It’s not hard to see why most consider 1968-1972 to be the Golden Age of the Trans Am series. Not only did legendary muscle cars like ‘Cudas, Camaros, Javelins, and Mustangs go head-to-head without the aid of traction control or anti-lock brakes, they did it all with direct support from automakers. Never since have automotive production and motorsports been so closely linked. This 1970 Mustang Boss 302 is a byproduct of that relationship – commissioned by Ford and built by Kar Kraft to help buyers better understand how to modify their own Boss 302’s for SCCA competition. It was the test mule and picture car for the seminal “Boss 302 Chassis Modification” and “Boss 302 Engine Modification for Strip and Track” manuals sold through Ford dealerships, going on to become a pedigreed SCCA and Group 2 racer. Heavily documented and registered with the Historic Trans Am Registry, this is substantial addition to any racing aficionado’s collection and, thanks to restoration work, remains ready to defend the Blue Oval in competition.
The story starts in 1969, with the Boss 302’s Trans Am series debut. It was a season filled with mechanical issues and “racing luck” that ultimately costs the automaker a shot at the championship, but Ford fans were captivated nonetheless. Owners and enthusiasts flooded Ford and their dealers with questions about car setup and components – questions that, unfortunately, no one running the Mustang Trans Am racing program had the time or resources to properly respond to. Not wanting to disappoint, Ford set out to create a separate program to provide both information and specialty parts for these customers. Livonia-based Kar Kraft had played a roll in designing the Boss 302’s suspension and was helping with Boss 429 production, so they were an obvious choice for the job. Phone calls were made, hands were shaken, and the partnership between Ford and Kar Kraft was temporarily strengthened.
One of Ford’s priority tasks for Kar Kraft involved the creation of a series of manuals to help Boss 302 buyers prep their cars for SCCA competition. Along with the request, Ford sent over a gleaming Grabber Orange Boss 302 to be used as the test subject. With options including a Traction-Lok axle, power steering, and an AM/FM radio, it wasn’t the stripped down shell of a car usually reserved for experimental work but the Kar Kraft team moved ahead, designing new suspension, braking, cooling, and structural components that slowly transformed the stock Boss into a full-blown championship chaser. The vehicle was tested numerous times at the Ford Proving Ground in Dearborn, MI before being sold to Al Virzy so that he could head up an after-hours Kar Kraft racing team known as the Moonlighters. The car ran in a handful of SCCA national races, bringing home two second-place finished and one third place along the way. With all of Kar Kraft’s work now backed by proven results, the “Boss 302 Chassis Modification Guide” and the “Boss 302 Engine Modification Guide for Strip and Track” were finally released to the public.
With the help of drivers like Parnelli Jones and George Follmer, Ford clenched the Trans Am title in 1970. It was a huge step for the Boss 302 racing program but, unfortunately, by November of the same year, Ford pulled the plug on virtually all motorsports involvement. It was the end of an era for Kar Kraft but proved to be a new beginning for their prototype Boss 302. The car purchased by Martin Birrane, owner of Lola Cars International, and shipped to England in 1971. Birrane successfully campaigned the car for three years in Group 2 – the European equivalent to Trans Am. He collected several first place finishes during that time, ultimately selling the car to another racer who used it, oddly enough, for hill climb events. After nearly two decades in Europe, the storied Boss 302 returned stateside where it was treated to a full restoration in 1990. Since then, the car has seen a limited number of SVRA and VSCDA events to keep its racing roots intact.
Today, the car presents as a unique and fully functional piece of Ford history. Some changes have been made to keep the car track legal but there is still plenty of original Kar Kraft work present to admire. The car left Dearborn dressed in Grabber Orange, so that’s what you’ll find in place today. The paintwork presents well and, thanks to some natural aging, carries an air of authenticity that simply can’t be faked. The paint is topped by classic Boss stripes which are matte black on the hood and a gloss metallic black of sorts on the sides. The car sports the number 17 on the hood and doors while bits of its story are told through other decals. The “Cona” logo behind the doors is a nod to its Cona Coffee-sponsored days with Martin Birrane while the Moonlighters decal on the back of the quarters references the after hours Kar Kraft team that originally bolted the car together.
Of course, livery alone doesn’t make a racecar. Step in for a closer look and you’ll find plenty of track-born details filling out the lines of this Mustang. At the front, a well-aged factory grille is framed in stainless while the headlights have been replaced by sheet metal inserts. The turn signals are gone but the stock chrome bumper is still there, mounted above a crude but functional sheet metal chin spoiler with accommodations for a tow hook and brake ducts. The hood is a stock piece, held in place by chrome hood pins while, at the edge of the flared fenders, the corner markers have also been ditched in favor of metal inserts. The windshield sports stickers from events all over the country while the driver side windshield wiper works alone in its cleaning efforts. Painted sport mirrors and chrome handles top the doors and the stainless window trim has been left in place. The flared quarters lead the eye back toward a modified rear topped by an exaggerated spoiler. While the black valence, tri-taillights, and chrome bumper keep the Boss 302 look intact, the modified decklid and filled reverse lights don’t let anyone forget what they’re riding behind.
As both a test mule and a race car, this Mustang has seen more than its share of hardware over the years. The current under-hood setup keeps a Ford 302 front and center but brings plenty of modern hardware into the fold so you can still enjoy the car on a track. The foundation is a ’90s-vintage SVO block with a Moldex crankshaft, Carrillo rods, and a custom grind cam. At the sides, Ford SV0 heads with 60cc chambers frame a desirable vintage F2ZM 9424 W302 Trans Am intake manifold topped by a modified Holley four-barrel carburetor and a K&N air cleaner. The engine was bolted together in 1994 by Holman Automotive (better known as Holman Moody) and produced an estimated 500hp at the crank. As you might have noticed in the pictures, the engine has since been converted a dry-sump setup, spinning an oil pump alongside the alternator and aluminum water pump. It’s obviously a great upgrade if you intend to continue racing the car but the wet sump pan is included as well. Turn the key and the trunk-mounted battery sends fire to a Mallory ignition system which distributes output through fresh MSD plug wires. The car breathes through fabricated headers that connect to a side-exit exhaust system devoid of any kind of muffler. Even at idle, it’s loud, brash, and exactly what you hoped the car would sound like.
Shine a light underneath this racer to find a solid undercarriage topped with lots of hardcore hardware. The setup is respectably clean but, as a functional track car, no one is going to mistake this Boss for a trailer queen. Behind the 302, a Toploader four-speed manual provides direct and authoritative shifts. The driveshaft is contained by a custom hoop while, out back, a floating Ford 9-inch from Schreiner Enterprises helps put that power to the ground. If you’re wondering about the pulley back there, it turns a small Johnson HTP pump which handles fluid for the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering. It helps reduce drag on the engine and does a pretty good job of looking cool as well. The suspension is less exotic than most modern race setups but certainly doesn’t have any problems keeping this Mustang between the lines. The front end is aided by beefy Global West control arms and a thick sway bar while the leaf spring rear holds it own out back. Both ends benefit from double adjustable Koni shocks. When the corners come too fast, four-wheel disc brakes rein in the 302 with ease, tucked behind a set of a vintage Minilite wheels wrapped in Goodyear 7.00-15 front and 8.00-15 rear tires.
Inside this pony car, you won’t find any of the standard Boss pleasantries – just a bare bones interior ready for the road course. The door panels are wrapped in black with standard window cranks and could pass for unmodified pieces with the exception of the door pulls, re-engineered with an obvious disregard for aesthetics. Step past the door sill plates and you’re in driver-only territory with a full roll cage wrapped around the space, guarding the occupant of the single Kirkey race seat, made safe by a G-Force harness. Strap into that seat and you’ll face a stripped factory dash that mixes stock and aftermarket pieces including the column-mounted MW temperature gauge and the dash-mounted Ford Motorsport tachometer. It’s a racecar so naturally there are plenty of switches on the dash that control various items such as the fuel pumps, fan, and ignition. There’s a fire extinguisher mounted on the driveshaft tunnel and, over behind where the passenger seat would usually be, a Peterson oil tank now lives. There’s no carpet or any other sort of soft pieces to speak of and when you drive the car for awhile, the headers have a tendency to make the floors uncomfortably warm. This is a proper vintage racing machine.
The sale of this Mustang includes a fairly comprehensive pile of documentation and related memorabilia that both verify and contextualize the car’s story. Highlights include:
•A framed window sticker and Marti report that indicate the car was ordered and purchased by the Ford Motor Company.
•Signed statements from Don Eichstaedt and Mitch Marchi (Kar Kraft engineers) that verify the car was the original Kar Kraft prototype.
•Original build pictures, restoration pictures, and images from the car’s time in Europe with Martin Birrane.
•Certificate of membership to the Historic Trans-Am Registry (TA-016)
Beyond that core group, there is plenty more to admire. Bonus features include an engine spec sheet from Holman Automotive, an HSR log book, a VSCDC log book, email exchanges between Martin Birrane and a previous owner, a copy of Mustang Monthly that discusses the Boss 302’s Trans Am days, and several copies Autosport from when the car was in Europe. Finally, there is copy of both “Boss 302 Chassis Modification” and “Boss 302 Engine Modification for Strip and Track” so you can see for yourself what this whole project was about.
One of the coolest aspects of this Mustang is that it isn’t just some vintage track car – it’s the car that, piece by piece, helped serious racers and enthusiasts alike improve their own Boss 302’s. As a member of the Historic Trans-Am Registry, the car is eligible for all sorts of vintage events and, even when its not, it’s still an amazing piece of Ford history that anyone with a love for motorsports can appreciate. This is a true one-of-one car commissioned by Ford, built by Kar Kraft, and enjoyed by a select group of diehards who spent every possible moment at the track. If that’s a list you’d like to join, this storied and significant 1970 Mustang Boss 302 is the only way in.