After an absence of more than 40 years from the marketplace Ford rolled out a modern version of the Boss 302 for 2012. It was only a matter of time that Ford would reintroduce the Boss 302 since they had already brought back the Mach 1, California Special and the unforgettable Shelby. Besides the styling of the S197 Mustang just begged to be made into a Boss 302 and with the introduction of the modern 5.0-litre V-8 in 2011 it would have been a crime not to turn the latest Mustang in to a Boss variation. Thankfully Ford resisted in taking the easy way out by making a sticker and spoiler special; instead making a car that truly deserved the Boss 302 designation.
The original Boss 302 from 1969 was built as a homologation special for SCCA’s Trans-Am racing series. Back then it was Ford’s mission to beat the Chevrolet Camaro on the track; however times change and Ford had now set it sights on taking on the almighty BMW M3, a car that many consider way out of the Mustang’s league. Although the M3 was a lofty target it was a sensational car to use as a benchmark for a modern Boss Mustang. The goal was to make a beautifully balanced car that could be driven on the street or taken to a track and make a good driver great and a great driver even better. To achieve this Ford engineers had to re-engineer the Mustang front to back and scrutinize every system to transform the Mustang from a great sports car to one of the best sports cars you could buy in 2012.
One of the major highlights of any Boss Mustang is its engine; after all the numerical designation in its name is taken from the vehicle’s engine displacement in cubic inches. The power-plant in the original Boss 302 attained legendary status in the racing world, allowing Ford to win the SCCA Trans-Am title in 1970. That 302-ci tunnel port V-8 was a sensational performer at the time and part of its charm was its high-strung, rev-happy nature. This was the complete opposite of most V-8’s at the time that relied upon low rpms and gobs of low end torque to get the job done. In fact the original Boss 302 was so free revving that Ford had to install a rev limiter at the factory to keep owners from over revving the engine and damaging engine accessories such as the alternator and water pump. With the legend of the Boss 302 being so strong, Ford knew that they would need to recapture the essence of the original vehicle in order for the new car to be considered a righteous heir to the storied nomenclature.
At the heart of the modern Boss 302 is V-8 engine that once again displaces 302-ci or 5.0-litres in modern measurements. But the V-8 in this Boss 302 has nothing in common with its forbearer save for its displacement. To create the engine engineers started with the Mustang GT’s fabulous 5.0-litre aluminum block, twin-cam, 32-valve V-8 Coyote engine and threw a whole bunch of go fast parts at it to make a free-flowing and high-revving screamer.
Inside the block was a race spec forged steel crankshaft with race-specification main and rod bearings. Attached to the crank is a set of strengthened sinter-forged connecting rods with forged aluminum pistons that could handle high engine speeds. At the bottom there is a revised oil-pan with special baffling that holds 8-litres of synthetic motor oil. To keep things getting too hot the engine is fitted with an oil cooler.
Capping the block is a pair of new cylinder heads cast in a stronger aluminum alloy that have undergone 2.5 hours of CNC machining to the intake and exhaust ports as well as the combustion chambers for better air-flow. These special heads were fitted with lightweight valvetrain components including sodium filled exhaust valves and larger intake valves along with higher lift camshafts. Topping off the heads was a new “runners-in-the-box” intake manifold made from light weight composite material that featured short runners that resembled velocity stacks for optimum flow at high engine speeds.
Allowing the Boss 302 to exhale was an all-new quad exhaust system that gave this special Mustang a raspy bark the lucky driver will never tire of listening too. The system consists of two pipes that exit the rear of the car and two new pipes that poke out just ahead of the rear wheels. These new side pipes are affixed to either side of the crossover pipe and feature a set of metal “Attenuation” discs that tune the exhaust giving it an extra growl. In reality these pipes flow very little and don’t really enhance the performance but they do give the Boss 302 a distinct sound unlike any other Mustang. For those who loved the Boss 302’s soundtrack and wanted more volume the discs could be removed, and often were soon after the owner took possession of the car and drove off the dealer’s lot.
The results of all the tweaking was an engine that redlined at a dizzying 7500 rpm and produced 444-horsepower and 380 pound-feet of neck snapping torque. But it wasn’t necessarily the power numbers that impressed the most, it was how the engine performed and made its power. This engine was extremely free-revving, spinning quickly and effortlessly to its 7500 rpm limit reacting more like a smaller displacement engine coming from Europe rather than a Detroit V-8. Unlike the brutish Shelby GT500 that overwhelms the car and driver with its extreme power, the 5.0-litre in the Boss 302 never over steps its bounds, yet produces just the right amount of power, just when you want it. This remarkable flexibility is due to the engine’s wide powerband that has a liner torque curve all the way to redline.
Best of all, the engine is completely civilized when driven calmly around town. The car can be driven day in and day out without a hint that the engine is capable of fire breathing high rpm excitement. In fact, the engine is incredibly smooth and will idle as smoothly as most sedans; impressive considering all the high performance engine hardware.
To get the power to the rear wheels the Boss 302 was fitted with a heavy-duty flywheel and clutch assembly that employed high friction materials that could transmit all the power to the 6-speed transmission effectively and reliably. Each gear is selected via a short throw shifter that allows the driver to row through the gears quickly and precisely with missed shifts being a thing of the past. From the transmission the power is then directed to a 3.73 ratio rear end with limited-slip that features carbon fiber clutch plates. For those who desired more grip a Torsen helical torque-sensing differential was available that was grouped along with a pair of Recaro sport seats with grey “Boss 302” embroidered logo.
While the drive train of the Boss 302 may steal the limelight, the car is thankfully much more than a hopped-up engine package. Engineers spent many hours tuning the Boss 302’s suspension creating what is perhaps the best balanced Ford performance car ever produced. The suspension boasts higher-rate coil springs and stiffer bushings at all four corners along with a 25-millimeter anti-sway bar at the rear. The standard shocks and struts were replaced with individually adjustable units that offered five settings that are selected via screwdriver. This allowed owners to quickly change damping rates when at a track or to dial in more or less firmness on the street.
To bring the Boss 302 to a halt was accomplished through a pair of Brembo 14-inch vented rotors and four-piston calipers at the front while a set of 11.8-inch vented rotors were used at the rear. The brake pads are made of a special high performance compound that is very close to track specification. Engineers also went as far as to specify hardened brake lines that prevent expansion for improved performance and pedal feel. In order to keep the car planted to the ground a set of max-performance Pirelli P-Zero summer only tire sized P255/40ZR19 at the front and P285/35ZR19 at the rear mounted on black painted 10-spoke aluminum wheels sized 19x9-inch and 19x9.5-inch respectively. There was also a full suite of Ford’s latest electronic aids such as traction control, anti-lock brakes and multi-mode stability control standard.
Available only in the coupe body style, the exterior of the 2012 Boss 302 was brimming with nostalgia from its bright colour pallet to its C-stripes along its flanks stylists made sure that this car had a visual connection with its predecessor from 1969. At the front there was a blacked out grille with blocked off fog lights along with an aggressive front fascia with an attached splitter. The hood was treated to another tape appliqué while the roof was either painted black or white depending on the main colour of the rest of the bodywork. Out back there was a restrained rear spoiler and a blackout panel between the sequential taillights.
Inside, the Boss 302 was treated to charcoal black cloth front bucket seats with the “BOSS 302” logo embroidered with grey stitching. There was a dark-aluminum dash appliqué that ran from one side of the instrument panel to the other along with a unique gauge cluster. The steering wheel was wrapped in Alcantara providing the driver additional grip on the wheel and the gear lever was topped off with a black cue ball-style shift knob. It may not have been the most luxurious or stylish interior in a Mustang but it did allow the driver to concentrate on the business of driving and that is what the Boss 302 was all about.
From the beginning of the Boss 302’s development engineers used the BMW M3 as their target for performance and driving feel and they were determined to exceed the Bavarians’ performance at every level. To many enthusiasts the M3 is the holy grail of four seat sports coupes. It’s a car that is brimming with performance and provides a driving experience that is second to none. For Ford to use the car as a bench mark to surpass was a bold move. In the end Ford did an excellent job at creating its own M3 fighter. This Mustang drove like none other before, becoming an extension of the driver with the ability to lay down its substantial power with ease and fly through corners and switch backs with remarkable agility and lightning quick responses. There is so much grip that the driver will run out of courage before the Boss losses grip, best of all the car is remarkably balanced, never feeling nervous and always ready to be thrown into the next corner.
And although the Boss 302 was a legitimate corner carver it was also no slouch at the drag strip. With the ability to crack off a 0-60 mph time of around 4 seconds flat and a quarter mile time of 12.3 seconds at 115 mph; seriously fast for a normally aspirated Mustang, the Boss 302 was enough to keep pace with a 2012 GT500! For even more scalding performance the Boss 302 was available with a second key called a TracKey (or better known as “the red key” because of its red Boss 302 logo) that could unleash the Boss 302’s full potential. When used, this secondary key accesses a full race calibration in the Powertrain Control Module that allows for quicker acceleration, crisper throttle response, a more aggressive idle and a more aggressive exhaust note.
In all respects the standard Boss 302 was an outstanding car, better than any Mustang that came before. However engineers felt that they could push the envelope even further and from this came the unbelievable Laguna Seca Package. Named after the famed track where a Boss 302 won the first race of the 1970 Trans-Am season, the Laguna Seca was designed to be the ultimate track car. Improving on the Boss 302’s already formidable performance, the Laguna Seca was shod with Pirelli P-Zero Corsa R compound competition performance tires mounted on unique red-painted machined aluminum wheels that were sized 19x10-inches at the rear. At the rear the Laguna Seca was fitted with even stiffer springs, larger stabilizer bar and the Torsen helical limited-slip rear differential was included. A chassis stiffening rear redcross X-brace was installed in place of the rear seat and the front brakes received huge cooling ducts to keep temperatures getting too high during track duty. Rounding out the mechanical changes was a transmission oil cooler scoop.
All 2012 Laguna Seca’s were finished in exclusive colours of either Ingot Silver or Black with red grille surround, red roof and mirror caps. There was also larger pedestal rear spoiler also finished in red and a larger front splitter that required installation by the owner. While the look of the Laguna Seca’s exterior was rather garish with its loud red accents it was certain to grab the attention of onlookers as it flew down a track. Inside, the Laguna Seca featured the fabulous Recaro cloth sport seat that had the “BOSS 302” logo embroidered in red stitching. There was also a special gauge package mounted in a pod affixed to the top of the instrument panel that housed engine temperature, oil pressure and dynamic performance gauges.
The 2012 Boss 302 Laguna Seca is sensational factory-built race car that can be driven on the street. It’s a very special and unique car and is one of those vehicles that as the ability to make a good driver great and a great driver even better. This is a car that is equally enjoyable to drive on the street as it is on the track and has to be one the best all round best Mustangs ever built. Thankfully the Boss 302 made a return for 2013.
For 2013 the Boss 302 came racing back sporting the styling changes that benefitted all Mustangs across the line. Mechanically the car remained unchanged as there was little reason for engineers to fiddle with the Boss’s near perfect package. Any changes to the Boss 302 for 2013 revolved around the esthetics of the car. Along with the front and rear end styling refinements found on Mustang GT’s the standard Boss 302 wore new low-gloss black reflective hood and hockey stick side graphics that were inspired by the 1970 Boss 302. The roof was now finished in the same colour as the rest of the car and the rear spoiler was painted in a low-gloss black to match the striping package. Colours on the standard Boss 302 were Performance White, School Bus Yellow, Race Red, Grabber Blue and the funky Gotta Have It Green Metallic Tri-Coat. Inside little had changed.
Once again the brilliant Laguna Seca Package found its way back on the order sheet for 2013; however its appearance was toned down and sported a more mature, less garish appearance. As with the previous year colour choices were restricted to two and while Black came back Ingot Silver was dropped in favor of the eye popping School Bus Yellow. Both paint colours were draped with the new stripe graphic designs shared with the standard Boss 302 but were finished in Sterling Grey rather than the low-gloss black. The Sterling Grey finish was also applied to the rear spoiler, mirror caps and on the wheel accents of Laguna Seca as well. Inside, the colour of the embroidery on the Recaro sport seats was changed from red to Dove Grey and the X-brace that replaced the rear seat was also toned down and finished in Sterling Grey. With the styling changes and restrained trim the 2013 Laguna Seca looked mean and purposeful, more suitable to its mission as a weekend track terror.
The 2012-2013 Boss 302 and Boss 302 Laguna Seca are cars that really should have never existed. They were conceived during the time of the great recession in 2008-2009 when many car companies were struggling for survival, let a lone concerned with producing a low volume toy for weekend races and hard core car enthusiasts. But the marketing people and engineers stuck it out and created what I would deem as the finest Mustang to ever roll out of a Ford factory; it really is that good. But is it better than a BMW M3? Well that is debatable. If the Boss 302 was just a touch smaller and weight a bit less and was equipped with an independent rear suspension I’m certain that it could walk all over BMW’s stalwart super coupe as I feel that Ford now has what it takes to produce a truly magical sports coupe that can hold its own against it competition from anywhere around the world. So while the Boss 302 may not beat the Bavarian outright it certainly can be regarded as being just as awesome as the German car in just about every respect in the area performance but also in intangible areas such as driving feel and pleasure as well as personality and that speaks volumes regarding Ford’s achievement.
The S197 Mustang was a huge leap forward for the carline in terms of refinement, performance and style; however after nearly a decade in production and the introduction of some sophisticated competition the S197 was due for a change. Throughout its production Ford stubbornly stuck to the old solid axle rear end citing that the benefit to cost of an IRS set up just didn’t make sense. Instead Ford just kept throwing money at the solid axle trying to tune its inherent disadvantages away. By the time the Boss 302 arrived, a driver would be hard pressed to know that the car was saddled with a live axle. But all that work came at a cost. In 2009 Motor Trend magazine reported that the live rear axle in the S197 Mustang actually cost Ford $98 per unit more than a low cost independent rear suspension that had originally been designed for the car. By the time the S197 hit the streets it was too late to change course and the Mustang would have to wait until its next generation to get the rear suspension that it truly deserved. That would come along with an all new Mustang for 2015 that promised to ring in the Mustang’s 50th year with a car that would take the Mustang to new heights in terms of style performance and engineering.