Back in 1969, a friend of mine quit school to buy a brand-new Boss 302 Mustang, condemning himself to a lifetime of car payments and lousy jobs. I knew it was a bad idea, but when he pulled up in front of the local pool hall and blipped the throttle, I could see why he did it - I was ready to quit school too.
The Boss was that kind of car – an iconic, throbbing machine that called young men onto the rocks of financial ruin. The 1969 Boss had a tuned small-block V8, a cue-ball manual shifter, and tires that bulged the fender wells. This wasn't just a car – it was a Springsteen song written in metal (and Springsteen wasn't even around yet). So as I slid behind the wheel of Ford's new 2011 Boss 302, it was with a powerful sense of déjà vu. Could it recapture the mechanical magic that turned my friend into a dropout?
On the face of it, the answer is yes. The new Boss 302 is the best of the new crop of renaissance muscle cars. Unlike Chevrolet's striking but bloated new Camaro, or Dodge's reissued Challenger, the 2011 Boss comes very close to the scale of the original – it's only one inch longer than the 1969 version, and weighs less than ten per cent more.
With its white pony stripes and ripping exhaust note, the 2011 Boss was not a subtle car, and it served as a rolling litmus test – I got plenty of thumbs-up, but also some looks of disapproval (including a truly censorious stare from a guy on a weathered bicycle that looked like it came from Saltspring Island.) The Boss was a true muscle car, and slipping around town unnoticed was out of the question – the Boss snorted and bellowed. It pawed the earth. I was a little embarrassed, to tell you the truth. The only way to look more earnestly, middle-agedly macho would be to get a Viagra logo tattooed on my bicep.
The muscle car is a bit of an odd breed, when you get down to it, and the Boss 302 exemplifies the genre: it's a small car with a big, powerful V8 wedged under the hood. Although it handles extremely well considering its rudimentary suspension (there's a straight axle in the back) the Boss's real forte is straight-line speed – when I dropped the clutch and nailed the throttle, it was like being shot from the muzzle of an artillery gun. Jail-worthy speed was just seconds away.
The Boss that my friend quit school for back in the sixties had 290 horsepower, and went from zero to 60 miles per hour in just under seven seconds. Back then, it felt stupendously fast, but now there are family sedans with better acceleration. (No such problem with the new Boss, which has 444 horsepower, and does zero to 60 in about four seconds.)
I still remember riding in that 1969 Boss 302 along Baseline Road in Ottawa on a velvety summer evening. Our lives stretched out ahead of us like the road itself, and my friend blasted us up through the gears with the chromed Hurst shift lever. Hot night air gusted in through the rolled-down windows, and The Rolling Stones boomed out from an eight-track tape player – I was listening to Gimme Shelter for the first time.
For all I know, my friend may still be making the payments on that car. Was it worth it? Probably not. But with the 2011 Boss 302 we have a superb remake of that legendary car. The 2011 version is faster and better handling than the original. It even looks better. There's only problem – it isn't 1969 any more. Thomas Wolfe put it best: you can never go home again.
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