Brad Bowling
August 1, 2007
Photos By: Jerry Heasley

Dan Koerselman couldn't afford to buy a new '70 Boss-he was, after all, only 10 years old-but the excitement of Ford's Total Performance era stayed with him into his adult years. Not only did he have good taste in musclecars, Dan also had the smarts to open his own cellular phone company as the industry was taking off in the '90s. A good portion of the disposable income he earned from his various businesses has gone into toys of the Mustang variety, such as an incredibly rare '78 Monroe Handler Mustang II and a '98 Saleen S-351.

We met the Noblesville, Indiana, entrepreneur at the Mustang Club of America's 30th Anniversary Mustang Stampede in Birmingham, Alabama, during Labor Day weekend of 2006. He was displaying a Grabber Blue '70 Boss 302 that had just been through a 7 1/2-year Thoroughbred restoration. The fastback, which Dan purchased in 1995 from its second owner, had received a "light restoration" in the late '70s and was featured alongside a vintage racing Boss in a 1993 issue of Motor Trend magazine.

"What attracted me to the car was the excellent condition of the body and that most major components were still original," he says. "The paint was faded in some areas, so I fooled myself into thinking that all I wanted was to get it resprayed and drive it to a few shows a year for fun."

That thought lasted about as long as a politician's promise. After seeing the fresh Grabber Blue, expertly applied by Tom Mitchell from DuPont, Dan realized that every part attached to it looked dingy by comparison. He enlisted the aid of Jim Cunningham from nearby Zionsville, whose knowledge as an MCA Gold Card judge for '69-'70 Mustangs and Bosses was invaluable to the restoration project. Although it meant a huge investment in time, research, and dollars, Dan was committed to restoring the Boss to the exacting standards of MCA's Thoroughbred class.

"The Thoroughbred class is what I would describe as 'museum quality,'" Jim says. "Every part has either been meticulously restored or replaced by new old stock. The goal is to build a car in which every component is authentic to the date that it rolled down the assembly line. Ideally, a Thoroughbred Mustang built in May wouldn't have parts on it with date stamps that show they were made in July or August. Sometimes exceptions have to be made, especially when dealing with unique parts for low-production models such as Bosses and Shelbys.

"There was no rust anywhere on the car when Dan got it," Jim says. "It ran great, and it still had the original drivetrain in place. We knew a Thoroughbred buildup was a possibility."

When the Boss received its late-'70s rehabilitation, such parts were still available if the owner knew who to contact. They were also relatively inexpensive because there was minimal demand. Even so, the blue fastback received some incorrect parts in its early life, including the heat shield, some smog components, and a lot of fastening hardware.

"We began looking all over the country for the parts we needed. Bob Perkins was tremendous in that respect, helping us locate N.O.S. upper and lower control arms, spindles, tie rods, power-steering parts, brake calipers, rotors, drums, hoses, and a steering wheel. We also had to track down the kind of stuff most people never think of, such as the wiring harness, bushings, and hangers."

To give you an idea of how much money it takes to bring a clean, well-maintained Boss to Thoroughbred status, we should point out that the three-piece N.O.S. exhaust system with correct hardware cost $5,000 a few years ago. Try finding one today at any price.

Assembling a garage full of high-dollar old parts isn't what makes this level of restoration so difficult. There are many dabs of paint, stamps, chalk marks, and tags that make no sense to an observer at a car show, but a judge looks for them and understands them as significant. For example, Dan's Boss was built in Ford's Metuchen, New Jersey, assembly plant, which means its markings, undercoating, and paint overspray vary from the Boss 302s produced at Dearborn. One well-documented and easy-to-spot difference is that Metuchen cars had the bottoms of their trunk lids painted body color; Dearborn-built Bosses have black paint on the underside of the decklid to match the Boss treatment on top.

"There's a lot of homework with any restoration," Jim says, "and the best way to lay the foundation is to take notes and pictures of every piece you remove during disassembly. All those dots and marks meant something as the car went down the assembly line, and they must be returned if the restoration is to be considered accurate."

Jim is a stickler for assembly line accuracy. For example, on this Boss, he found a small hole in one of the rear framerails that had clearly been created by accident during Ford's unibody welding process. He insisted on retaining the partially hidden blemish to maintain the car's history.

Running changes and fixes on the assembly line account for some oddities in the restoration process, especially with the specialized models.

"Ford got a lot of complaints about the lightweight plastic rear wings on the '69 cars," Jim says. "Sunlight caused them to warp and sag, so stiffer, heavier fiberglass was used for '70. Most of the trunk lid springs were too weak to support the new wing, so assembly line workers had to open and close the trunk three times in order to test the strength. If the lid stayed open on its own, the car moved down the line to the next station; if the lid closed, the worker would drill a hole in the pot-metal end cap on the passenger side and install a prop rod.

"There's no documentation to say whether a specific car got the prop rod or not, so knowing whether or not an earlier owner added or deleted one is important for authenticity. Dan's car came with the rod."

Billy Jay, a professional pinstriper and letterer by trade, worked with Jim during final assembly. He helped install the interior and align the sheetmetal, and he reproduced the dozens of factory markings throughout.

People sometimes confuse Thoroughbred and Concours classes, but there's a world of difference that can only be appreciated by the hardcore enthusiast. Thoroughbreds are built from irreplaceable N.O.S. parts that will never be used for their intended purposes. When a 30-year-old carburetor goes from its dusty old blue-and-white box to the top of an intake manifold, there is minimal chance a drop of gasoline will ever wet its venturis. The only fluids a Thoroughbred enjoys are those that prevent internal rust on moving parts. Concours cars, on the other hand, are restored to and judged by high standards, but they're allowed to have any number of reproduction parts, as long as they meet certain criteria. They also can be fired up and driven, though usually from a trailer to a parking spot at a show.

One factor that makes Thorough-breds such high-maintenance artifacts is that their metal parts must have only as much protection from rust as the factory originally provided, whereas Concours owners are allowed to use specific coatings and clear paints to prevent short-term oxidation.

"I've only seen about 10 to 12 Thoroughbred Boss 302s on the show circuit," Jim says. "There are about as many Boss 429s in that class as well."

Knowing the historical value and rarity of his Grabber Blue Boss, Dan is overprotective at times. "I was so nervous about bringing it to the debut in Birmingham that I had somebody else drive the truck. I don't plan to take it to many shows-probably no more than two or three a year."

That means that if you see Dan's car on display at an event any time soon, spend some time taking it all in. It's one of the few chances you will have to enjoy a new '70 Boss 302.

Trans Am For The Street
When the Boss 302 came out for 1969, Hot Rod magazine said it was "definitely the best-handling car Ford has ever built." Motor Trend called it "the word of our time...good, only better, fuller, rounder, and more intense." The street version of Ford's Trans Am racer was available to the public for less than $3,400-that's reasonable at only $800 more than a base six-cylinder Mustang coupe.

For that extra money, a '70 Boss 302 buyer received a G-code 302 with Cleveland heads, large canted valves, a forged-steel crankshaft and connecting rods, a high-rise aluminum intake manifold, a 780-cfm Holley carburetor, and a dual-point distributor that put out an advertised yet understated 290 hp. Two manual four-speeds were available: a wide-ratio box for the strip and close-ratio gearing for the road course.

The front suspension received 350-pound high-rate springs, heavy-duty shock absorbers, and a stabilizer bar. The Hotchkiss-type rear had 150-pound leaf springs and a staggered shock arrangement with a stabilizer bar. Front disc brakes were mandatory, and steering was a quick 16:1. Standard F60x15 tires were mounted on 15x7-inch wheels with flat "corporate" hubcaps, although many Boss 302s received the optional Magnum 500s. Space-saver spares, labeled 7.35, were standard issue.

Ford designer Larry Shinoda left his mark on the '70 Boss 302 body with its black-striped hood (paint in the center and tape stripes on the outside), chin spoiler, black taillamp bezels and panel, color-keyed dual racing mirrors, and blacked-out decklid. Reflective "hockey stick" tape striping incorporated "Boss 302" callouts on the fenders. A Shaker hoodscoop, Sport Slats, and a rear wing were optional.

Quicklook
Model: '70 Boss 302
Price: $3,{{{720}}}
Options: $65 Shaker hoodscoop, $43 Traction-Lok rear axle, $20 Adjustable rear spoiler
Competition: {{{Pontiac Firebird}}} Trans Am (325hp, 350-cid H.O.)
{{{Chevrolet Camaro}}} SS (325hp, 396-cid Turbo-Jet)