Ford Mustang Boss 302: Reviving a Legend

Ford engineers gave themselves a daunting assignment as they gathered to create the 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302. The first Boss 302 became a legendary car more than 30 years ago, so following up on that without disappointing the Mustang faithful was tough enough. But Ford execs also received additional marching orders — namely, to create a Mustang that could lap Laguna Seca faster than the highly tuned, highly expensive BMW M3, which many think is a bargain at $60,000.

Mustang chief engineer Dave Pericak has led a team that has accomplished both goals admirably. One of the key ingredients was, as it always seems to be, more horsepower. The 412 horsepower from the 5-liter V-8 engine in the 2011 Mustang GT seems like plenty, but if 412 horsepower is good, then 444 horsepower is even better. Ford’s Mike Harrison and his crew added the extra go-power with lots of manifold work. The runners-in-the-box plenum and velocity stack give the engine an uncanny ability to breathe, and the manifold is accompanied by more aggressive camshafts actuated with the same twin independent variable camshaft timing mechanism used on the Mustang GT. Unique cast-alloy cylinder heads that receive hours’ worth of CNC-machining are also part of the program, as are lightweight hollow-stem valves that help the valvetrain remain happy and smiling all the way to the 7500-rpm redline. An oil-cooler and a larger radiator were fitted to the Boss 302’s engine as well.

Certainly, if the airflow going into the engine is important, then so is the airflow going out of it. The 2011 Mustang GT exhaust system works very, very well in this regard, but the Ford engineers felt it needed tuning … and in this case, a tuning fork may have been an appropriate tool. Exhaust note, something that in the old days just was, has been the subject of heavy doses of tuning. The Boss 302 offers two rear exhaust outlets, plus two side outlets that send exhaust gases through a set of metal discs chosen for the mellifluous sounds they make when vibrated by exhaust gases.

The Mustang GT’s suspension system was changed substantially with the addition of an adjustable suspension that offers customers five levels of performance. Don’t look for a knob on the console, though; the shocks are adjusted by using a standard flathead screwdriver to rotate the adjustment head at the top of each shock tower. Simple. Cheap. Light. But what about the possibility of screwing up (so to speak) the adjustment from one shock to the other?

You probably won’t screw up gear changes with the six-speed manual transmission that features a short-throw shift lever topped with a pool-ball knob. Handling is enhanced by a larger-diameter rear stabilizer bar, higher-rate springs and stiffer bushings, but Ford has decided to retain the solid rear axle, largely for cost and durability reasons.

We have to admit, we like the looks of the unique, lightweight 19-inch black alloy racing wheels shod with high-performance summer tires. Stopping power is provided by a brake system that includes Brembo four-piston calipers acting on 14-inch vented rotors in the front, and upgraded Mustang GT brakes in the rear.

In the looks department, Ford designers definitely took a gander at the archives. Each Boss 302 that comes off the line will have a white or black roof panel, coordinating with the color of the side C-stripe. The biggest styling change from the current Mustang GT is the massive lower splitter, designed to manage airflow around and under the car. At high speeds, it cuts front-end lift, under-car drag and — as a bonus — it helps direct air into the cooling system.

So, does the Boss 302 beat the M3 around Laguna Seca? Yes, in the right hands — not ours — it certainly did. But what surprised us was that the new model offers good road-holding and fine handling with a more forgiving ride than we imagined. Said to be priced a bit over $40,000 when it arrives later this year, we think the new Boss 302 may start a legend of its own.