The Boss: And I Don’t Mean Springsteen

The Boss is Back - 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302If you’ve been following the autobloggers lately, you’ll probably have heard that Ford invited several of them out to Monterey, California to check out the newest Mustang, the 2012 Boss 302. 

I arrived in the Golden State a little jet lagged, but excited to…oh, who am I kidding?  I wasn’t invited, but I did read all of their reviews, and I’ve concluded that the 2012 Boss 302 Mustang may mean the rebirth of the American muscle car.

Instead of targeting the new Camaro LR1 or the hulking Challenger, Ford ambitiously looked across the sea and decided that the BMW M3 would be a more appropriate benchmark for the 302.  And that’s a brave venture.  The M3 has been a racing legend for decades on the touring circuit:  its small, light, and powerful formula earning it countless victories.

Under the 302’s hood you’ll find the simply-presented, standard Mustang 5.0, but with a redesigned air intake, CNC ported heads, and bigger exhaust valves.  Ford only boosted the horsepower to 444, the standard 5.0’s being 412, but they’ve also replaced the valves, leading to a 7,500 rpm redline.  

All that’s nice to listen to when you’re in neutral, or when you’re using the built-in launch control to imagine that you’re impressing the ladies.  But the M3 won’t be concerned with any of this.  What about the track?  Well, you know how most modern Ferraris let you adjust your suspension by means of high-powered computers mounted all over the steering wheel?  You can do that in the new Boss, but you get to stop and use a screwdriver.  There are 5 suspension levels- from 1, which will rock you to sleep like waves for a sailor, or 5, which will assist the medical community with spinal injury research. 

The Boss has a live rear axle, which makes it a bit jittery over rough roads, but they’ve added (as an option) a Torsen helical differential, which uses gears instead of plates or clutches.  Like a limited slip diff, it keeps the torque on the outside wheel and keeps the inside wheel from spinning. 

When you see it, you almost don’t care that it has any of this.  Yes, I know, it’s mostly just another Mustang body, but the Boss is proof of how much you can do on an emotional level with a little paint and some colored wheels.  The limited Laguna Seca edition, with its semi-illegal (and removable) front splitter, looks even better.

That splitter, combined with a rear-seat delete, stiffened frame, and a few other mods, helps the Laguna Seca edition get around that famed track a full second faster than the standard Boss.  It will set you back $47,000, as opposed to the regular 302’s sticker of $41,000.

After learning all of this and seeing the new Boss in action, I’ve found that I was mistaken.  The 302 isn’t the rebirth of the American muscle car.  This new pony is the next evolution of the American muscle car. 

For half a century muscle cars have been roaring down our roads.  We love them because they’re cheap, beautiful, loud, heavy, and fun.  They’re affordable after a decent tax refund.  We can create fog warnings with their tire smoke.  We can play pickup football games on their hoods.  They drift far enough around the corners to span Michael Bay’s entire Panavision frame.  There have been other local speed machines, of course, like the mid-engine Ford GT, the immutable Dodge Viper, and the timeless Chevrolet Corvette, all of these gaining international acclaim.  But to be true muscle cars they have to have met the above criteria. 

And it’s clear that the Boss 302 has met them all.  Yet it does more than that.  To beat a BMW M3 around Laguna Seca is no mean feat.  Before, we rather took our pony cars with a grain of salt.  If they didn’t perform, we’d appeal to the general consensus of “It’s a muscle car, after all,” receiving shrugs and nods all around.  This new Boss, however, forces us to reevaluate just what a muscle car can do.  It sets a new standard for the muscle car market, which, after 50 years, has finally begun to grow up. 

It’s my opinion that the 2012 Mustang Boss 302 is the most revolutionary muscle car since their inception.  Ford’s new pony will usher in a new era of higher standards and foreign challengers, which may even set some affordable Detroit machines among the great touring cars of the world.

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