Track Specials: 2021 Mach 1 vs. 2012-2013 Boss 302
When Ford decides to create a special limited-edition version of the Mustang, there is always something special to be expected. However, some of the limited models truly stand out and build major followings even among enthusiast groups. These special cars offer major performance for their price as well as unique styling and colors to stand out from other trims and models. Whether this is just slightly different suspension or an entirely different engine setup, special limited-run Mustangs have always been something special.
In recent models, one of the most prominent special edition Mustangs was the S197 Boss 302. Jumped up to 444 horsepower over the 412 horsepower found in the base GT model, featured a more aggressive body with more aero pieces, and new exhaust. The even higher trim Laguna Seca model gave the car an upgraded suspension and differential as well, further sweetening the car’s appeal.
Most recently, Ford played a similar card with the new Mach 1 with a near identical strategy. The upgraded engine is good for more power than the average GT, has upgraded cooling and transmission, exhaust, and the higher performance Handling Package makes it even more desirable too.
On paper, the cars are fairly similar with similar upgrades over stock. Both cars cost around the same price at $50,000 on the showroom floor. In fact, the cars even share some similar visual differences including their grille and striping. So what actually distinguishes these two track specials not only from the rest of the Mustang lineup, but from each other as well?
What Makes The Boss 302 Stand Out
When the Boss 302 debuted in 2012, it brought a lot of attention. After the Boss 302 in the 1970s, Ford had not made many cars similar to it. At its release, the Boss 302 got covered by magazine after magazine as one of the best Mustangs ever built including the Cobra. At just under 3,650lbs, the Boss 302 weighed only slightly more than an average GT but made nearly 30 horsepower more. The car performed just under the GT500 in each way but only slightly, justifying it’s $5,000 price difference. The 302 and 302 Laguna Seca were the most track-oriented Mustangs available at the time and managed to give much more expensive cars a run for their money too.
The Boss 302 earned international praise as one of the best handling Mustangs ever built as well, with some drivers thinking that the car had even been fitted with independent rear suspension. The Boss 302 was the real deal; a daily drivable and track ready naturally aspirated Mustang that people had been craving. It managed to impress fans from brands around the world and helped make the Mustang name an international modern performance icon.
What Makes The Mach 1 Stand Out
The Mach 1 was designed to be the newest high-performance naturally aspirated Mustang after the end of the GT350 production came to a close. Coming from the GT350, Ford knew that the Mach 1 would have a lot to live up to since the GT350 quickly became a favorite for its high-revving flat-plane V8. Fitted with the cooling and gearbox setup from both the GT350 and the highest performance GT500, the Mach 1 and Handling Pack were engineered from the ground-up to work perfectly on track as well as being a daily driver like the normal Mustang GT. With 480 horsepower and 420lb-ft of torque, the Mach 1 sits at only $4,000 more than the GT Performance Package and nearly $20,000 cheaper than the GT500.
The Mach 1 was designed as “the most track-focused Mustang” according to Ford and on paper looks to outdo the GT350 on the strip as well as keeping up on track. This puts the Mach 1 as a do-everything special that has cheaper running costs than it’s bigger siblings. Although many people think of the Mach 1 as simply another version of the GT, it offers much more track capability than even the Performance Pack 2 or the Bullitt Mustang. The Mach 1 is realistically the same market as the Boss 302 had filled when it debuted but with the actual independent rear suspension that it lacked.
Which Track Special Is Best For You?
On paper, the Boss 302 and Mach 1 seem more than similar. Both are set as track special vehicles that can still be easily driven on the road. Both are more powerful than the GT but less powerful than the GT500, both are naturally aspirated and use 6 gears in their manual setups. The Boss 302 and Mach share the same market demographic, price range, and purpose in the Mustang lineup. Both cars even use the same engine block with the 5.0 liter Coyote V8.
As you compare the two cars further, more similarities begin to emerge. Both the Boss 302 and Mach 1 come with Recaro seats and sporty rear seats and both use close-ratio manual gearboxes. The Boss 302 does make itself more obvious as an enthusiast car though since the only transmission option is the MT82 and in the Laguna Seca you lose the rear seats and gain additional gauges. Additionally, the factory exhaust cutouts gear the experience to a more raw and engaging drive.
While the Boss 302 does feature more external and even internal track readiness, the Mach 1 does still hold quite a few rack options up its’ sleeves. Running the engine and oil cooling systems from the GT500 and offering the Tremec TR-3160 from the GT350, the Mach 1 is set up to run over and over on track. When fitted with the Handling Pack, the Mach 1 also gets the rear wing from the GT500 and runs digital gauges for track time as well as the dedicated track mode available in the car. Even with these features, the Mach 1 can still be driven comfortably in “Normal” mode, offers the 10R80 automatic to make it more available to the public, and keeps its rear seats regardless of trim. While it is an enthusiast car, the Mach 1 is still set up to be driven every day as a normal vehicle and to be comfortable doing so.
What If There Is A New Boss 302?
With so many similarities, it’s easy to wonder if there could be a new Boss 302 in the future for the Mustang. With the Mach 1 effectively doing exactly what the Boss 302 was designed for, a new Boss 302 would have to redefine the performance Mustang market. While we most likely wouldn’t see a new Boss 302 until 2023 at the earliest, it would be safe to assume it would share more parts with the GT500 as well as possibly using the same dual-clutch setup. Carbon wheels, full active exhaust, and additional track measures would be more than expected for a new Boss 302 to ensure that it kept its title of the track-dedicated Mustang. With Ford recycling specialty Mustang names, it would be safe to assume we’ll see a new Boss 302 in the next few years as a purpose-built track special.