Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
November 15, 2010
Photos By: Courtesy Ford Media

It was one of Ford's best-kept secrets. In fact, team members were not even allowed to use the "B-word" in company meetings or hall conversations, although Ford dealers got a private hint during a dealer show last spring when a '70 Boss 302 rolled up behind Ford's president of The Americas Mark Fields as he talked about special edition Mustangs. And with Boss 302R race cars competing at tracks around the country, it seemed like only a matter of time before a new Boss would hit the street. On August 13, the Boss was out the bag when Ford announced the new Boss 302 Mustang for 2012.

Ever since 2001 when Ford began issuing special-editions based on vintage Mustangs (Bullitt, Mach 1, California Special, and Shelby GT500), there has been much speculation about the possibility of a new Boss model. With the introduction of the '11 Mustang GT and its new 412hp 5.0-liter engine-conveniently displacing 302 cubic inches-the time was right to bring back the Boss.

The small team of engineers, stylists, and designers who worked on the project knew they were dealing with a hallowed name. "We weren't going to let Boss become a sticker and wheel package," said Mustang chief engineer Dave Pericak. "We couldn't put that name on a new Mustang until we were sure everything was in place to make this car a worthy successor. We were either going to do it right or not do it all."

Based on the equipment and specifications, they've done it right. Like the original '69-'70 Boss 302s, the new version has unique engine components, for both 440 hp and high-rpm durability, and a suspension that transforms the car into the "best handling Mustang ever," a description that Car & Driver gave the '69 Boss 302. Visually, it pays homage to the '69 with C-stripes but thankfully doesn't try to copy the '69-'70 spoilers and window slats, which would look dated on the updated '10-'12 styling. The '12 Boss 302's front splitter and rear spoiler are decidedly modern.

Reportedly, the '12 Boss 302 will be available in early 2011. Pricing has not been announced, although we assume that the sticker will fall somewhere between a standard Mustang GT coupe and the Shelby GT500. Production will be limited; according to one source, it will be more than '69 (1,612) but less than '70 (7,013).

As for secrets, word is out that the Boss 302 is set for at least a two-year run. The '13 model, we hear, will feature graphics more like the '70 Boss 302.

Engine
Just as the '11 GT's new 5.0-liter provided the 302 cubic inches for bringing back the Boss name, the new four-valve engine also gave engine engineers a great 412hp platform to build on. Although realizing that supercharging would be the easiest way to add more power for a Boss model, the 5.0-liter engineers assigned to the Boss project decided early on to stay true to the original Boss 302 by sticking with a naturally-aspirated engine. They even enlisted help from two members of the '69 Boss 302 design team.

"We understand and respect the heritage of the name and the history behind the original engine," said Mike Harrison, Ford's V-8 engine program manager. "The first Boss 302 was a specially-built, free-breathing, high-revving small V-8 that gave it certain characteristics on a race course-and we capture that essence in the new engine."

The original Boss 302 engine built its reputation on its ability to breathe via large-port, large-valve Cleveland cylinder heads. For the '12 Boss 302, engineers also looked to improve breathing, this time with a new intake manifold and aluminum heads with CNC-machined ports and chambers. The composite intake, developed for Boss 302R Daytona engines, is a "short runners in the box" design that helps to eliminate lag when the throttle is snapped open yet produces peak power at high rpms. To take advantage of the racing intake, the intake/exhaust ports and combustion chambers are CNC ported, a machining process that takes up to 21/2 hours per head. Exhaust valves are sodium filled for heat dissipation.

The Boss camshafts are also revised with a more aggressive grind and feature twin independent variable timing to provide maximum high-rpm horsepower without sacrificing low-rpm torque, a frequent complaint about the '69-'70 Boss 302. Valvetrain components have been lightened for improved dynamics at high engine speeds.

With its 7,500-rpm redline, the new Boss 302 takes a cue from its earlier namesake with strengthened short-block components. In addition to race-spec crankshaft bearings, the bottom end is fitted with forged aluminum pistons and sinter-forged connecting rods. Revised oil pan baffling improves oil control during cornering loads.

The 440 horsepower-the most ever from a naturally-aspirated production Ford engine-is delivered through a six-speed manual transmission, with a short-throw shifter, to a 3.73 rear axle with carbon-fiber plates in the limited-slip differential. A torque-sensing Torsen limited-slip differential is available as an option, coupled with Recaro seats.

Suspension
With a mandate to produce the best handling Mustang ever, Boss engineers refined the Mustang GT suspension with higher rate springs, stiffer bushings, larger rear stabilizer bar, and a slightly lower stance. The real key to handling, however, is the adjustable struts and shocks with five settings. Instead of relying on electronics, the engineers have made the adjustment manual, with easy accessibility under the hood and inside the trunk. A small flat-head screwdriver is all that's needed to make adjustments from setting One for the softest position to setting Five for improved track response.

Working with the suspension are Pirelli PZero tires, 255/40ZR-19 on the front and wider 285/35ZR-19s on the rear. Unique lightweight wheels are also staggered with 9-inch rims on the front and 91/2-inch versions at the rear. According to Ford, the combination of suspension package and tires makes the '12 Boss 302 the first non-SVT Mustang to achieve over 1.0g of lateral acceleration.

On the Boss 302, the speed-sensitive electronic steering has been retuned to maximize road feel for the driver and includes fine-tuning via the instrument cluster menu for comfort, normal, and sport modes. The Boss also gets a unique traction control system and electronic stability control. Both can be completely disabled for maximum performance driving.

For braking, the Boss 302 comes with Brembo four-piston front calipers and 14-inch vented rotors up front, while standard Mustang GT rear brakes are upgraded with Boss-specific pads. To address brake pedal feel, low-compressibility brakes lines are utilized.

Exhaust
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the '12 Boss 302 is its quad exhaust system. Two outlets exit at the rear, similar to the Mustang GT, while another pair of outlets exit to either side of the crossover to send exhaust through a set of metal attenuation discs that act as tuning elements before the pipes terminate in front of the rear wheel openings. Visually subtle, the side pipes flow very little exhaust but add to the sonic experience-described by one source as "quadraphonic." The discs are removable and engineers even made sure they were sized so owners could add aftermarket dump valves. "If an owner wants to add a set of electric valves, they can just undo two bolts on either side to remove the discs and spacer," explains Mustang NHV engineer Shawn Carney. "Then the dump valves can slide right in."

Due to the side exit exhaust and a retuned sound tube in the induction system, the new Boss 302 has an exhaust note all its own.

Exterior and Interior
"We approached this as curators of a legend," said chief designer Darrell Behmer when talking about the new Boss 302's exterior graphics. "Taking cues from the '69 Boss street car and the Bud Moore race cars, we updated them to give the '12 model the proper bad-boy attitude that is unmistakably a Boss Mustang."

In 1969, the Boss 302 was offered in four colors only - Bright Yellow, Wimbledon White, Calypso Coral (orange), and Acapulco Blue. The '12 Boss 302 follows that theme by restricting exterior selection to five colors, four of them similar to '69 - Yellow Blaze, Performance White, Competition Orange, and Kona Blue - plus Race Red. While street '69 Boss 302s got black reflective C-stripes, the '12 Boss comes with either black (non-reflective, unfortunately) or white C-stripes, along with matching roof panel, that are coordinated to the exterior paint.

The original Boss 302 was one of the first street Mustangs to take advantage of aerodynamics with its front spoiler and optional rear wing. For '12, the concept is updated with a modern-style front splitter designed to manage air flow under and around the car to reduce underbody drag and front end lift while also forcing air into the Boss-specific cooling system. At the rear, a carefully selected spoiler complements the front aero treatment to minimize drag.

"We were looking for reduced overall lift with improved balance," says Pericak. "The end result is an aero package that uses front, rear, and underbody treatments-not for show but for effect."

Inside, the unique Boss steering wheel is covered with Alcantara suede to complement the cloth-trimmed seats with their suede-like center inserts that help to keep occupants in place during hard cornering. Recaro seats are optional. Boss 302s also get a dark metallic instrument panel and door panel finish, 9,000-rpm tachometer, and "Powered by Ford" door sill plates.

Something Special
According to Pericak, the Mustang team wanted to offer enthusiasts something special with the '12 Boss 302. "It's a beautifully balanced, factory-built race car that can be driven on the street," Pericak says. "The Boss 302 isn't something that a Mustang GT owner can buy all the parts for out of a catalog or a tuner can get by adding a chip. This is a front-to-back re-engineered Mustang with every system designed to make a good driver great and a great driver even better."

'12 Boss 302 Specifications & Unique Components

ENGINE
Type High-performance 5.0L, four-valve, Ti-VCT V-8
Configuration Aluminum block and heads
Displacement 5.0-liter, 302 cubic-inches
Compression ratio 11.0:1 (est.)
Horsepower 440 (est.)
Torque 380 lb. ft (est.)
Intake manifold Composite shell-welded with short runners
Exhaust manifolds Stainless steel tubular headers
Exhaust system Quad with two outlets at rear, two side exit with tuning elements
Redline 7,500 rpm (est.)
Valvetrain DOHC, four valves per cylinder, variable intake and camshaft timing
Valve diameter/lift (mm) Intake 37/12; exhaust 31/11, sodium filled
Pistons Cast aluminum
Connecting rods Forged steel
Oiling 5W50 oil, oil cooler, oil pan baffling
Ignition High-energy coil-on-plug
Recommended fuel 91 octane
Fuel economy (city/highway) 17/26

The Boss tachometer reflects the engine's higher revving capability by reading to 9,000 rpm, as opposed to 8,000 for the GT tach.
DRIVETRAIN
Transmission Six-speed manual with race-inspired clutch and short-throw shifter with black shifter ball
Final drive ratio 3.73:1
SUSPENSION
Front Independent MacPherson strut with reverse L lower control arm, 34.6mm stabilizer bar, strut tower brace, adjustable strut damping
Rear Three-link solid axle with limited-slip differential, coil springs, Panhard bar, 25mm stabilizer bar, adjustable shock damping
BRAKES
Type Four-wheel power discs with four-sensor, four-channel anti-lock braking system (ABS), low expansion brake hoses
Front 355mm (14-inch) vented discs, four-piston Brembo 43mm floating aluminum calipers
Rear 300mm vented discs, single-piston 43mm floating iron calipers
Tires and Wheels
Tires Pirelli PZero, 255/40ZRx19 front, 285/35ZRx19 rear
Wheels 19 x 9-inch front, 19.5 x 9-inch rear, wide-spoke painted aluminum
The Boss-only short-throw shifter for the six-speed transmission is fitted with a vintage-style black shift knob.
EXTERIOR
Aerodynamics Front splitter and rear spoiler, unique fascia and grille
Graphics Black or white C-stripes, hood, roof panel, rear panel, and lower rear fascia
Available colors Competition Orange, Performance White, Kona Blue Metallic, Yellow Blaze Tri-Coat Metallic, Race Red
INTERIOR
Steering wheel Boss unique with Alcantara suede
Seats Cloth trim with suede-like center insert; optional Recaro
Instrument panel Dark metallic; tach reflects 7,500 rpm redline
Trim "Powered by Ford" door sill plates, "Boss 302" identification
WEIGHT
Curb weight 3,631 lbs. (est.)
Weight distribution 55/45 (est.)

The Original Boss 302
On April 17, 1969, Ford introduced the '69 Boss 302 Mustang as a mid-year model. It served two purposes. First, it homologated the engine and other components for SCCA Trans-Am competition. Perhaps more importantly, it also fulfilled Ford's desire to add more "image" models for appeal to the youth market. The fact that it competed with Chevy's popular Camaro Z/28 didn't hurt either.

The heart and soul of the '69 Boss 302 Mustang was its Windsor-based 302 short-block with large-port, canted-valve Cleveland cylinder heads, which were planned for production on the '70 351 Cleveland. With aluminum intake, Holley 750-cfm four-barrel, solid-lifter valvetrain, and beefed-up short-block, the Boss 302 powerplant was equipped with more performance items than perhaps any other Ford production engine, with the exception of the Boss 429. Rated at 290 hp, the Boss 302 wasn't known for its low-speed torque; instead, it made its power from 4,500 rpm to 6,250 rpm, a limit established by an electronic governor for warranty purposes. A four-speed manual was the only available transmission, backed by a nine-inch rearend with 3.50 gears standard, 3.91 or 4.30 optional. Air conditioning was not available.

For handling to match its Trans-Am image, the original Boss 302 came with Goodyear's new Polyglas GT tires, stiff springs, and calibrated shocks. Car & Driver magazine described the Boss 302's handling as, "The new standard by which everything from Detroit must be judged."

Then-Ford designer Larry Shinoda is credited for coming up with the Boss name. "It was a name the kids understood instantly," he told us many years ago. "The name had charisma, and it was also a handle our merchandising people could do something with." Well-known as a performance and racing enthusiast, Shinoda also created the Boss 302's front spoiler, black-out treatment, reflective side striping, and optional rear spoiler and window slats.

Ford sold 1,612 Boss 302s in 1969. The model returned for 1970 with wilder striping, selling 7,013.

Limited Edition Boss
As if to erase any doubts about racing intentions, Ford is offering a limited-edition Laguna Seca package for the '12 Boss 302. Think of it as a model that fits between the regular-production street Boss 302 and the Boss 302R competition car.

"The Laguna Seca package puts a race-ready version of the Boss 302 into enthusiasts' hands," said Mark Fields, Ford's president of The Americas. "The Laguna Seca isn't intended for buyers who want a daily driver. Think of it as a factory-built race car."

Offered in two colors only-Black or Ingot Silver-with red C-stripes, roof panel, and accents, the Laguna Seca model builds on the already impressive '12 Boss 302 with deleted rear seats, rear X-brace, larger rear stabilizer bar, higher rate springs, unique tuning of the adjustable struts and shocks, Recaro front bucket seats, front brake cooling ducts, and unique 19-inch wheels with R-compound Pirelli PZero tires. Ford calls it the "best-handling production Mustang ever."

Named for the track where Parnelli Jones drove his '70 Boss 302 to its first win in a season that would culminate in a Trans-Am championship, the Laguna Seca Boss 302 gets an aggressive front splitter that adds down force at the front while also channeling air under and around the car. A unique rear spoiler is sized to complement the effect of the splitter, adding up to 90 pounds of down force at 140 mph.