where you can pin the gas and have some fun in parking lots, alleys, and tight city streets, or better yet, James May's Dacia Sandero. With the Boss, if you twitch the gas the wrong way, you're into another car, a light pole, on top of a house, or like so many other Mustangs before it, directly into crowd of people who want to see the Mustang in question shoot into a crowd of people, but they always think that it's going to happen to that 'other' crowd...and not them. Cue the screams of the injured.
Second: Driveline backlash. I'm having a bit of trouble recalling this much popping and banging around under an S197-chassis Mustang (2005-2014). I've driven other Mustangs from this era, this one had a few miles on it, but it was, once again, just like I had climbed into a race car straight from 1969...and it simply had a modern body and interior thrown at it. Yes, I want a race car Boss 302...but not something that attempts to project the illusion of being a street car...when it isn't.
Once I settled into the drive...the novelty soon began wearing off. It was also at this point where something else began to gnaw at me, something that I felt was terribly wrong, but I couldn't figure out what it was at that time.
I would like to get back to the engine at this point, because while it's a truly amazing piece of engineering, especially considering that it's a Ford Motor Company product, and it's producing (at the time) 444hp out of a naturally-aspirated, five-liter engine...the problem is that the supporting cast was all completely out of whack with the powerplant that was under the hood.
The biggest culprit..and the most dangerous device in the car...other than the engine...is the drive-by-wire throttle system. It's been touted as one of the great engineering achievements of the automotive age, and I'm sure that it is as great as everyone makes it out to be...but not in this car.
The main problem: When you instantly try to decelerate.
Remember my mentioning that you can't play with this car in tight spaces like you could with a Toyota Camry? The crappy, Ford-engineered, drive-by-wire tuning hangs for a moment or two to allow the wildly-spinning, belt-driven accessories on the front of the engine to slow down at a gradual pace, instead of instantly dropping off RPM like an old carbureted car. You can primarily thank our near-sexual need for huge piles of on-board consumer electronics and accessories for this problem, as modern vehicles have to run huge, high-amperage alternators to keep the electronics going, and the battery charged.
A lot of rotational energy is stored in large, belt-driven accessories, and you create huge squeals from the protesting drive belt as it attempts to quickly slow down everything to match with an instant RPM drop from the engine, which is why the throttle only slowly closes with this quickly-revving five-liter Boss engine, as you stand a good chance of ripping off an accessory or two if you lift off of the gas while spinning at 6000 rpm.
Once again, the horsepower is the problem with this late-hanging drive-by-wire tuning, as a hanging throttle isn't much of a problem for the low-powered Toyota Camry, or anything with an automatic transmission for that matter (The 2012-2013 Boss 302's are manual-transmission only), but a bit of a frightening situation to be confronted with if you decided to want to blip the throttle in a parking lot...and the car continues violently accelerating for another second or two after you've lifted off of the loud pedal.
I know it's designed that way, but it makes driving the car around general population that much more nerve-wracking, simply because you get the feeling that the car's throttle is going to stick open at any time, and launch you into something. Also makes me wonder if this might not be the problem behind so many of the cars becoming crowd missiles.
Try as I might, however, this isn't what turned me off to driving...and possibly owning this car.
THE HILLS ARE ALIVE WITH THE SOUND OF...EXHAUST?
A considerable amount of effort was exerted in giving the 2012 and 2013 Boss 302 a unique engine exhaust experience. These cars come with sidepipes that allow, to some degree, the ability for the owner to tune the way the car sounds through the smaller sidepipes that branch off from the main exhaust. Here's an image of the exhaust system in question:
Brilliant idea, as you can remove baffles from the two side pipes...and it's open, glorious exhaust.
Or at least I think that's what the general idea was, because the one I drove had the baffles removed...and it sounded like...well...shit.
This was the problem that was nagging me the entire time I drove the car, it sounded like an an engine that was running while under one hundred meters of water, literally like an old Boss 302 race car that was drowning and screaming for help through its exhaust system until it ran out of air. Blurbblurbleburlbleblurrble.
This is the problem with running multiple catalytic convertors in the exhaust system, and the car's parent company hasn't spent the money to get them to sound right, they act like horribly-tuned resonators, and end up destroying the absolutely beautiful, almost angelic sound quality that is present in so many pre-emissions internal combustion engines.
And this one sounded the worst of them all.
I know that this is a modern reinterpretation of the original Boss 302, and therein lies the problem, in that it's merely that, a reinterpretation. Imagine having a talented group of twenty-something-year-old mechanical engineers grouped together for the task of designing a modern-day version of a world-famous Ponycar, in this case, the Boss 302.
Now imagine that they've never seen one before, and never heard one before, but were given a current Mustang body to start with, and went from that starting point.
But what do you do if you're asked to recreate a car that you've never seen or heard? You either find one and go from that, or...you find people that used to own them, drive them, and race them. You know exactly who I'm talking about, concerning experts who drove them back when they were new...these are today's elderly generation, with memories that no longer function all that well.
That's what the modern Boss 302 is, a confused retelling of an elderly person's experiences. He thinks it might have sounded this way, ran this way, and accelerated this way...and it's not quite the way that it originally happened.
That's the one thing that Ford nailed with this car, the acceleration, because it's really too quick for any serious street duty, but out on a dedicated track, there's very little that will keep up with you.
Everything else, however, just like the exhaust note, it was a series of muddled remembrances. A fine effort, but Ford tripped within sight of the finish line, as the car's many faults just kill the experience that you're supposed to enjoy while driving this almost-magnificent piece of Ford Motor Company engineering.
I drove a 300 horsepower, 2008 Mustang GT directly afterwards, and noticed how much easier it was to drive practically...everywhere. Yes, it gets its ass handed to it by the Boss...you always get your ass handed to you by the Boss...but so far as what I'd rather have parked in my driveway, yes, the 2008 is slower, but at least it actually looks like the Boss that the 2013 Boss 302 was supposed to emulate...and doesn't.
That could be considered the final Achilles' Heel in doing modern reinterpretations of long-dead vehicles, in that you're trying to recreate something that was designed and built in a completely-different era, and gathered together under an entirely-different set of rules, demands, and needs. You can't ever do an honest recreation of the magic that was captured over forty years before this car was built, as nothing from the original car remains, other than it has doors, wheels, tires, seats, and a basic drivetrain. And all of this was meant to recapture a time in which hardly anyone remembers, and wasn't a particularly good sales success for Ford, as they only sold less than two thousand Boss 302's over the two years in which they were manufactured.
Perhaps we need to let the past go and simply let the Mustang stand on its own, instead of recreating long-dead chapters to a barely-remembered history...because this particular Boss 302 did a horrible job of nailing the essence of what was the original car. Can we not come up with new and unique option packages?
The original street car was a well-balanced fighter that did everything really well...for the time, anyway. This brute is the overpowered superhero that you constantly have to be on your guard around, because if he ever starts talking about fishing trips and using his hands to show you just how big those fish were that he caught, if you aren't standing at least ten feet away, there's a good chance that he whips his hands up to demonstrate the fish's size, he connects with your head, and you wind up with a pulped cranium, or get knocked through a series of walls like you're falling to your death from a great height...horizontally.
The Boss 302 is that clumsy, overpowered superhero.