Courtesy of Ford Motor Company
May 20, 2011

Since the late ’60s, Ford has been masterful at building specialty Mustangs.

There’ve been enough late-models alone to make us drool. The SVT Cobra, Cobra R, Bullitt, Mach 1, and Shelby GT500 all have a special place in our hearts. And let’s not forget Ford’s turnkey racecars, the FR500S and Cobra Jet--all are winners. Even the Track Pac V-6 gets 30-plus mpg, can tear up an autocross, and runs high 13s with a tweak or two.

Imagine this--it gets better as Ford introduces yet another specialty model--the 2012 Boss 302.

Meet the new Boss, a track-ready version of the already-potent Mustang GT. And while the ’11 5.0 features world-class refinement, impressive on-track performance, and great styling, the Boss overflows with engineered enhancements normally found on racecars, not OE production models--there is no fluff. If the base GT can run with today’s handling benchmark, BMW’s M3, then the Boss blows it off the map.

"The team at Ford wanted to offer their fellow Mustang enthusiasts something really special," said Chief Mustang Engineer Dave Pericak. "It’s a beautifully balanced factory-built racecar that they could drive on the street. The Boss 302 isn’t something a Mustang GT owner can buy the parts for out of a catalog. This is a front-to-back re-engineered Mustang, with every system designed to make a good driver great and a great driver even better."

A Little History

After a 37-year hiatus, the timing and technology was right for Ford to bring back the Boss. The original Boss 302 Mustangs, first offered in 1969, were designed to dominate in SCCA Trans-Am racing with a high-revving (290hp) small-block V-8 and outstanding road-holding capabilities, said Darrell Behmer, who oversees exterior and interior design at Ford. The package carried over to 1970, when American racing legend Parnelli Jones won the coveted Trans Am championship behind the wheel of a ’70 Boss 302. Ford also built the Boss 429 (Boss-9) but mainly to gain homologation for use in NASCAR. In 1971, its last year, Ford built the Boss 351, a Cleveland-based plant with solid lifters, 330 hp, and gobs of low-rpm grunt.

Be the Boss

For it’s grand re-introduction of the ’12 Boss 302, Ford (not-so-secretly) brought it to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for display. It was a smashing success. Ford then invited us to Monterey, California, for a great road drive, followed by an all-out lapping session at the famed Laguna Seca racetrack, the likes of which is rarely seen at press introductions.

We arrived in Monterey on a cool afternoon and slipped behind the wheel of a Race Red Boss for the first leg of this test. Our jaunt included a spirited cruise up and down the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, a section of road that my driving partner, Hot Rod magazine editor Rob Kinnan, called "one of the best drives in America."

The Boss evoked emotion at first glance--it stirred images of those fantastic Trans Am racers emblazoned with factory stripes, high-winding small-block engines at full song, and legendary race drivers like Parnelli Jones, George Fullmer, and Dan Gurney. I was so anxious, I wanted to jump in and drive--fast--and that we did!

Glued to the supportive Recaro seats, Kinnan and I wheeled the Boss, stretching the wonderful 5.0-liter engine to the 7,500 redline on the twisty mountain roads. Its sound is pure, and loud too, which brings me to speak of the 444hp naturally aspirated work of art.

Not just a re-flashed combo, the Boss is a "modded" blower-free, high-revving solider that is ready to kick and scream for you. It is seriously hot rodded, starting at the top with a revised intake developed on Boss 302R and Daytona Prototype engines. The intake is a runner-in-box design with short, straight runners fed by a common plenum and a throttle body mounted front and center. It feeds CNC-ported heads (which take 2.5 hours to cut) with hollow valves and sodium-filled exhaust valves that are 1mm larger than the base 5.0.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Forged pistons and steel connecting rods with strengthened bolts were also added, as were race-specific engine bearings. The engine is filled with full-synthetic 5W50 oil, and the pan has baffling to keep the oil in place under 1.0g cornering. Redline is raised to 7,500, which is where it makes peak power. There is only a 10 lb-ft drop in torque from the base 5.0 engine.

The core group of engineers understands and respects the heritage of the name and the history behind the original engine, explained V-8 Engine Program Manager Mike Harrison in his English accent. What most people don’t realize is that engine stresses increase exponentially as engine speeds rise. So moving from the GT’s 7,000 redline required significant re-engineering. Sacrificing reliability was never an option.

Our love affair really began in the curves. Each tester was equipped with the Recaro buckets that are standard on the Laguna and optional on the Boss 302, so we didn’t get to try out the standard Boss seats. And while they look nice with the cloth/suede combo with Boss 302 stitched in the seat back you’d be crazy not to order the amazing cloth Recaro buckets that are more befitting of this Stang. The Recaro buckets are similar to the GT500 seats, but with manual adjustment to save weight. While ultra-supportive, they are suitable for the daily commute, a long haul, or the track.

The steering wheel is also to our liking. Wrapped in suede Alcantara, it feels right, especially when you dial in to your favorite of the three steering modes in the speed- sensitive EPAS. Using the IP-mounted controls you can toggle easily from Comfort, Normal, and Sport setting. I liked it best in the Sport mode because it provided the heaviest effort (or feel); with that, I felt most connected.

Due to the attentive police presence (they must have been tipped off) and the fact that we’d soon be on one of the most famous race tracks in America, Kinnan and I saved the best for the track. Nevertheless, I was thrilled with the on-road compliance. The Boss wasn’t harshin fact, on the street, you’d hardly know it was sprung and dampened much differently than a base GT. It was a bit flatter in the curves, but not rough. You could drive one every day.

"We’ve given drivers five settings for their shocks," said Brent Clark, Supervisor of Vehicle Dynamics. "A customer can drive to the track on setting two, and crank it up to four or five for better response on track." The team also opted for race-style, hands-on adjustment done with a small screwdriver. "The suspension has been further refined with higher-rate coil springs (lowered by 11mm at the front and 1mm in the rear), stiffer bushings, and a stiffer rear stabilizer bar. All of which leads to a balanced package that works great on the street or the track."

Laguna Seca

As if the Boss 302 isn’t enough to take in, Ford will offer a second modelthe Boss 302 Laguna Seca. This track-ready version comes standard with stiffer dampers, rear-seat delete with a special X-brace to enhance chassis rigidity, a very aggressive front splitter, larger rear wing, wider rear wheels, and sticker tires. Standard are the Recaro seats, Torsen differential, and brake-cooling ducts.

Since it was my first time to the historic circuit, I spent the first two sessions in the standard Boss learning the intricate corners, including the famous Corkscrew, a blind, rollercoaster-like bend that virtually drops you off a cliff. It is unnerving, to say the least. Still, I drove fast, achieving over 1 g of cornering and braking force on many lapsI know this because one of the cars had complete V-Box data-logging.

Rolling from the pits, I squeezed down on the power and felt those ponies kick in. The black shifter knob fits the theme, but the lever was a touch vague. In contrast, the pedals are placed nicely for heal-toe downshifts, and the brakes have excellent feel and modulation. There is also a nifty gauge package (with a dash-mounted gauge pod on the Laguna) including a 9,000-rpm tach and a 7,500-rpm redline. What’s missing is a shift light to help you keep off the limiter. With such amazing rev ability, there is no indication that the rev limiter is coming because the engine never stops pulling.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

With some heat in the tires and a small understanding of the corners, I pushed the throttle down and the Boss played a wonderful song. It produced radical howl from the intake and a raspy snarl from the enhanced quad exhaust. The Boss system is tuned with pipes similar to the GT with 4-inch tips, but with a pair of unique side exits that dump just ahead of the rear tires. According to Ford, they don’t flow a lot, but they produce a wicked sound. The side pipes are somewhat hidden and feature small baffles, which one engineer told us "can easily fall out when a few bolts are loosened."

Power application is crisp with plenty of torque to get you off the corners even when the revs drop below 4,000. Above 5,500, it’s an animal, ripping right to redline--it even produces a sweet cackle on deceleration. Ford has greatly reduced the understeer commonly found in production Mustangs, which we found favorable. If you want the tail to wag, just drop a gear and apply the throttle.

While we didn’t do timed laps, we pushed and pushed, and the Boss never pushed back. The engine was flawless, as were the brakes and the suspension. Unfortunately, we didn’t have to the time to try altering the five-way adjustable dampers, but Ford assures us there is enough tuning to find perfection on the street or track.

Finally, we slipped into the Laguna Seca version--and, oh baby, what a ride. This low-production model wears, amongst other things, a larger front splitter, larger rear wheels, large brake-cooling ducts, and R-compound 255/40/19-inch Pirelli Corsa competition tires in front and 285/35s in the back. I was blown away with the on-track performance and it’s ability to maintain such good street manners. The tighter dampening does make for a stiffer ride, but it’s livable.

Since we were doing timed laps, I can’t tell you how much quicker the Laguna was, but there was enhanced grip and that gave me more confidence, especially during turn-in and on corner exit. I couldn’t believe how aggressively (and late) I could brake and how early in each corner I could get back to the throttle. The Laguna also benefited from a Torsen differential, which is optional on the standard Boss.

TracKey & Boss Immersion

Each Boss owner will be able to purchase the special TracKey, which literally unlocks amazing potential, and they will be enrolled in the Boss Track Attack program, which includes driving instruction at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah, near Salt Lake City.

Available through Ford dealers, TracKey adds TrackMode powertrain control software, providing full race calibration and two-stage launch control without compromising the factory warranty. No aftermarket re-flash is needed, owners simply start the engine using an alternate Red key and you’re off. We’ve done just about everything possible to give TracKey users a full race-car experience, states Jeff Seaman, Mustang powertrain engineer. It alters over 300 calibration settings, providing, amongst other things, snappier throttle response and a lopey, big-cam idle that will make anyone within ear-shot envious. To be honest, while Ford claims the red TracKey is for track-only use, I’d lose the black key.

"Boss is an absolute blast to drive on the street, but we want owners to experience all the incredible balance, power, and performance engineered into this machine, and the only safe way to do that is to push the car to the limit on a closed course," said Mickey Matus of Ford Racing. Owners will need to make their own travel and lodging arrangements, but once in Utah, the full track experience, including the cars for the event, is courtesy of Ford.

Frankly, Boss has it all! Horsepower--check. Grip--check. Amazing brake--scheck. Racecar feel--check. Save for the rare ’08 GT500KR and the ’11 GT500, I’ve not felt such a high level of on-track performance from a production Mustang ever! Its balance was amazingly neutral no matter which suspension mode I selected. I was able to late-brake and the Pirelli tires dug in with endless grip--both entering and exiting the corners. On track, Boss somehow produces the feel, smells and sounds of a racecar, yet in a civilized manner. You feel as if you are able to push too hard for a street-legal Mustang.

Either model would make a stout daily driver. If you throw a few options at the base Boss, you get close to the MSRP on the Laguna, which is $47,140, and if you consider the exclusivity factor, the Laguna seems like the sweeter deal. But if you don’t like Black or the Ingot Silver Metallic, it could be a deal breaker.

In the end, it’s hard to imagine that Ford, or any other manufacturer, could off so much performance, heritage, and style in a production car for under $50,000. But every emotion in my body tells me I want one not for its collectibility, but because it’s just that good.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Specifications


2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302

Base MSRP:$40,145
Base MSRP Laguna Seca:$47,140
Available Colors: Competition Orange, Performance White, Kona Blue Metallic, Yellow Blaze Metallic Tri-Coat, Race Red
Laguna Seca: Black, Ingot Silver Metalic
Engine: High-performance 5.0-liter Four-Valve V-8 w/Ti-VCT
Bore x stroke: 3.63x3.65 inches
Displacement: 302 ci/4,951 cc
Horsepower: 444 at 7,500 rpm
Torque: 380 at 4,500 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Rear axle: 3.73:1
Suspension
Front: Independent MacPherson strut with reverse-L lower control arm, 34.6mm tubular stabilizer bar, strut-tower brace, and five-way adjustable dampening
Rear: Three-link solid axle with limited-slip differential, coil springs, Panhard bar, 25mm stabilzer bar, and five-way adjustable dampening
Brakes: Four-wheel power disc brakes with four-channel, four-sensor, anti-locking ABS w/low-expansion hoses
Front: 14-inch rotors with four-piston Brembo fixed calipers
Rear: 11.8-inch discs with single-piston calipers and Performance Friction pads
Wheels & Tires
Front: 255/40/19-inch Pirelli PZero
Rear: 285/35/19-inch Pirelli PZero
Wheels; 19x9.5-inch-wide spoke, painted aluminum wheels
Options: Torsen differential/Recaro seats
Curb weight: 3,632 pounds