The 1969 release of the Trans Am-inspired Boss 302 was a pivotal moment in Mustang history. The 302’s stunning looks, precise handling (for the day) and a stellar racing pedigree made it an exceptionally appealing package; it quickly became the most recognizable and sought-after muscle machine in Ford’s stable. As good as the 302 was, it was not without its drawbacks. The little 302 that performed so well on the track was a bit high-strung for the street; the gigantic valves and ports that made it sing at 7,000rpm made it weak lower on the tach where regular customers did most of their driving.
Ford redesigned the Mustang chassis for 1971, and following the trend of the day, it grew in every dimensionlength, width and particularly weight. Engineers knew that the little 302 didn’t have the grunt to move the extra mass with the alacrity befitting the Boss reputation, so the Boss name, along with its giant-port heads, was transferred to the new Cleveland-style 351 small-block, and the Boss 351 was born. With the extra displacement (provided by a 1/2-inch longer stroke), the Boss 351 was rated at 330hp (up 40 from the Boss 302’s 290hp). But much more important was the extra torquethe 351 boasted a big-block-like 370 ft-lb, 80 more than the 302 offered. This was more than enough to overcome the additional weight of the new body, and that made the Boss 351 substantially quicker than the 302 in straight-line performance. And although it wasn’t quite as nimble as the 302, its handling was still among the best in its class.
But circumstances conspired against the Boss 351. Skyrocketing insurance penalties on performance cars, the strangling 1972 emissions laws and the looming gas crisis meant that the fun was just about to end for muscle cars. And with the ’71 Mustang packing on the pounds, it became emblematic of where the muscle car went awry. This is largely unjustified; and it’s interesting to note that Chevy’s second-generation Camarointroduced just a few months earliermanaged to avoid the same stigma. Regardless of the new Mustang’s image problems, at least the Boss 351 held up its end on the performance front, making sure the last Boss was more than worthy of the name.
A FITTING TRIBUTE TO THE LAST BOSS
Danbury Mint has a knack for producing slightly unconventional yet wholly compelling subjects. Perhaps it’s because I’m a child of the ’70s, but I’ve always liked the ’71 to ’73 Mustangsespecially the fastbacks. To my then (and maybe still now!) unsophisticated eye, the Mustang was about the raciest looking car this side of the Corvette. And I had a relative who owned one briefly, so it was one of the few muscle machines I got to ride in as a tyke (I remember thinking that, from the passenger seat, that hood looked about the size of my front yard. And the doors were heavy!).
Exterior. The better part of three decades later, the hood still seems an acre long (at least in scale), especially blacked out in Boss trim. And those NACA-style ram-air ducts look so much better than the rectangular lump of a shaker scoop that was optional on the 302. Danbury does a nice job with the pinstripes that edge the hood and side stripes. Chrome insets accurately represent the gimmicky twisting hood-locks on the full-size car. As is Danbury’s custom, separate pieces comprise all of the chrome trim. The pewter color lends a rich sophistication, but set against the flat black hood, rockers and fasciae, it is a bit subdued. This would be a color to own in full-scale, but in diecast, something a little spicier might be in order. The hexagonal mesh in the grille is one of those subtle touches at which Danbury excels. The fog lamps inset into the grille are painted on; I would have preferred lenses.
Of course, the ’71 is best viewed from its rakish profile, where Danbury’s outstanding parts fit and superior paint quality can really be appreciated.