Steve Kelly
March 1, 2013
Photos By: Steve Kelley, Source Interlink Archives, Al Hall
For this photo, Kelly noted, “Front air dam is standard and attractive wheel covers on 15-inch wheels are reminiscent of old ’50 Merc caps.”

Ford's Boss 302 Mustang is a real-life supercar in every sense. None of the "if you do this" or "after you add that" nonsense. It starts out good, and outclasses most of the world's big-engined musclecars. The Boss 302 looks good, performs well, and handles even better. It is a rival for the Chevy Z/28 (which the Mustang 302 was patterned after), and it's a very good competitor. The two cars are surprisingly equal in almost every respect.

The Boss 302 concept is packaged around the standard fastback body. Manufacturer's curb weight is 3,122 pounds, and our test car weighed 3,485 pounds wet. The 302 V-8 is rated at 290 horsepower, which only hints at what really is buried in there. Only a four-speed gearbox can be had on a Boss 302, but there are two different gear sets possible and one is better than the other for street driving. A 3.50:1 rear axle is the base item, with a 3.91:1 possible from the factory. Either can be limited-slip-equipped, and both have a 9-inch diameter ring gear. Externally, there are enough markings on this car to magnetize friendly lawmen right off their freeway on-ramp perches and hold their attention for many nervous miles. But the identity aspect has its good side also. It's pretty ego-satisfying and has a good "draw factor" for members of the opposite sex.

At Orange County International Raceway, the Boss 302 accomplished some pretty satisfying things. A rev limiter is standard on these cars to keep engine speed below 6,200 rpm. The four-bolt bottom end and forged steel crankshaft-equipped engine is good for upward of 7,000 rpm in stock form. The regular Mustang V-8 wiring loom is used, so it was an easy matter to disconnect the limiter and slip on the regular coil circuitry for our testing. With warranties being the sticky things they are, discovery of a non-working limiter on a Boss 302 quite likely voids the guarantee on car and engine. Just remember, all we did was tell you about it.

Our first quarter-mile pass was worth 15.41 seconds. But then we found out the car had to be brought off the line at 3,000 rpm and the clutch slipped slightly in order for the engine not to bog. This is with stock F60-15 'glass-belted tires with 34 pounds of air pressure. After we learned the start technique, the car ran a 14.80 ET with a speed of 96.35 mph. Next step involved a thorough cooling down, air cleaner removal, and plug change. Autolite AF-22s replaced the stock AF-32 firing pins.

On the Cover: A tough day at the track is always better than a good day at the office, so we didn’t have any problem getting SVT Chief Engineer Jamal Hameedi out to Ford’s Dearborn Development Center to spend some time with Dream Giveaway’s ’68 and ’13 Shelby GT500s. Photo by Jerry Heasley, who also shot Tim Orick’s ’70 Boss at the top. Jim Smart photographed Jack De Boer’s ’85½ SVO.

Things perked up from this point on. Elapsed times ranged from a high of 14.94 seconds (poor start) to a best of 14.639 seconds. Mike Jones, manager of OCIR, later recorded a low ET of 14.621. Best speed was 97.50 mph. After nearly two dozen hard runs, not one part of the car showed signs of weakening.

Shift points were set at 7,000 rpm, or as close to that point as possible. Does that mean we blew the warranty?

This particular car was equipped with a 2.32:1 low-gear transmission, and a 2.78:1 low-gear box would've helped the car's performance. The 2.78 unit is supposed to be in all Boss 302s, but production shortages have forced installation of the 2.32 transmissions, which are generally reserved for over 400 cubic-inch Fords. Low-end is critical on the 302 because maximum torque occurs within a very narrow range, between 4,000 and 4,500 rpm. Horsepower just doesn't seem to quit, so that's no problem once you're underway. With the lower 2.78 low gearing and 3.91 axle, such as this car had, maximum torque would be reached much sooner at the initial acceleration stage, easing the burden of getting the car off the starting line.

This engine hurts for better exhaust. We're going to have the car back in a week or so, and then we'll be able to install a good set of equal-length headers, plus slicks, and give the engine a decent blessing. (Editor's note: For his follow-up article in the May 1970 issue, Kelly modified the Boss 302 with 4.30:1 Detroit Locker gears, headers, and slicks to run a 13.90-second ET at 103.44 mph).

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In comparable form, except with 4.56 gearing, our Z/28 test Camaro a year ago (January 1969) ran a 14.34 ET with a speed of 101.35 mph. We think it's very safe to forecast at least the same clocking by a 4.56 geared Boss 302. The ultimate potential of either small-block, Chevy or Ford, is nearly the same, though the Ford holds promise of a higher horsepower figure.

The Boss 302 is an exceptionally road-worthy piece of production-line car, again comparing almost straight across with the Z/28. It's definitely the best-handling car Ford has ever built, and that alone makes this car worthwhile.

Braking, steering, and riding are solid reactions within the Boss 302. Every piece fits as it should and not one rattle or squeak made itself known. The regular Mustang steering wheel doesn't fit the picture. It's not wood (which is okay), but the rim is too thin and your fingers wrap around and dig into the palms of your hands.

Driving comfort is great for almost everyone under 6-foot, 6-inches tall, and the back seat hardly counts. A cluster of four gauge-filled pods faces the driver from the dash, but the right kinds of gauges aren't included. Oil pressure is relegated to a warning-light; the alternator is also tell-tale. The tachometer displaces them to this position. It shouldn't happen on this car.

Mileage on a car like this can't be considered one of its virtues. Figures ranged from just over 10 mpg to a high of better than 13.5. This isn't too devastating on a person's budget, but it is a long way from rivaling the Maverick.

Run-around-town driving is acceptable, but the Boss 302 will heat quickly in slow-moving traffic. The clutch has a soft pedal effort, but the suspended gas pedal can tire your right foot. You have to kink your knee to operate the gas, which leads to discomfort. It's a bit noisy inside, but nothing about that is objectionable.

Looking rearward through the back glass slats is no problem, and if you don't like them, they don't have to be ordered. The abbreviated trunk deserves the collapsible spare. The deck lid refuses to stay open when a spoiler is attached, its extra weight being too much for the stock torsion-bar spring assist. There's no excuse for someone within Ford Division not remedying this before offering it for sale. (Editor's note: Ford did add a prop rod to cars with the optional rear spoiler).

Ford has done their best possible job in coming up with a perfectly suited musclecar that fits street and racing conditions without great amounts of change being required for the transition. And the job is a good one. What problems there are would not be enough to keep me from buying this car. Disconnecting the limiter is easy, making it run fast is just about as easy, and liking the car is not a tough problem at all. MM

Editor's note: In late 1969, Hot Rod magazine feature editor Steve Kelly got his hands on 0F02G100056, one of the 14 '70 Boss 302 show cars and a car that was used for the dealer intro show in Phoenix. Like the other show cars, it was yellow with the oddly placed rear quarter panel stripes, Mach 1 chrome taillight panel trim, and non-blackout taillight housings. It appears that the same car was seen in Motor Trend, a Car Life comparison test, and in the hard-to-find Fabulous Mustang annual from Coronado Publishing.

Kelly's report on the 1970 Boss 302 is reprinted here with minor editing, along with the original photos plus a couple that did not make it into the January 1970 article.

This particular Boss 302 survived the magazine road tests. It was found and restored by California's Jim Fareio in the early 1980s (see "A Boss to Like" in the August 1986 Mustang Monthly).

This rear shot shows the characteristics of the early production show cars—rear quarter-panel stripe angled into the marker light, chrome taillight panel trim, and non-blackout taillight housings.