What you’re looking at here is a rare beast indeed. In 1969, Ford USA built just 1628 Boss 302 Mustangs. This is one of them. The Boss 302 was built with circuit racing in mind. By 1969, Ford was heavily involved in the Trans-American Sedan Championship (TransAm), for mid-sized sedans of up to 5000cc. General Motors (through Chevrolet and Pontiac), and American Motor Company (AMC), also funded factory teams, while Chrysler (through Dodge and Plymouth) became involved in 1970, after a brief flirtation during the inaugural TransAm season in 1966.
Ups and Downs
The ’69 model was still based on the original Mustang platform, first released in April 1964, but overall the car had now become longer and wider. It also enjoyed better weight distribution, with the engine sitting slightly further back in the monocoque. Ford had won the 1967 TransAm championship, but was beaten soundly in 1968 by Chevrolet. In ’67, when Ford won the TransAm championship, its factory team was Carroll Shelby Racing, although NASCAR team owner Bud Moore ran a factory supported team of Mercury Cougars, which were also very successful. For 1968, Shelby’s Mustangs were fitted with tunnel-port heads (the intake ports went straight from the manifold to the cylinders, rather than curving around the pushrods, and the pushrods were encased in tubes which went through the middle of the intake ports), which looked good on a dyno machine, but in racing conditions they proved massively unreliable. The heads would trap oil, and the engines seized. Ford, strangely, decided to build the engines itself and ship them to Shelby, rather than have the highly experienced Shelby team build them. Shelby team manager Lew Spencer was quoted as saying most races were six-engine weekends. The two cars would blow an engine in practice, qualifying, and the race. Ford was almost beaten to second in the championship by the underfunded, inexperienced AMC team.
Come Back Fighting
For 1969, Ford threw its corporate weight behind the series, financing two Mustang teams, a two-car team for Shelby, and another two-car team for Bud Moore. The ’69 season was a titanic struggle between the Ford and Chevrolet teams. Ford notched up wins at the first two rounds as lead Penske driver Mark Donohue ironed the bugs out of his new Camaro. Chevy won round three before Ford fought back, winning rounds four and five. From there, the Penske Camaros won the final seven races, while Donohue claimed his second TransAm title.
The Shelby and Bud Moore Mustangs outran the Penske Camaros for much of the season, but their top drivers, in particular Parnelli Jones and George Folmer, often destroyed their cars with their ‘win at all costs’ driving styles. Shelby driver Horst Kwech single-handedly wrecked three cars early in the season. Also, the Penske team simply outsmarted the Ford teams. Ford finally got its own back, winning the 1970 title despite having slashed its racing budget and cut back to one team. That was also the final year of the golden period for TransAm, a period that spawned so many of the great homologation special pony cars which are such treasured, sought-after items today.
The story of the Boss Mustang begins in late 1968. Following its disastrous tunnel-port headed ’68 season, Ford tested three 5.0-litre engines. The existing tunnel-port 302, a Gurney- Eagle headed 302 (designed by British engineer Harry Weslake), and a more conventional canted-valve 302. Although the Gurney-Eagle engine proved best, the canted valve set-up was given the nod based on cost, and, as has been suggested, the fact it was American and not a foreign design.
To be eligible for TransAm, the manufacturer had to produce at least 1000 units of the production car from which the race cars were derived. In road-going form, the car was offered to the public as the Boss 302 Mustang. The heads featured a heavy breathing 2.23-inch intake, and 1.72-inch exhaust valves. The engine block was based on a strengthened version of the small block Windsor, and featured four-bolt mains, with forged steel con-rods, a mechanical lifter camshaft, and forged steel crank. Up top was an aluminium high-rise intake manifold and a Holley 780cfm carburettor. All Boss 302 Mustangs featured a four-speed manual transmission.
The total number of Boss 302s built was, as mentioned, just 1628. Production was picked up for 1970, with 7013 units produced. A limited number of Boss 429 Mustangs were also built — 830 in 1969, and 499 in 1970 — for Nascar.
There were four colour options available on Boss muscle 302 Mustangs in ’69, Wimbledon White, Bright Yellow, Calypso Coral and Acapulco Blue.
The Boss Mustangs differed outwardly to normal ’69 fastbacks, in that they didn’t have the hipline ducts sitting just forward of the rear wheel arches. There was also additional use of flat black paint and stickers on the bodywork, and a large stripe, with the lettering ‘Boss 302’, along the side. A front chin spoiler was standard, so it could be homologated for racing, while an adjustable rear spoiler was optional.
Lots of Horses
The owner of our featured car is Dale Mathers. Dale has owned over 30 (!) Mustangs, the first purchased when he was just 16. It was a ’68 J-code four-barrel fastback — bought from Jack Nazer — which had been smashed in the side, requiring a rebuild. Bob Clarkson (now Tauranga MP and owner of Bay Park speedway) imported the required parts to fix it when he owned Matamata V8s.
Dale owns Coastline Automotive, based in Tauranga, which specialises in doing Mustang resto-mods along with performance engine kits and upgrades, disc brake conversions, and race preparation and building. He also keeps a large inventory of parts, many of which are hard to come by, and this side of the business keeps him busy, with items being shipped to customers every day of the week.
Actually finding the Boss came about purely by chance, as Dale explains. “A guy called John Slack in Bakersfield CA advertised on the Boss website wanting to buy a twin four-barrel intake manifold for a ’69 Boss 302. I had one sitting in my shop, and he bought it. I asked him what he was putting it on, and he said a ’69 Boss 302. I told him ‘I’m looking for one of those’, and he said ‘well I know where one is. When I bought mine, there were two to choose from’. It was never advertised for sale, I just got it through word of mouth.”
Dale purchased the Mustang about two years ago, although his plans to build a ’69 Boss TransAm-inspired race car with a few modern touches stem back a further three years, and as such he’d been collecting parts for it long before he ever found the car. Dale’s car is one of only three Boss Mustangs sold by the Ford dealership in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is one of only three Boss Mustangs sold with the combination of colour and trim his came with.
The original colour is Calypso Coral, which is the colour it has been restored to.
Crash ’n’ Cash
The Mustang was involved in a bad crash in 1977, which left the front right side heavily damaged. Back then Boss 302 Mustangs weren’t worth anything, so the engine, gearbox and wheels were all removed, and the car was literally pushed out into the desert. However, the New Mexico climate is kind to cars, and despite being totally neglected the Mustang was completely rust free when Dale purchased it.
So sought-after are pony-cars in the USA now, particularly low volume specials like the Boss 302, that when the damaged hulk was loaded onto a flat-deck trailer, and trucked from its long-time resting place to LA to be shipped to New Zealand, other drivers kept pulling the truck driver over to enquire about the car. People were weaving all over the road, and pulling off crazy u-turns over double lanes to pull the truck over. The truck driver, after two days of this, had become a touch irate, and suggested to Dale perhaps he put a cover over his cars in future.
Nip and Tuck
One of the clever tricks common in TransAm racing was to give the cars a droop front. What this effectively did was reduce frontal drag, and lower the front spoiler closer to the ground, but without bringing the car below the minimum race ride height. The race officials used to go crazy trying to work out how some of the teams got around the rules. The droop fronts were done by cutting a pie-shape wedge out of the inner fender, starting from where the inner fender meets the radiator support panel, beginning with a 50mm cut, and gradually tapering back to nothing at the strut tower.
A horizontal 50mm section was also cut out of the top of the radiator support panel. As he was building a quasi-TransAm replica, Dale wanted to do the same on his car, although he went for a slightly more conservative 40mm cut.
“I’ve got a panel-beater here,” Dale says, “his name is Thomas Cook. He’s 60, and he used to own his own panel shop in Whangarei. He’s into Fords, but mainly older ’30s and ’40s stuff.
He and a mate of his are old ‘hammer and file’ (old school) guys, and he did the whole car, plus he did the flared guards, and the drooped front.
He worked from a shed just outside of Te Puna. He’s a no-pressure man, I had to just leave it to him, it was the only way I could get it done.”
To compensate for the change in shape of the inner fender, a huge amount of re-shaping was required on the front guards to avoid getting a kink at the top where the tapper began. “The bonnet is fibreglass, so that was no problem! The guards were a little more work, Thomas had to kind of roll them the full length so as not to get a kink in the top surface, as this is what everyone sees. That’s why he stopped at 40mm, any further would have made the job a lot harder! He said ‘if we go any further, we’re going to have problems with the door gap at the rear of the guard, but at the moment I can pull it out at the flare”. Which is what he did. He effectively avoided any non-fitment of the guard by flaring and cutting a small section from the front wheel arches, and stretched the metal at the flare. Dale then had to go through and slice all the bumper lines and drop them down so everything matched up. It’s a beautiful job, and is really only noticeable if you park it next to a standard ’69 Mustang.
The engine features a Dart block, similar to an SVO, which is almost identical to a Boss block, although they feature Siamese bores, which allows you to bore them out. The heads are standard 1970 302 Boss heads, which Dale purchased about two years ago at a Portland swap meet. They were sold brand-new over the counter in 1970, fitted to a hot rod, used for only two years, then put back on the shelf where they sat for 30 years, until Dale got them.
“The valves on the ’70 Boss were slightly smaller, they [Ford] found that they didn’t have enough air speed across the valves in ’69 because of the diameter, so they pulled them down a bit smaller, so it’s the better head.”
Other engine details include the Eagle 4340 stroker crank, Eagle rods, CP pistons, and roller cam. There’s also a genuine Faulkner and Dunn IDA intake manifold, of which only 30 were ever made, and which Dale purchased about five years ago. Four 48 IDA Webers sit up top, although Dale will soon get these bored out to 52mm.
Currently, the Tony Marsh-built engine produces 418kW (560hp).
The gearbox is a ’70 Boss 302 close ratio toploader synchro ’box with billet hook-slider shift hubs, a nodular HD input shaft, a 31-spline output shaft with DK alloy tail housing and a long Nascar shifter, assembled by Performance Trans in Pukekohe. The driveshaft is all aluminium! It’s made in the USA, based on the power/weight specifications given by Dale, and is over 4 inches (102mm) in diameter. The diff is a Ford nine-inch by Strange Engineering with alloy head and support, a 31-spline Detroit Locker, 3.5 gears, with Coastline Automotive custom-made full floating hubs and Coleman Gun barrel drill axles.
Dale finished the Mustang in late 2005, just in time for the annual Whittaker’s Classic Race meeting held at Manfeild every November. The Mustang fits the GDM Group Central Muscle Cars Group 2 division.
Its Whittaker’s meeting was cut short when a gear selector broke in race one, but second time out at Taupo produced instant results when Dale finished second in Group 2 for the meeting. He then went one better when the series ventured down to Ruapuna, winning his class. He was kept busy, running two classes at Ruapuna with a total of 10 races. But most importantly of all he had a great time, which is exactly what he built the car for. As he explains, “I went in two classes so had two qualifying races and 10 competition races in two days, so I was very happy, and used 180 litres of fuel. And I finished every race and had no damage at all.” It doesn’t get much better than that.
Car: 1969 Ford Boss 302 Mustang
Engine: 8.2 deck World Products Dart block,
3.25 Eagle stroker crank with matching Eagle rods,
Custom 4.155 high compression pistons, stock
factory 1970 DOZE Boss 302 heads, stainless valves,
Comp Cams solid roller cam and valve train, Fulkner
& Dunn IDA intake with brand-new 48 IDA Webers,
Hooker headers, MSD dizzy, Stock Car Products dry
sump system, magnesium Nascar bellhousing and triple plate clutch
Gearbox: 1970 Boss 302 close ratio top-loader
synchro ’box with billet hook-slider shift hubs,
nodular HD input shaft, 31-spline output shaft with
DK alloy tail housing and long Nascar shifter
Rear End: Ford nine-inch (of course) Strange
Engineering alloy head and support, 31-spline
Detroit Locker, 3.5 gears, Coastline Automotive
custom-made full floating hubs, Coleman Gun
Brakes: Wilwood six-pot front, factory TransAm
cast-iron four-pot rears
Wheels: Custom-made Arrows 16 by 10 inches
Name: Dale Mathers
Occupation: Company director Coastline Automotive
Cars Owned: Over 30 Mustangs, two ’69 Camaros, ’63
Corvette etc, etc.
Thanks to: Rex Kelland, Modesto, California. John Slack,
Bakersfield, California. Thomas Cook for panel-work. Heath
Lett for fabrication. Kevin Nicholson, Tig welding. Rodney,
fabrications and repairs. Dave Short, Oasis Engineering.
Brett, Gamman Engineering. Alan, Endeavour Engineering.
Karl Butterworth, KNR Paintworks. Derrick, Performance
Trans. Lee, Diff-R-Us. Tony Marsh, engine. Kevin Ban, Kelford
Words: Steve Holmes | Photos: Photoman