Something caught my eye last year while rifling through historic Mustang Boss 302 photographs. It was a striking gold-on-black 1969 Boss 302 Trans-Am car, and it was parked in the driveway of a building marked Kar Kraft. Talk about history -- Kar Kraft essentially served as Ford's performance and race engineering skunkworks for the better portion of the 1960s, and helped develop both the road-going and racing Boss 302s back in the day. I thought it would be fun to hunt that facility down if I ever had a chance to drive a modern Boss, and I finally got a chance when keys to this striking school bus yellow 302 were tossed upon my desk.
If history is any indicator, this may be the last Boss 302 for quite some time. The original debuted in 1969, was restyled in 1970, and then morphed into the Boss 351 for 1971, when the Mustang lineup's styling (and curb weight) seemed inspired by an aircraft carrier. Seeing as last year's Boss 302 stole its stripes from the 1969 model, and this year's version uses the hockey stick stripes from the 1970 model -- well, perhaps we're doomed to repeat history all over again. If the Boss does go quietly into the night, it will be missed, as will its wild graphics; its rev-happy, torque-laden 5.0-literV-8; it's taught-yet-not-painful suspension tuning; and the raucous bark of its exhaust. All of this -- along with the fact I was more or less driving a modern interpretation of the very first toy car I was ever given -- had me grinning ear-to-ear the entire time I had the car.
But perhaps we're not doomed to repeat history. An all-new Mustang is due to arrive in 2014, and unlike the transition from the 1970 to the 1971 cars, it's unlikely to be transformed into a larger, heavier car that ignores handling and performance. We're promised a leaner, meaner Mustang, and independent rear suspension will finally be added to the lineup, and I suspect there will be some trickle-down effect from the Boss cars. Heck, there already is - for a price, you can add the Boss' Recaro seats, Torsen differential, and Brembo brakes to a Mustang GT. The fact that we're seeing more pedestrian Mustang models becoming more handling-oriented suggest that this Boss will have a more lasting impact on the Mustang lineup than any Boss 302 before it.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
It seems there is no better way to attract attention than by driving a school bus yellow car adorned with black racing stripes, especially when said car has an incredibly loud exhaust. An AT&T repair worker even pulled up outside my apartment, left his work van idling, and asked to peer at the Boss 302 while telling me that he owned a 2007 Ford Mustang GT.
Though my colleagues will assert that the Ford Mustang platform has several glaring faults, the Boss 302 is still one of the best sports cars I have ever driven. Yes, the interior looks dated, the steering wheel doesn't telescope, and the rear suspension can occasionally be upset by rough roads. There are certainly better platforms on which to build a sports car than the seven-year-old Mustang chassis. Yet if you can ignore those gripes, you find that the Boss 302 is the best-sorted, most exciting Mustang you can buy from the factory. It all starts with the massaged 5.0-liter V-8, which is not just exceptionally powerful, but also tractable and smooth in everyday driving. The roars and bellows from the exhaust might be worth the car's admission price alone.
This isn't just a straight-line special, however. The Brembo brakes provide solid and instant pedal feel, the stiff suspension keeps the Boss almost totally flat in corners, and the transmission has short, precise throws. The snug-fitting Recaro seats, which are superfluous for street driving but nonetheless supremely comfortable, are worth every penny. The Ford Mustang Boss 302 may have humble roots, but those roots have grown into an outstanding sports car.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
I absolutely love the Boss 302. The changes from a GT to a Boss Mustang are fairly subtle, but really transform the car into something special. As soon as you twist the key and fire up the 5.0-liter V-8 engine, the exhaust note is fierce. It gets even better once you slot the ultra-short-throw Hurst shifter into first gear and accelerate. The real treat, however, comes when it's time to make a turn. This is the best-handling Mustang I have ever driven. It easily out-handles the BMW 3-series and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as an M3. Simply amazing. I cannot understand why anyone would "upgrade" to the GT500 unless they only care about top speed and acceleration numbers. This is definitely the driving enthusiast's Mustang.
The only change the Boss needs in order to make it perfect is to add a telescoping steering column. Everything else about the car is spot-on. You can make an argument that the live axle needs to be replaced with an independent rear suspension, but that's more of an academic discussion, because the suspension tuning is great in the real world. With the live axle, the Boss is very entertaining on the track and you get a sense of accomplishment after turning a good lap. Perhaps the IRS setup that will be used in the next Mustang will yield faster lap times, but it could come at a cost of some driver involvement.
The only other issue is the Boss pricing. A Camaro SS 1LE is essentially equal to the Mustang in all the important performance metrics and it costs thousands less. The Boss, though, looks and feels more unique than the Camaro and it also offers a lot better visibility and much more useful cargo carrying capacity. It's awesome that the pony car wars are back because they have elevated two muscle cars to the level of true sports cars. Now all we need is for Dodge to get serious about the Challenger.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
From the humble V-6 all the way up to the 200-mph Shelby GT500, the modern Mustang lineup delivers a rare blend of performance, fun, and affordability. But in Ford's pony car stable, the Mustang Boss 302 hits the sweet spot within the sweet spot. While you can buy better cars for $45,000, good luck finding one that's this fast, this belligerent, and this fun. On the track, the Boss is a handful, which is exactly why it's so engaging. The tires are sticky enough for fast cornering but also loose enough to allow the rear to slide around at will. I'm also declaring the Boss 302 as the best-sounding production car you can buy today. I love the less polished roar of the Boss: the raw, guttural boom is so loud you'd think it'd be illegal. It's not. When the fun finally ends for the day, you'll drive this Mustang home in amazement at how a car that's so demonic on the track can be so even-tempered on the street.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor