Overview: Large and in Charge
Ford is taking its Mustang line-up back to the future with a no-apologies sport-performance heritage model. It’s not an “Apprentice.” It’s not a “Manager.” It’s the Boss. Specifically, it’s the 2012 Mustang Boss 302 that comes with a beastly 444-hp., 302 cubic inches, and a 5.0-liter street-legal dose of V8 adrenaline. Hold onto your hair, Donald Trump, it’ll blow your head back to the Recaro racing seats!
We drove the new model recently at the Dallas International Motor Speedway and can attest to Ford’s claims about its attitude. It gets the job done. You’re Hired!
Part of a Close-Knit Family
Although technically part of the Mustang lineup that includes the sporty GT and an additional, even more aggressive 302 version, the rigidly tuned, made-for-the-track Boss 302 Laguna Seca special package, which – racing buffs may recall -- is named for the track where Parnelli Jones won the 1970 Trans-Am season opener in a Boss 302.
So why bring the Boss back now? Mustang chief engineer Dave Pericak puts it simply: Ford wanted to offer Mustang aficionados “something really special.” And we’re betting there was just a little bit of skin in the game. As Ford Group VP of Global Product Development Derrick Kuzak says, the team wanted to create a Mustang that could “top one of the world’s best – the 2010 BMW M3.”
And, according to lap times so far at Laguna Seca, they’ve done it.
Back to the Future
The roots of Ford’s newest muscle machine go back 42 years, when the Blue Oval’s management team green-lighted an unprecedented experiment in sheer power: the original Mustang Boss 302. That model, the 1969 Mustang Boss 302, is still revered as one of the poster-above-the-bed dream models of American sports car aficionados.
From 1969 to 1970, Ford offered 302 and 429 versions of the Mustang Boss; the 351s were Trans-Am ready and offered a small-block V-8 and high-rev tuning. Tweaked for blisteringly-fast acceleration, 429s were designed as NASCAR contenders. In addition to these progenitors to the 2012 Boss, a 351 model was offered in 1971 on a larger body.
There’s no mincing words: this horse loves to run and we loved to drive it. Its 3,631 pounds of mass move swiftly, motivated by a 5-liter V-8 that delivers 444 horsepower and 380 lb.-ft. of torque. Camshafts have a more aggressive grind and are actuated with twin independent variable camshaft timing, the same that’s used in the Mustang GT. A short-throw six-speed manual transmission is matched to the motor.
Packing all this performance into a vehicle that would also pass durability testing (i.e., a block that could last 150,000 miles) posed an interesting challenge for the Ford team. According to Ford V-8 Engine Program Manager, the group had to actually redesign its testing processes in order to meet the same quality standards as the street-friendly Mustang GT V-8 (the Boss 302’s engine is built in Ontario, Canada, alongside this V-8).
Our ride was the Mustang Boss 302, with the Laguna Seca Package. We drove it on the half-mile oval track, as well as on the track’s perimeter roads. A curve-hugging ride, hair-trigger acceleration and a performance growl are the sports car clichés that came to life. The base suspension, based on the GT’s already highly-strung design, has higher-rate coil springs, stiffer suspension bushings and a larger-diameter rear stabilizer bar, while the Laguna Seca version is set up with special rear springs and stabilizer bar; a rear brace to enhance rigidity, and a Torsen helical differential, making a stiffer ride, but keeping the back end planted in corners. The chassis also has been lowered 11 millimeters in front and 1 millimeter in the rear- a small measure, but it helps the Boss hug the track more closely.
Coolest part of the new suspension system? A five-setting shock adjustment, which lets drivers choose the firmness of the road feel. Level one is the softest, but it’s far from squishy; level five is rigid for racing-quality handling.
Wheels and tires are customized for the Boss, with staggered sizes for front and rear. Lightweight 19-inch black alloy racing wheels are 9 inches wide in front and 9 .5 inches wide in back; similarly, the Pirelli PZero tires are slightly bigger in back than in front to keep the pony’s feet planted firmly on the ground. Laguna Seca versions get unique 19-inch painted aluminum wheels and R-compound tires, for improved grip at higher speeds.
Electronic stability and traction control (ESC and TCS) are standard. In front, four-piston Brembo calipers are matched to 14-inch vented rotors, while 11.8-in., vented rotors with single-piston calipers are matched to rear wheels. Track package versions get front brake cooling ducts. ABS is standard.
If Cars Wore Power Suits…
Look at the Mustang Boss 302 and you’ll think ripped muscle. A familiar, wide front grille wraps around to scooped-out sides and neatly-carved wheel wells. Broad shoulders and a smooth curve from A-pillar to C-pillar illustrate its track-worthy aerodynamics.
In front, the splitter reduces underbody drag and improves cooling; the rear spoiler complements the look of the front and helps reduce drag overall; more aggressive versions take on the job for the track version.
The roof can be ordered as either black or white, coordinated with the exterior paint color and c-stripe, which is standard on all Boss models, as are Boss-specific paint accents and badging.
Boss: The Experience
Inside the vehicle, a metallic instrument cluster and door trim are like the clean-lined desk of a modern, no-nonsense CEO. Cloth seats with faux suede inserts are designed for comfort in action, not sumptuous ease – think executive Aeron office chair, not lounge leather sectional. An all-suede steering wheel is exclusive to the Boss lineup, and the pool-cue shifter ball is a cool touch. Laguna Seca models are “rear-seat delete” and get Ford racing track gauges and a gauge pod, plus torso-bolstering Recaro buckets; the seats are an option on the base model.
Reducing interior noise from the road and engine is paramount in most passenger cars these days – not so for Ford’s new Mustang. Like a high-powered exec at the center of a Wall Street trading room, Boss drivers are surrounded by a higher level of exterior feedback thanks to the removal of 11 pounds of noise-reducing material from the car’s interior. In other words, this car is made for driving, not conversation.
There aren’t a lot of comfort and convenience options offered on this pure-play racer, but base model buyers can order add-ons to enhance the track experience.
Unique is the option of a software package dubbed TracKey, which can be installed by an authorized Ford dealer. Activated by a red key (the standard Boss key is black), it unleashes the Boss’s full-on racetrack mode by altering more than 200 engine management parameters such as fuel control and low-end torque delivery.
Mustang Boss 302 drivers receive a complimentary performance bonus: training through the Boss Track Attack program, currently scheduled at Miller Motorsports Park in Toole, Utah. Led by trainers from Ford Racing and Team Mustang, the program includes “Boss immersion”, driving instruction and track time alongside engineers and racers.