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Ford's Boss 429 Mustang - Stone Pony Or Rock Star?
An Overview Of Ford's Boss 429 May Change Your Perceptions
Nineteen seventy proved disappointing compared to the year prior, with Ford products scoring just 10 NASCAR victories, though Ford pilot James Hylton did place third in the driver's points chase. Some of the trouble was undoubtedly the dismissal of Ford President Bunkie Knudsen in September 1969, who had been a strong supporter of the various racing programs at Ford. Not long after, it was announced that the racing budget would be cut across the board for 1970. Simultaneously, the Chrysler winged cars were either introduced (Plymouth Superbird), or dialed in (Daytona Charger), with a combination tough to overcome.
Ford would completely pull the plug on corporate support for stock car racing in late 1970, so perhaps it is surprising that 1971 saw 15 FoMoCo NASCAR wins and drivers in the second and third spots in the driver points tally behind the wheel of a Ford and Mercury respectively. The end of the Boss 429 was drawing near in 1972 and 1973, as rules changes would soon begin to squeeze out big-blocks across the board. While manufacturer and driver championships would elude Ford teams during this period, David Pearson was a notable highlight in the Wood Brothers Mercury Cyclones. Both years saw this skilled driver run just a partial schedule, but when Pearson showed, he truly put on a show. In 1972, Pearson won 6 of the 14 races he entered, and in 1973, won 11 of the 18 entered. That latter tally was more wins than any other driver that year, but Pearson's inconsistent participation left him in 13th in the driver's points chase, while 1973 season champion Benny Parsons won just once all season.
Boss 429s were run in a variety of drag race environs, from stock classes to Funny Cars. None really set the world on fire, though there were glimmers of success here and there. Pro Stock and its immediate predecessors seemed to showcase the engine's best attributes, where the Boss was free to fill up on the compression, carburetion, and camshafts that weren't allowed in Stock and Super Stock. Factory backed Mustangs, Cougars, and Mavericks, were driven by the likes of Ed Schartman, Butch Leal, Dave Lyall, Dick Brannan, Wayne Gapp, Al Joniec, and others. While these Boss 429s didn't prove a dominating force in the end, they were competitive, with some pretty wild rides being the result.
Ohio George Montgomery may have been the most successful Boss 429 drag racer of the early years, or at the very least you can say his car was the most unique. Montgomery scored several national wins during the early '70s in his '69 Mustang-bodied twin-turbocharged Boss 429 AA/GS car, known as the Mr. Gasket Gasser. Eventually it was legislated out of NHRA competition, but as time went on, the Boss 429 and its familial descendants would prove their worth in a variety of drag classes-including Pro Modified and Pro Stock. More specifically, it was in early 1980s IHRA Pro Stock competition that the Boss really started to show its stuff. Ronnie Sox won the 1981 championship in a Boss-based Mustang, and Rickie Smith did likewise in 1982-with power from a Jon Kaase behemoth. The trend would continue throughout the decade, including Bob Glidden's remarkable five-straight NHRA Pro Stock championships with Boss descendents. Even today, IHRA Pro Stock records for ET and top speed are both held by 823-inch Kaase Hemi Mustangs-the e.t. record going to Frank Gugliotta with a 6.251, and the speed record to Brian Gahm at 223.95 mph.
Butch Leal was a very young man when he signed on to drive Mickey Thompson's Thunderbolt in 1964, and despite deviating to Chrysler Hemis a short time later, he was back with Thompson in this front cover picture from the July 1969 issue of Car Craft. The Car Craft article mentioned the featured Boss 429 was a Super Stocker, but Leal told MM&F that he never raced it in this class-instead, running in classes that preceded the official Pro Stock division in 1970. Leal remembers much about the beautiful blue '69, including that it was painted at Bill Stroppe's shop. Leal swears that the car was wearing the dual 4s when he picked it up at Galpin Ford, but before long, it wore a custom tunnel ram that Leal had Buddy Bar cast up. Leal describes his Boss 429 as real competitive in 1969, and says he could run with the west coast Hemi Darts of the day, such as those raced by Dick Landy and Bill Bagshaw. Leal ought to know, as he'd campaigned a Hemi Dart just prior to linking up again with Thompson for the Boss 429. "I did a lot of development work on that car" says Leal, "seems like I had it torn down every week, trying new things and working it over." The basis for the bottom end was the stock Boss block, a Grand National crank, aluminum rods, and Mickey Thompson pistons. Up top, Leal would eventually run fully hemispherical chambers in the heads (like the NASCAR pieces), and the aforementioned tunnel ram. "I've never told anyone else about this," laughed Leal as we conversed with him for this story. "To make the Boss really run good, I finally took a cam blank to Racer Brown, and asked him to grind me a cam like I ran in the Mopar Hemis, we called it the 590 cam. I also changed to the Chrysler firing order." Leal also reported running a lightweight aluminum Chrysler four-speed with a 2.66 low gear, and a 4.88 geared Dana 60 rearend. "One thing I learned from Don Nicholson was dialing in the chassis. The Boss hooked so good that I kept blowing pinion gears out of the front of those nodular cases in testing down at Lions (Long Beach). The Dana took care of that." In the end, Leal says the Boss program came to an end when Ford pulled out of racing, and picked up many of the factory items from Thompson's shops.
Street Disappointments . . . Why?
Despite NASCAR success, it's still hard not to be disappointed by the Boss 429's performance in street and near-street guise. Tests of the day showed very low 14-second performance for showroom examples, which really isn't bad for a stock musclecar, just off the mark for a car with such exotic hardware. Consider the sheer cubic inches, the impressive top end, mandatory four-speed, 3.91 gears, trunk mount battery, big F60-15 tires, and it's no wonder the magazines expected more. The inevitable question of why, was covered in a couple of articles in the day.