Jim Smart
February 1, 2004
Photos By: Jeff Ford

What happened to Steve Collins a while back just doesn't happen to most people. He was thumbing through the pages of Hemmings Motor News when he happened upon a black '71 Boss 351 in North Carolina. after traveling several hundred miles to look at the car, he found not one, but two, '71 Boss 351 Mustangs parked by the side of a body shop. He bought both of them. The Boss you see here was the gem-so to speak. It was an unpolished diamond-in-the-rough with just 58,218 original miles on the dial. It was an Oklahoma car with the original Ford mufflers and exhaust system. Before you get filled with envy, consider the facts. The car was a mess. Even though everything important was there-like the rev-limiter, Ram-Air, Hurst T-handle, and correct matching-number powertrain-the car had deteriorated badly from sitting out in the weather.

When we speak of deterioration, we're just not talking rotted seat upholstery and faded paint. We're talking the need for sheetmetal-quarter-panels, floorpans, trunk pan, wheelhouses, and more. What's most amazing is the original exhaust system amidst rusted sheetmetal throughout.

Steve went to great lengths to ensure his Mustang would be a pristine example of the last big hurrah of '71 Ford musclecar performance. What Steve noticed most about his Boss 351 was its all-business demeanor. Aside from the AM radio, there were no other options. He has since added the Magnum 500 wheels, rear-defrost backlite, console, rear deck spoiler, convenience group, deluxe steering wheel, and a lot more. We get the "all-business" impression from grabbing the Hurst shifter and hearing the whine of the close-ratio Top Loader four-speed transmission as it passes through to the 3.91:1 Traction-Lok differential bringing up the rear. The long and slippery '71 SportsRoof Mustang body made a good road car, but in the Boss-powered SportsRoof it became a Cleveland-powered sling-shot with deep gears. someone sat down in 1971 and ordered a bare-bones Boss 351 Mustang with a drag racing mentality. We'd like to ask them why. maybe it was the 13.80 e.t. that Motor trend managed in 1971.

Steve doesn't feel the need to ask anyone why they ordered this Boss 351 some 32 years ago. He's just glad they did, and that Ford built it on a cold January day in Dearborn a lifetime ago. As the primed steel body made its way through the body build-up section of the Dearborn line, Bright Red paint was applied with care. Real human hands, using soapy water, massaged the Boss 351 graphics. Body-drop included steel wheels with Ford corporate hubcaps and trim rings-the latter stored in the trunk for dealer delivery hundreds of miles away in Omaha, Nebraska.

Steve spent the better part of four years restoring his Boss 351. He embraced his restoration project, parking it at his office, which has large bays and plenty of room. Steve performed the entire restoration himself, including sheetmetal replacement, body prep, mechanical work, interior, and the rest of it. Stan Brown of Auto Parts & Machine Shop in Jacksonville, Florida, performed the engine rebuild. Steve's Boss 351 has brought home a "Best Mustang" from Silver Springs, Florida, in 2003, and a Mustang Club of America (MCA) Gold from Pensacola. Not bad for the first year out.

This North Florida enthusiast's passion for Mustangs doesn't stop at Boss 351s (he has owned other Boss 351s). He has a '99 Mustang Cobra convertible, just to see how the other half of Mustangdom lives. When he exercises the 32 valves in the DOHC Cobra, it gives him a different perspective on how far the Mustang has come since Ford built Boss 351 flatbacks a generation ago.

Whether Steve is driving his '99 Cobra or his '71 Boss 351, you can bet the two tend to meld together in his mind, reflecting three decades of brute Mustang performance.