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.

"I couldn't decide on the color for a long time," recalls Rod. "One day, an '01 F150 Lightning passed me on the road and I was sold." Said Lightning was bathed in the rich E4 Bright Red hue. "I get more compliments on the color than you can imagine." The vibrant color was then adorned with custom Boss 351 graphics to complete the intended look.

After persevering through such a lengthy and troublesome build, no doubt with the help of his friends, family, and his wife, Theresa, Rod continues to upgrade the car as he sees fit--this winter's upgrades include a 4.10 gear change and rear disc brakes.

As you might have noticed from the cover shot, Rod puts the hammer down whenever the need arises, and while the Mustang has won a number of awards at various shows, it shines on the dragstrip as well. Rod and some of his buddies he hangs out with often drop in on their local quarter-mile, Island Dragway in Great Meadows, New Jersey. For the track, Rod switches the rear rubber out for some sticky Hoosier Quicktime Pro tires, which have enabled a best short time of 1.62 seconds with a healthy 3,500-rpm launch. The Mustang stopped the quarter-mile clocks in 11.66 seconds and at a speed of 119 mph—pretty stout for any street car, let alone a classic. Probably more important than the stellar elapsed time was the fact that Rod met his goal of smoking his buddy's 454ci Corvette. And even with that accomplishment, some of the greatest rewards Rod gets from the car are the waves and thumbs up from others passing by on the road.

While it is true that Ford didn't build a Boss 351 in 1970, maybe if they had ridden in Rod's sassy SportsRoof, they might have had a change of heart. In any case, the best part of this hobby is that you can build the car you want.

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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The Details

Rod and Theresa Sassaman's '70 Mustang SportsRoof

Engine

  • 351C four-bolt-main iron block (383 ci) built by RPM Machining (Lehighton, PA)
  • 4.031-inch bore
  • 3.750-inch stroke
  • Coast High Performance rotating assembly
  • 4340 forged steel crankshaft
  • Lightweight forged steel I-beam connecting rods
  • SRS forged aluminum pistons
  • AFD aluminum cylinder heads, 2.19-inch intake valves, 1.71-inch exhaust valves
  • Harland Sharp 1.73:1 aluminum roller rocker arms
  • Comp Cams solid flat tappet camshaft, 242/252 duration at 0.050, 0.589/0.624 valve lift
  • Edelbrock Performer Air Gap intake manifold
  • Holley 4150 HP 750-cfm carburetor
  • MSD Pro Billet distributor and 6AL ignition
  • 10.5:1 compression ratio
  • 535 hp, 487 lb-ft of torque

Transmission

  • Tremec TKO 600 five-speed manual
  • Ram Powergrip HD clutch
  • Ram billet steel flywheel
  • Quicktime steel bellhousing
  • Modern Driveline hydraulic clutch conversion
  • Steeda short-throw shifter
  • Inland Empire aluminum driveshaft

Rearend

  • Ford 9-inch housing
  • Strange Engineering carrier
  • Detroit Truetrac differential
  • Motive Gear 3.89 gears
  • Superior 31-spline axles

Exhaust

  • FPA headers, 1-1/3-inch primary tubes, 3-inch collectors
  • Aluminized 2-1/2-inch tubing with X-pipe
  • Dynomax Ultra Flo mufflers

Suspension

  • Front: Stock upper and lower control arms, Global West 1-inch lowering springs, QA1 adjustable shocks, Unisteer power steering conversion
  • Rear: Global West drop leaf springs, QA1 adjustable shocks, Calvert Racing Caltrac bars, Southside Machine frame connectors

Brakes

  • Front: SSBC 11-1/4-inch discs, single piston caliper, Hurst Line-Loc, Wilwood billet master cylinder
  • Rear: Stock 10-inch drums

Wheels

  • Front: Weld Pro Star, 15x7-inch, 3-1/2-inch offset
  • Rear: Weld Pro Star, 15x8-inch, 4-1/2-inch offset

Tires

  • Front: BFGoodrich Radial TA, P225/70R15
  • Rear: BFGoodrich Radial TA, P275/60R15, or Hoosier Quicktime Pro 27x10.50/15LT for dragstrip duty

Interior

  • Black vinyl replacement interior; Auto Custom Carpets carpet; Grant woodgrain steering wheel; LED dash lights; Auto Meter tachometer, oil pressure, and water temperature gauges; Scat Procar Rally 1000 bucket seats; Shelby console gauge pod; Hurst shifter handle

Exterior

  • Dupont Bright Red (E4) basecoat/clearcoat applied by Seeger’s Autobody Inc. (Plumsteadville, PA), Graphic Express Custom Boss 351 striping