By Ann M. Job
After 42 years, the Mustang Boss 302 is back, channeling race car driver Parnelli Jones and his exhilarating 1970 Trans Am series win at Laguna Seca raceway in California.
Jones’ success in the Sports Car Club of America’s championship that year memorialized the horsepower wars among American nameplates in that era.
The new, expressively styled, 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 – with optional hockey-stick stripes on its sides – is way more than a drive down memory lane, however.
With a 5-liter V-8, it growls with 444 horsepower, 53 percent more than the 290 horses of the original Boss. Zero-to-60 time is between 4 and 4.3 seconds compared, with 6.5 seconds in the original car, which had a 302-cubic-inch, or 4.9-liter V-8.
Best of all, steering, handling and ride, which are sporty at the get-go, can be further tuned for buyers who like to race at raceways on weekends – or not. The test Boss coupe was surprisingly balanced with a firm ride and programmable steering that encouraged daily driving, too.
Still, the Boss is a racetrack-ready sports coupe that’s street legal.
With a government fuel economy rating of 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway, it doesn’t even incur the federal gas guzzler tax. I managed only 14.9 mpg in combined city/highway travel.
The car isn’t cheap. The starting price, including destination charge, is $41,105 for the Boss 302 with six-speed manual transmission. This is $18,000 more than a base Mustang with 305-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 and manual transmission, and $10,600 more than the Mustang GT with 412-horsepower V-8, which begins at $30,505.
By comparison, the Chevrolet Camaro SS Coupe with 426-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 and manual transmission starts at $31,920.
In price and power, the Boss is between the V-8-powered GT and the 2012 Shelby GT500, which has a 550-horsepower, 5.4-liter V-8 and starts at $49,605.
Like the original Boss, which was engineered and built by Ford Motor Co. as a secret project for the SCCA’s Trans Am race series, the Boss 302 comes from Ford, not a customizing shop.
“The Boss 302 isn’t something a Mustang GT owner can buy all the parts for out of a catalog or that a tuner can get by adding a chip,” said Dave Pericak, Mustang’s chief engineer.
The Boss’ engine is based on the GT’s double-overhead-cam 5-liter unit. Ford engineers didn’t add a supercharger.
Instead, they kept the engine naturally aspirated, changed the camshaft profiles and crankshaft, improved airflow in the aluminum alloy cylinders and added new runners-in-the-box/velocity stack plenum intake.
An oil cooler is standard; so is a redesigned oil pan to make sure the hard-working engine is never without proper lubrication.
There’s a quad exhaust system that helps account for the deep, throaty sounds emanating from the Boss. Even when the test car was at idle, my passengers and I heard the engine, sort of purring deeply the way a wild tiger might while resting.
The exhaust system helps keep the Boss street legal by keeping noise volume down. At a racetrack, the exhaust baffles can be easily removed so the exhaust system can be unrestricted for greater power.
Brakes in the test car grabbed quickly to slow the Boss down. Its brakes come from Brembo and have 14-inch, vented front brake discs.
The wheels are lightweight alloy and black for a sinister look. The tires are 19-inch Pirelli PZeros, a summer tire with tenacious grip.
The test car tracked well on curves and turns, and there was considerable road noise.
Torque peaks at 380 foot-pounds at 4,500 rpm, and acceleration came on smoothly and strongly and certainly never lagged in the tester.
Speed-sensitive steering, when adjusted to sport mode, gave precise, quick response.