Ford Mustang Boss 302 (1969/70) - Trans Am legend
The introduction of the Ford Mustang in 1964 caused quite a stir among the world’s motoring public and everybody expected that the sporty looking coupe would become the dominant force in global touring car championships. However, under that sexy and sleek body were the very ordinary Falcon mechanics with primitive live axle and not so powerful engines. Very soon, Ford realized that the sporty look must have a sporty performance and dynamics and therefore asked Carroll Shelby to work his magic and produce the Shelby GT350 in 1965. Shelby Mustangs were a success on and off the track but as the 60’s came to the end, Mustang got restyled and faced much tougher competition.
Trans Am wars of the late 60’s
In those days, Trans Am championship was the place for pony car track wars. It was one of the best touring car series in the world, and it featured selected cars from all around the globe. The cars were divided into two classes, under and over 2 liters, and the first class featured European touring cars (Alfa Romeo, BMW, Lotus Cortina Mk1…) while the second class included American makes (Ford, Chevrolet, Plymouth, and later Dodge, AMC, and Pontiac).
Since the Muscle cars were a big thing in the 60’s, the Trans Am was the best arena for their battles. In the first years of the Trans Am series, Shelby, with the various Mustangs, was the most successful team, winning the 1966 and 1967 title. But, in late 1967, Mustang got a very dangerous opponent in the form of Chevrolet Camaro Z28. The Z28 was a road-going Camaro model, almost factory-prepared for Trans Am racing. Officially, General Motors was out of the racing but they knew that Chevrolet products are very popular with racing teams, and by producing regular models with lots of semi racing features, they would help small teams be successful on the track. The Camaro Z28 proved to be better and faster than the Shelby Mustangs, and managed to win the 1968 Trans Am championship.
Big hopes for the new car – Ford Mustang Boss 302
Since the Trans Am series was very important for marketing and sales reasons, Ford wanted revenge, and in 1969, with the new restyle of the Mustang line, they debuted a new Trans Am-oriented version called Boss 302. The Ford Mustang Boss 302 featured a Sportsroof body style and a new Boss engine with 302 cid (5 liters) pretty conservatively rated at 290 bhp. The new model had front and rear spoilers, better brakes and suspension, and it was directly aimed to face against the Chevrolet Camaro Z28 on the streets and on the race tracks.
Menacing presence on the racing track
Ford was eager to race the new car in 1969, and contracted Shelby American as their proven partner. The modifications were extensive and thorough with 6 cars being transformed into racing beasts. The engines were tuned to produce more than 450 bhp and all cars had full race cages installed. Suspension was adjusted for full racing mode, as were the gearbox and the brakes. The complete and race-ready car was very light (1200 kg) and it had 50/50 weight distribution. The bodywork was modified in order to fit much larger wheels and racing tires. The finalized car looked menacing, and it was very fast indeed.
Title in 1970 without factory support
However, during the 1969 season, Mustang Boss 302 was unsuccessful, and Penske Camaro Z28, with the famous Mark Donahue, won the 1969 Trans Am title again. Despite the great financial boost from Ford Motor Company, Shelby American racing know-how and the experienced Parnelli Jones and George Follmer at the wheel, the Boss Mustang wasn’t quite fast enough. It was also hampered with a series of bad luck and crashes. Ford did score a few wins, but definitely not enough to beat Chevrolet.
As the 60’s came to an end, Ford canceled its famous Total Performance Program and terminated its factory involvement in Trans Am racing. This meant that, for 1970, there would be no Ford-backed team in Trans Am, just private teams with year-old cars. Shelby American was out of the racing, but Bud Moore team managed to get a fair amount of factory support and aimed to win the 1970 Trans Am title.
The 1970 Boss 302 was basically the same as the 1969 model, but the bodywork was modified to look like the street version which got slightly restyled for the 1970 model year. Right from the start of the season, Bud Moore team faced tough competition because every US car manufacturer had factory-supported teams in Trans Am, and beside Camaro Z28, there were Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, Plymouth Barracuda, Dodge Challenger TA, and AMC Javelin. This sums up why the late 60’s and the early 70’s Trans Am series are considered as some of best racing series of all times. The amount of popularity and fantastic cars made this championship legendary.