Tom Wilson
March 2, 2012
Buy a Boss 302 and you get a spectacular street car, plus a fabulous turnkey open-track car. Here we are turning in to Turn 1 at Willow Springs, toward the end of braking from 135 to 86 mph and well-ramped into the 0.99g cornering load. The antenna is still slightly bowed from the speed, the Race Keeper video camera is capturing the forward view from the roof, and the Pirelli race rubber is nicely balanced in this transitional moment.

During an interview for our August 2011 issue Mike Harrison, the man in charge of both the Coyote and RoadRunner 5.0-liter V-8s, said the goal of the Boss 302 program “was to have the street car get a legitimate race car engine…”

You can bet that raised an editorial eyebrow.

It was the same story from the chassis engineers. They were building a track-ready car; an enthusiast’s dream machine that could go from parade lap to hot lap without so much as torquing a lug nut. But just to make sure, Ford Racing prepped the Boss 302S and Boss 302R to secure Ford’s bragging rights in World Challenge and Grand Am racing.

Here we are almost a year after those interviews, with thousands of Boss 302s prowling the streets and Boss 302S and Rs winning races. Those race cars are amazingly similar to the street cars, so much so that when newly crowned 2011 World Challenge GTS champion Paul Brown agreed to show us his Boss 302S at Willow Springs Raceway, we had to bring a Boss 302 street car along for comparison. We were, you can be sure, wanting to live the Ford engineers’ dream.

In case the four Boss 302s Ford sells are a little murky, it starts with the familiar Boss 302 and two-seat only Boss 302 Laguna Seca street cars, backed by the Boss 302S and Boss 302R race cars for World Challenge and Grand Am racing, respectively.

The Laguna Seca, you may recall, dispenses with the back seat, has stickier tires, a front-end splitter, its own suspension tune, and a real secret weapon in the Torsen limited-slip differential. The standard Boss 302 comes with a back seat and its own (arguably better) suspension tuning, but importantly, can be optioned with the Torsen differential like the Laguna Seca.

Going into this test, we had quickly sampled both the regular Boss and the Laguna Seca street cars at Ford press events; just enough to get a feel for their suspension differences but certainly not the same as taking one home and living with it on the street for a few days.

The differences between the S and R race cars are not huge and are driven by the rules in their respective racing classes. Both cars are built for Ford Racing from bodies in white—the 302S by Watson Engineering in Taylor, Michigan, and the 302R primarily by Multimatic in Markham, Ontario, Canada. Both racing Bosses receive rollcages and production Boss engines (with unique Ford Racing oil pans), Ford Racing wiring harnesses, and computer with custom calibration for race fuel.

Of course, the suspension bushings, springs, shocks, and anti-sway bars are higher rate racing parts. As expected, the stock electric steering remains, albeit with a custom calibration. The front brakes are upgraded to Brembo racing bits and cooled with ducts. Bodywork changes as seen on Paul’s car are limited to a heavily louvered hood, larger front splitter and a rear wing, all supplied by G-Stream, a company Paul co-founded with fellow racer Dave Martis.

In short, the Boss 302S and R are race-prepped Boss 302 street cars. While built up from bodies in white, that is simply a cost-saving tactic; you’d end up in the same place if you modified a running Boss 302 with the same pieces.

In fact, that is exactly what Paul Brown’s Boss 302S is. Because the Ford Racing cars would not be available until well after the 2011 World Challenge season was underway, Paul welded up his own Boss 302S at his Tiger Racing shop in Covina, California. Consider Paul’s car something of a prototype, as it was built with the cooperation of Ford Racing so that he could completely contest the 2011 World Challenge TC championship. And since he won that championship, we’re pretty sure Ford Racing is glad they did.