Vinnie Kung
May 20, 2014

Now that the word on the '15 Mustang is out, the last of the retro-themed Mustangs will soon be leaving us.

Sure, the all-new S550 is less historic and more future-oriented in styling and sophistication, and that's all great and dandy. But we're also kind of stuck in our old broken-T5 ways and prefer a 5-foot-long steel girder claw for traction. We consider the live-axle 8.8 a virtue that is characteristic of muscle cars of yore and dig the '05-present S197's unapologetic styling that references the classics that came well before it.

Of them all, the '12-'13 Boss 302 pulled on every one of our emotional heartstrings and represents everything that we stand for. It's got more than just groovy-funky looks and a snarling Coyote V-8 making us go to full attention—it has superbly balanced and pure adrenaline-dripping performance. Ever since the first time driving one, we've wanted one of our own. I can't believe I'm using the past tense here, but with the Boss 302 gone, it already represents the good ol' days.

So, you can see where we are going as we introduce our new project car. We decided not to build our next parts magnet as a drag machine. Instead, we will build a street car that you can enjoy driving for days on end, as opposed to 9 seconds at a time.

It’s a pretty clean stocker with all the things you want in a weekend play toy—a six-speed manual, factory 19-inch wheel option, and a screaming Coyote motor barking away up front.

Our reasoning? We've seen a shift in recent years as those of us who grew up with Fox Mustangs have reached a point where we can actually afford and build a really nice street car. And what better way than to take advantage of the advances in technology and safety by building your own modern-day legend?

Remember installing those Southside lift bars in your garage with your friends, while listening to the tales of your uncle's late-night forays against '69 big-block Camaros? Well, those days are still here, brother, and we'll show you how to relive them with air-conditioned comfort and without smelling like a gas can.

While the off-the-wall Laguna Seca Edition might one day be the most desirable Boss to ever roll off any Ford assembly line, we decided to model our new project car on a “regular” Boss 302 and improve upon its performance to levels approaching a GT500. Of course, you can argue that a real Boss is a better investment, but it will double your starting price.

Outright power isn't the goal, but rather, a complete performance vehicle, in which a balance of power, handling, driveability, and appearance allows you to pull into any cruise night or track day with equal respect. Ford built the great S197 platform and the aftermarket allows us to turn them into supercars. We will play on that mantra and move deeper into the realm of total Ford performance.

Fellow Boss fans, we present to you Project BYOB—or rather, Build Your Own Boss.

01. The first order of business is to pull the front bumper cover to install the Boss 302 front grille, lower valance/foglight assembly, and lower air splitter. After removing the screws within the fenderwell and underneath, undo the top bolts with a 10mm socket and the pushpins with a flat-head screwdriver, and then gently pry the corners of the bumper cover until the catches release from behind. It will make a few loud snapping noises as you pull, but don’t worry—you’re good so long as you go slowly and evenly. Remove the front cover as an assembly, and then unplug the wiring connectors for the front foglights and side marker lamps.

02. With the front cover removed, you can see how Ford engineered the bumper assemblies for modularity with CS and Boss variants. (The GT500 had an entirely different design in ’11, which later became the standard look in ’12.) The unpainted portions are all textured-black components that simply snap in. We easily removed the stock GT lower valance and snapped the CS/Boss 302 lower valance into place. We found it easiest to have the bumper cover assembly upside down when doing this.

03. Next up, we carefully removed the factory front grille by undoing each clip and then inserting the Boss 302 unit into place. Since American Muscle offers OEM Ford components such as this grille, it snapped into place for OEM fit and finish.

04. With the Boss 302 valance in place, it was time to install the lower air splitter. This requires you to drill several holes with a 25/64-inch bit and then install several speednuts to mount it. The key is to properly align it before you drill so that it sits flush and centered.

05. Before reinstalling the front bumper cover, you’ll need to add the foglight extension harnesses on each side, as the power needs to reach the lower part of the bumper cover to power the foglights that are now down below.

06. Starting in back, take a look at the difference between the stock ’11-’12 taillight (left) and the Raxiom Smoked Aero taillight. To tell you the truth, if the car was any other color besides Race Red, we would have left the stock lamp assemblies in place. But the factory units blend in too much, so these smoked units perfectly contrast the rear of our car.

07. With the taillights removed, you can remove the bumper cover. This requires removal of the screws in the wheelwells and pulling out the pushpins that secure the factory lower valance to the unibody, including the ones that reach up and above the rear mufflers. With the fasteners all undone, you need to give several good tugs to pull the cover off from its clips, carefully doing so to make sure nothing breaks. It sounds worse than it is, but with careful attention, it comes off as an assembly without issue.

08. The rear cover is comprised of two parts—an upper that is painted in body color and a lower that is raw textured-black ABS plastic. To separate the two, you’ll need to undo a few screws, remove the wiring harness that supplies power to the rear license-plate lamps, and then undo the retaining tabs by sliding the lower valance rearward. We then installed the new lower valance with its integrated air diffuser.

09. With the rear bumper cover reinstalled, we moved ahead with the Raxiom taillight installation. The first order of business was to remove the factory wiring harness and LED lamps from the stock taillights and transfer them onto the Raxiom units. This was super simple. Just insert and turn.

10. With the harness and grommet pushed through the rear bulkhead, reinstall the factory nuts with a 10mm socket or in this instance, a ratcheting wrench.

11. So far, so good.

Get Crackin'

To build your own Boss, really our Boss, we needed a car, so we purchased a used '11 GT with a six-speed manual in Race Red, which we picked it up for a decent price of $25,700. Considering the cost of a '13 Boss 302 is nearly $44,000, we've got a theoretical budget of $18,300 to work with.

For our first installment, we start with the aesthetics. Luckily, replicating the look of a Boss 302 is quite easy, thanks to our friends at AmericanMuscle.com. The company not only offers the vinyl needded to achieve the look, but the hardware as well, such as the OEM Ford components required all around.

For the front, American Muscle offers the OEM Boss 302 front bumper fascia and chin spoiler, Roush side splitters to mount under the existing rocker panel covers, OWM Boss 302 lower rear bumper cover/diffuser, and the same RTR aluminum rear spoiler that our friend Vaughn Gittin Jr. installs on his very own RTR Mustang. Rounding out the body-mod list is American Muscle's own vinyl graphics in Gloss Black for the hood, roof, and sides.

As for wheels, Boss 302s came with awesome 19s from the factory, but finding these wheels new or even used isn't the best value—if we could even find them. So, we elected to go with American Muscle's own 19x8.5/19x10 staggered wheel combo, with a set of sticky 255 and 285 Mickey Thompson Street Comp tires all mounted and balanced, just to keep the American icon theme going.

With our '11 GT jacked up in our home workshop, it was time to break out the wrenches. As a former technician by trade, it was very easy to do this conversion. Since the Boss 302 shared the same assembly line as all other Mustangs, you know that the factory had to make these parts easy to install.