Dial your odometer back to 1969, one of the most contentious years in the battle between the original ponycars, the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang. By that year, Ford president Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen had poached designer Larry Shinoda from General Motors to massage the design that would house the Mustang's GT40-derived, 290-horsepower V-8. The displacement limit in the SCCA Trans Am series was 5.0 liters, which stoked the fire with the General's rival Camaro Z/28 coupe. American collective memory, however, would remember it as the 302, the cubic-inch figure that gave rise to the Boss 302 Mustang.
It was built for the track, with serious anti-roll bars, front disc brakes, and the ability to sprint to 60 in six seconds flat. But Knudsen, formerly of GM, ordered a version be built for mass consumption as a way to smoke Camaro drivers at stoplights. His dictum? "Make it absolutely the best-handling street car available on the American market!" Though the Boss lost to the Roger Penske's Trans Am Camaro team in '69, it took the trophy one year later with Parnelli Jones behind the wheel. The 302, known for its awesome power and sound, as well as Shinoda-designed tape graphics that set it apart from mere Mustangs, had taken its place in the pantheon of ponycars.
This resurrection of the storied Boss nomenclature is no mere graphics package or marketing ploy. The Mustang team channeled the spirit of that original project to create a true racecar for the road, employing a holistic approach that enhanced, upgraded, lightened and optimized the whole car for the purpose of vanquishing its archrival on race circuits like Laguna Seca. Oh, and that rival? Ford is no longer sparring with the Camaro. It's gunning for BMW's M3.
On paper, the cooking-grade Mustang GT with the Brembo Brake package looks M3-competitive in terms of raw numbers. To improve the odds of its live-axle pony in a full-on track attack, Ford further enhanced the chassis by raking it, lowering the front by 0.4 inch and the rear by 0.04 inch, and fitting old-school, five-position adjustable shocks and struts. Damping alterations are made using a screwdriver on the top of the rod from under the hood and in the trunk, as one did on the Gabriel shocks back in '69/'70. Position 1 is softer than the stock GT, 2 mimics the stock GT, and 3 to 5 are progressively sharper. The electric power steering can be adjusted for three levels of assist from the instrument cluster menu. Traction, stability, and anti-lock control systems are also reprogrammed for the Boss's track-star mission. Special lightweight 19-inch wheels shod in Pirelli PZero summer rubber frame the same 14.0-inch Brembo front/stock 11.8-inch rear brakes, equipped with Boss-tuned friction materials and special vented brake shields. Even the flexible brake lines have been reinforced so they expand 30 percent less than the GT's, to preserve a reassuringly firm brake-pedal feel. While the principal improvement is meant to be in fade resistance and pedal feel, stopping distances from 60 mph are said to shrink by three feet. On the skidpad, Ford claims the Boss is the first non-SVT Mustang to exceed 1.0g lateral grip.
Modifications under the hood are modest, but effective. A new variable-runner-length intake manifold, and new cams controlled by the same variable timing mechanism, conspire to broaden the torque curve and boost power output from 412 to 440 hp, while peak torque actually drops from 390 to 380. But even better than how it goes is how it sounds. Removing 11 pounds of sound deadening material and a retuning of the GT's "sound tube" (which works like a speaker broadcasting induction vibes at the firewall), admit plenty of intake music. A true quad-exhaust takes care of the rest, but we're not talking about four chrome tips out the back. This setup sends most of the exhaust through the typical dual exhaust system, but two additional pipes positioned opposite the crossover pipe lead to just ahead of the rear tires, sending a small amount of exhaust through a series of metal plates. They're mainly tuning elements, but they result in a unique aural experience, and the plates can be removed and replaced with aftermarket exhaust-dump valves for racing when no muffling is required -- or desired.
The power flows aft through a racing-style clutch with upgraded friction materials to a close-ratio six-speed manual, topped by a short-throw shifter, and on back to your choice of limited-slip differentials spinning 3.73:1 gearing. There's a traditional multi-plate locker with carbon-fiber plates, or a Torsen torque-sensing unit. Expect 0 to 60 times in the very low fours.
To set the Boss apart visually, chief designer Darrell Behmer took inspiration from Shinoda's '69 production car as well as the Bud Moore/Parnelli Jones race cars. The front fascia and grille include blocked-off fog lamp openings and a splitter, which is credited with trimming front lift considerably, cribbed from the Boss 302R racecar. A spoiler in the rear complements the look and aero effect of the front spoiler. Finally, the C-stripe and roof panel are painted white or black to coordinate with the chosen paint color (Competition Orange, Performance White, Kona Blue Metallic, Yellow Blaze Metallic or Race Red). Inside, there's a unique steering wheel wrapped in Alcantara, cloth seats with suede-like inserts for lateral grip, and optional Recaro buckets designed by the Mustang team for the GT500 that come bundled with the Torsen diff.
There will be two models, the totally streetable Boss 302, and the track-optimized Boss 302 Laguna Seca, of which a small run has been planned. When the Boss 302 hits the streets, the gauntlet will be considered thrown down once again, but this time, it's likely not just the Camaro that'll have to step up its game.