Steve Baur
Former Editor, Modified Mustangs & Fords
March 30, 2012
Photos By: John Machaqueiro

You could ask many Ford Mustang enthusiasts and most would tell you that Ford offered an outstanding lineup of high-performance Mustangs in the 60's and 70's. And then you might ask Rob Sassaman of Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania, and you'd get a different answer.

"I could never understand why Ford did not build a Boss 351," says the 51-year-old auto detailer. Much of Ford's reasoning had to do with the cubic-inch limits in the Trans-Am racing series, for which the Boss 302 was primarily designed. When the Boss 351 finally became a reality in 1971, Ford had gotten out of the racing series, and with the Mustang growing to its largest proportions, it certainly needed the extra grunt of the 351C.

Rod had always wanted a Boss 302, but the stratospheric prices for originals these days put them out of reach when life finally provided the opportunity to have another hot rod in the garage. At the time, his son was running around in an '87 Mustang GT, and Rod decided it was time for some heavy right-foot fun of his own.

"I figured that [the Boss 351] would be the car for me to build, and build it my way," says Rod. Following that decision, Rod purchased a '70-model SportsRoof, but its overall condition was worse than Rod had anticipated. Subsequently, he sold that one and found another, the old-fashioned way, in the newspaper.

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This one, another '70 Mustang, was in better shape, but Rod and his father, Don, a retired Ford technician, stripped the car down anyways to make sure it was done right from the ground up. The restoration commenced in earnest in 2001.

My dad was there day and night working on my car," Rod recalls. "He is still there for every project I do—without him, the car would not have been possible." Don Sassaman has a restored '68 Mustang with a Cleveland and a five-speed transmission, so he certainly knows his way around a vintage Pony. Rod would need that stable assistance, as the project proved to be troublesome at times.

"Nothing ever worked right with the project, "says Rod. "I bought a ‘brand-new' engine, fired it up in the driveway, and it threw a rod through the block. The guy who I got the engine from gave me a second block, but magnafluxing it revealed a non-repairable crack—it was junk. Bought another four-bolt main block and had that rebuilt and it smoked right at startup. My dad and I built it the second time and it smoked, and a third builder assembled it and it still smoked." RPM Machining finally got a chance at building it, and when it smoked for a fourth time, the shop dug deep to determine the problem—a switch from Teflon to Viton valve seals finally solved it. Rod credits the folks at www.351c.net for helping him out with carburetor and exhaust issues that were eventually worked through to get the Mustang running tip-top.

Having raced Quarter Midgets for several years as a youth, Rod is no stranger to speed and competition, and his Mustang certainly packs a powerful horsepower punch. The foundation for this one-off Boss 351 is a four-bolt-main Cleveland block that has been punched out and stroked to supply 383 cubic inches of displacement. Topped off with very capable aluminum AFD cylinder heads, a solid, flat-tappet camshaft and a 750-cfm Holley four-barrel, the Cleveland offered up 535 hp on the engine dyno, and 487 lb-ft of torque.

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It probably didn't take much more than a ride in his son's late-model Mustang to realize the benefit of having a modern, overdrive transmission in the car, so you'll find a Tremec TKO-600 five-speed gearbox backing up the Cleveland, and transferring power back to the Ford 9-inch rearend.

What's even more impressive than the drivetrain, or the finished result even, is that Rod and his father performed nearly all of the work in his garage. The only things they farmed out were the engine assembly and the body and paint.

Seeger's Auto Body whipped the sheetmetal into shape before applying the Dupont basecoat/clearcoat.