Where it began…I can’t begin to knowing. With thanks to Neil Diamond, Ford chose the World’s Fair in New York for the public debut of its then all-new Mustang. And just as Brooklyn’s Neil Diamond was climbing the charts, Ford was establishing the Mustang as (arguably) the decade’s automotive icon, with its sales success almost matched by its wins at the track.
Five years later, in an attempt to keep the mojo going Ford asked designer Larry Shinoda to create bodywork and graphics that would differentiate the new-for-‘69 Mustang Boss 302 visually from its lesser Mustang brethren, while the platform team created a drivetrain and suspension designed to make this new iteration, in the words of Ford’s Bunkie Knudsen, the “best-handling street car available on the American market.” That they succeeded is supported by Trans Am wins with the race version. Forty years later, those Boss Mustangs produced in 1969 and 1970 are regarded as Ford’s performance sweet spot of that unrestricted decade.
At approximately the same time as Ford was introducing its new Boss, Diamond was recording Sweet Caroline. And as Diamond’s lyric became the anthem of the seventh-inning stretch Ford’s newest Boss 302 – for 2012 – signals the last innings for this particular platform. Having been introduced in the 2005 model year, the Mustang enters its 8th inning – and 48th season – as both aging ponycar and an aggressively freshened take on the muscle car. If you’re looking for muscle (here we’re channeling Elvis…) you’ve come to the right place.
With the revised 2011 Mustang serving as its base, virtually everything gets massaged to create the ’12 Boss. Using BMW’s M3(!) as its performance target, the Mustang team reengineered the platform from grille to taillights, with equal emphasis given to horsepower and handling. Of course, first you have to add horsepower to a Mustang V8 already delivering 412 horses. The focus was on high rpm power, accomplished via a new intake manifold, revised camshafts and more aggressive control calibration. The end result is 444 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque, with absolutely no evidence of less-than-stellar street demeanor.
The clutch gets upgraded, and those 444 horses are delivered to the rear axle via a short-throw, close-ratio 6-speed. While the power goes to the rear, the sound – both intake and exhaust – simply envelops you in an aural, fuel-induced rhapsody. This is the way God intended a domestic V8 to sound; if you don’t believe before the first drive, you’ll believe by the first tankful of gas – or 100 miles (whichever comes first).
Five-way adjustable shocks allow drivers to dial in exactly how much track capability they prefer. And – as Ford notes – the Boss team eschewed the complexity of electronics, using instead a flat-head screwdriver to adjust both front and rear. (It’s so simple an autowriter could do it.) In combination with a lowered ride height in front, a retuned electronic steering system, a traction control system unique to the Boss and ESC settings designed to maximize performance, the 3,600 pound Boss becomes simply an extension of your on-road or on-track needs and desires.
Inside, our test Boss 302 benefited from the Recaro buckets/Torsen limited slip option, which runs roughly the same ($1,995) as 500 gallons of premium unleaded. The Recaros make getting in and out a tad more difficult, but repay the favor by supplying supreme lateral support for track days along with a reasonably comfortable perch for daily driving. We can’t imagine having a Boss without them, begging the question: Why not build them into the base MSRP?
The Boss’ base price of just over $40K has to constitute one of the stellar buys in this relatively new century. And having driven a Shelby GT350 convertible during the summer, I’d again advise the MBAs working for Carroll to redo their numbers, as an $80K Shelby makes absolutely no numerical sense when compared to a Boss selling for just over half that amount. To be sure, our ‘Performance White’ Boss was relatively anonymous when compared to the hot red Shelby droptop, but people-in-the-know (other Mustang owners) had no problem identifying Ford’s Boss for what it was – and what it can do.
With some 4,000 scheduled for production Boss prospects can probably avoid the over-sticker mentality often incubating within the dealer mindset. That said, we’d raise our own hands sooner rather than later; driving the Boss is so much more entertaining than simply thinking about the Boss (or, uh, reading about the Boss). We’ll again rely on Mr. Diamond for the close: Good times never seemed so good…
2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302, specifications and prices, as tested
Base price: $40,145
* Recaro Sport Seats and TORSEN Differential: $1,995
* Destination and Delivery: $850
* Type: 5.0 liter DOHC V8
* Displacement, cc: 4,951
* Block/head material: aluminum/aluminum
* Horsepower: 444 hp @ 7,400 rpm
* Recommended fuel: unleaded premium 91 octane
* Fuel economy, EPA est.: 17/26 mpg city/highway
Transmission: 6-speed close-ratio manual
* Suspension, front/rear: Independent MacPherson strut/Three-link solid axle
* Wheels: 19 X 9-inch front/19 X 9.5-inch rear aluminum alloy
* Tires: 255/40R-19 front/285/35R-19 rear
* Brakes: 4-wheel disc; 14.0 inch dia. front/11.8 inch dia. rear
* Steering: rack-and-pinion with electric power assist
* Turning circle: 39.4 feet
* Wheelbase: 107.1 inches
* Length: 188.1 inches
* Height: 55.1 inches
* Width: 73.9 inches
* Curb weight: 3,632 pounds
* Trunk volume: 13.4 cubic feet
* Fuel tank: 16 gallons