Eric English
August 1, 2005

What are the chances of finding undiscovered treasure in an automotive boneyard? Years ago, it was a rather common occurrence, yet the likelihood grows slimmer and slimmer each day as supplies dwindle, prices skyrocket, and enthusiasts grow evermore savvy. Yes, times have certainly changed.

Imagine Rob Sweet's surprise when he turned up this '71 Boss 351 in January 2004, at a junkyard near his Mesa, Arizona, home. Rob and buddy Chris Long were on one of their frequent parts quests, pawing through a picked-to-the-bone '71 SportsRoof that Chris had actually been through before. Both men are veteran Mustang enthusiasts with a keen eye for subtle rarities, and on this trip the pair struck veritable pay dirt.

Chris has trouble believing he didn't pick up on the Boss's status on previous trips, but it's understandable when you picture a crusty Mustang whose bolt-on sheetmetal, interior, and entire powertrain had been removed years earlier. The only reason the car hadn't gone to the crusher was due to a pair of nice rear quarters. The junkyard owner circle-tracked another '71 Mustang and had the panels reserved for the racer should he ever need them.

Rob explained that the car was "full of junk," and as the pair picked through a half dozen VIN-coded dash assemblies piled inside, Rob spied the R-code serial number. On a hunch, he checked for the same on the shock tower of the dilapidated parts car, and the rest is history, as they say. The numbers were a perfect match and verified the hulk as a legitimate Boss 351, albeit in need of a huge restoration. As it turned out, the rare pedigree wasn't news to the junkyard owner, who'd overseen dismantling of the car since the mid-'70s. Nevertheless, a deal was struck for $2,500, and the shell was forklifted onto Rob's trailer that day.

During negotiations, the junk man revealed that he still had the Boss's coveted original engine and transmission. Problem was, he wouldn't entertain selling the combination since he'd already installed it in a Maverick being built to circle-track-a demented mindset to say the least. Rob went so far as to verify the matching serial number on the Cleveland powerplant, and left the scene excited and chagrined at the same time.

Nevertheless, work began on the car with an immediate trip to the media blaster, followed by the necessary metal work in Rob's garage. With pro bodyman experience, Rob dove right in, replacing front aprons and a core support that had been damaged by the wreck that took the Boss out of action all those years ago. The trunk pan had rotted from sitting without a trunklid, but all replacement pieces were acquired from solid Arizona parts cars.

We'll detour momentarily to bring in yet another element to an already interesting tale. Friend Chris Long grew up in Washington, and was consequently familiar with a fantastic summertime show produced annually by a Seattle area club, Mustangs Northwest. On the day Rob bought the Boss, Chris hatched the idea of readying it for the Mustangs NW extravaganza just five months later and proposed caravanning north in tandem with his own Boss 351-we're talking driving, not trailering. Rob concurred, taking it on as a personal challenge of sorts, so the timeline was set.

As work progressed at a fever pitch in early spring, Rob invited the previous owner to take a look at the progress. We imagine the quality work and potential dollar signs finally had their impact, as the man asked Rob what he'd give for the original engine and close-ratio Top Loader. The two came to terms, and the critical matching-number Cleveland became an integral part of the picture. Disassembly showed all-factory internals, and Rob's machinist guessed the wear implied just 35,000-45,000 original miles. In fact, the engine was so good, it was simply honed and fitted with new rings, bearings, and gaskets, the crank was polished, then the engine was reassembled. Hooker headers were used in absence of the original manifolds and, despite having the correct Motorcraft four-barrel, Rob chose a 780-cfm Holley.

Parts acquisition for the Boss came from a variety of sources. Rob's personal stash yielded the Ram-Air, N-cased 9-inch and Magnum 500s, while a '71 Mach 1 was purchased for the interior and other bits and pieces. Despite its absence, Rob's sleuthing revealed an original white deluxe interior package, later confirmed by a report from Marti Autoworks. It now sparkles, thanks to new upholstery by Bob Montgomery, rechromed dash pieces by Mr. Gs, and a high attention to detail from both Rob and Chris.

With scant days to go before the mid-July Seattle show, Rob barely fired the motor long enough for a trip around the block, then embarked on the 1,600-mile shakedown cruise north. He says he couldn't have made the date without big help from friends Chris and Bob, as well as the understanding and patience of his girlfriend, Kathi.

How was the extended road trip? Rob described it as terrific and trouble-free, enjoying friendship, awesome sights, great people, and the powerful Bosses every step of the way. We stumbled across Rob on the showfield, and were impressed by the gratitude he showered on those who helped make the project and trip a success. Such is our hobby at its best, and we'd like to turn the tables a bit-thanking Rob for sharing his story and fantastic Boss with all of us.