1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429
We Find Out What It's Like To Drive A Boss 429 On The Street
Mark Storm joins me in time to move the Boss 429 into the lineup for the cruise. People stare as the bright orange SportsRoof rolls into place between a red Ford GT and a 5.0L Mustang hatchback. We've driven just a short distance but already I notice that the temperature gauge needle is leaning toward "H." I've dealt with the combination of old car and hot weather many times before. I cross my fingers.
At the start of the cruise, the 21,000-mile engine once again fires immediately. Even though we're near the front of the 500-car cruise, the line moves slowly toward the entrance onto 71st. St. I keep a wary eye on the temperature gauge.
Once on 71st St., I can finally dip into the throttle. I'm curious to see if the Boss 429 engine, with its huge intake ports and valves, lacks low-rpm torque, but that's not the case at all. This one has as much low-end grunt as a 428 Cobra Jet. Just touch the pedal and it leaps forward. We're stuck in the middle of the cruise, so there's too much traffic for a full-throttle run. I expected finicky manners from such an exotic, high-performance engine but this thing is as smooth as butter with no hesitating or bucking, even as I notice the temperature needle headed for "H."
So I did something that no Boss 429 owner ever did in 1970-I grabbed my cell phone. Haunted by the thought of damaging an original, never-been-apart Boss 429 engine, no doubt one of the few remaining on this earth, I called Wicks at the front of the line to ask if I should abandon the cruise to allow the engine to cool down. Not to worry, he says. The temperature gauge isn't accurate; it reads on the hot side. Now he tells me.
Rounding corners, I notice that this Boss 429 doesn't drive like a big-block car. With power steering, it turns easily, almost too easily. But power steering was like that in 1970. Also like 1970 is the Hurst shifter, which was standard equipment in four-speed Ford performance cars that year. Revered as the top-of-the-line performance shifter back then, you can't help but notice the long throws, especially if you've spent time in a newer Mustang. Going into First, you can almost change radio stations with your knuckles. And you could hurt a back-seat passenger with your elbow when yanking into Second.
We finally reach Tulsa's Brookside area, where police have blocked off three city blocks for cruise-in parking. The procession into town is stop and go; Mark and I notice the odor of antifreeze at about the same time. The temp gauge may be incorrect but the steam coming from under the hood appears to be accurate. I grab the first available parking spot and shut off the engine, which is punctuated by the sound of the vacuum-actuated hood flap closing. The next sound we hear is the hiss from the radiator, followed by the expelling of green fluid.
Nothing ruins the experience of driving a really cool car than having it over-heat in front of hundreds of other cool-car owners.
Raising the hood as much for cooling as for showing off, we're soon joined by Ed Meyer, noted Boss 429 restorer and preservationist, who pulls out a camera and starts photographing various markings, stampings, and other factory-original details. He's known the car for a long time, noting that it's one of the best-preserved '70s in existence.
With the cruise over and the 40-year-old radiator filled with much-needed coolant, Mark and I head back to the hotel via Tulsa's famous cruising street, Peoria Avenue. With cooler evening temperatures and no traffic to contend with, the Boss 429 was a pleasure to drive. I check the fuel gauge and hope that it's as inaccurate as the temperature gauge. Mark notes that the clock, positioned right in front of him on the passenger side, works intermittently; we both recall that those clocks did the same thing in the 1970s.
With traffic thinning, I finally get a chance to put my foot into the Holley four-barrel. From a rolling First gear start, I'm rewarded with lots of tire spin, followed by more protests from the old T/As as I slam into Second. Obviously, the 37-year-old tires are not up to the task of handling the Boss 429's power. With 375 hp and factory 3.91:1 gears, we need drag slicks for any chance of traction.
I get another shot at the Boss 429 later in the week, this time with less traffic and Wicks in the passenger seat as witness to any possible damage I might inflict upon his rare, super-valuable Mustang. But again, I can't get the big Boss to hook up on the old tires. Wicks and I swap seats, much to my relief because if anyone is going to be responsible for blowing up the engine or veering off into a ditch, I prefer it to be the car owner. Wicks begins his banzai run from a rolling start. The tires squeal, but we're picking up momentum. More tire spin in Second. In Third, I can finally feel the expected rush from a 429 big-block equipped with racing heads and solid-lifter cam. This thing is strong.
Many car magazines from the late 1960s were disappointed with the Boss 429's performance. Perhaps they were expecting more from a race-inspired engine in a relatively lightweight Mustang. In my short street experience with Wicks' Boss 429, I learned that it has plenty of low-speed torque, unexpected good street manners, and a ton of high rpm power. For a 40-year-old survivor, Wicks' Boss 429 was impressive-although it could've used some better tires and a new radiator.