Ford projected the same dual message with its original Mustang. The vehicle’s styling made it clear that the new pony car was nothing like dads De Soto. Yet the relatively modest engine calmed the nerves of anxious parents, who weren’t about to let junior end up like the doomed kids in driver’s education films from the time.
All of this changed as the 1960s evolved. Elvis took a backseat to the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, Vietnam heated up, and housewives burned their bras. Even the Beatles went from clean-cut English schoolboys to long-haired critics of the establishment. As American society convulsed from within, the nation got louder, faster, and meaner. Its vehicle choices followed suit.
The Boss 302 was conceived by Ford as an answer to the Chevy Camaro, with its thirsty, powerful V8 engines. The Dearborn-based company released the 428 Cobra Jet, along with an optional Boss 302 package for production Mustangs in 1969.
The engine used a Windsor block enhanced by oversized Cleveland heads, a heightened intake manifold, a wider deck, and a beefed-up alternator pulley. These empowered the motor to churn out RPMs that were considered extreme at the time. The production version came with a built-in speed limiter which owners generally removed as soon as they got the car home.
Larry Shinoda designed the Boss 302’s body. Shinoda worked for GM before jumping ship for Ford. He gave the car a rear deck wing and front spoiler, making it one of the first production vehicles to have both those features. He dumped the faux air scoops that came on regular 69 Mustangs, gave the Boss a bad-ass looking C-stripe, and added options like a blackout hood and back window shade. It had a four-speed gearbox.
The name “Boss” came about when someone asked Shinoda what project he was currently working on. Playing coy, he replied that he was working on his “boss’s car.” Whether or not the name inspired the use of the word “boss” as an alternative to “cool” is a matter of debate. It may have been a not-so-subtle message from Ford that, going forward, the Mustang would dominate the pony car market.
1970 saw the Boss 302 revamped with side hockey-stick stripes and a new grill. Shinoda replaced the quad-headlight design with dual headlights inside the grill and vents along the outside. The car got competition-grade suspension, a Hurst shifter, and lowered ride height.
The 1970 Boss tested out well for cars of the era, doing 0 to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds. It finished the quarter-mile in 14.6 seconds at 98 mph. The company often added an oil cooler to units with the 4.30:1 rear axle ratio. Scarcer than hen’s teeth and more coveted than gold, versions with this feature are easily recognized by popping the hood to see the vertical oil cooler in front of the radiator.