AKA the Cold-Case Boss 302

Muscle Car Review - - Contents - By Bob McClurg Vin­tage pho­tos cour­tesy of Chris Con­ley

Also known as the cold-case Boss 302

There’s noth­ing like a good mys­tery to get the in­ves­tiga­tive juices flow­ing. Craig Con­ley, owner of Par­adise Wheels Inc. in San Mar­cos, Cal­i­for­nia, cam­paigns this Grab­ber Green 1970 Boss 302 Mus­tang in His­toric Trans-Am vin­tage rac­ing classes as well as at Shelby Amer­i­can Au­to­mo­bile Club open-track events. To our knowl­edge, it is the only Grab­ber Green 1970 Boss 302 Trans-Am Mus­tang built by Ford Mo­tor Com­pany and Kar Kraft Inc. with the ex­press pur­pose of rac­ing in the SCCA’s Trans-Am se­ries or po­ten­tially even NAS­CAR’s Baby Grand Amer­i­can rac­ing se­ries. We be­lieve Con­ley is the ninth owner of this Boss 302, but we can’t say with cer­tainty be­cause the car’s ear­li­est his­tory is some­what cloudy.

On Septem­ber 22, 1969, Ford Mo­tor Com­pany Vice Pres­i­dent of Per­son­nel and Or­ga­ni­za­tion Ed­win D. O’Leary had this Grab­ber Green Boss 302 pulled off the Dear­born, Michi­gan, assem­bly line and sent to Ford’s Cen­tral Of­fice Build­ing Garage (bet­ter known as the X-Garage) to be con­verted into an A/Sedan race car. Ford’s highly suc­cess­ful Trans-Am Mus­tang pro­gram, cham­pi­oned by the Bud Moore En­gi­neer­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion, was at the pin­na­cle of suc­cess in 1970, ul­ti­mately wrestling away the Trans-Am cham­pi­onship that year from Team Penske and Chevro­let. It seemed that every­body at Ford’s Big Glass House had Trans-Am fever, so it’s a rea­son­able as­sump­tion that this car was an in­ter­de­part­men­tal project or, at best, a backup car for one of Ford’s spon­sored Trans-Am rac­ing teams.

Own­er­ship records in­di­cate a size­able gap be­tween Septem­ber 22, 1969, and the ac­qui­si­tion of the Boss in early 1971 by Li­bra In­ter­na­tional Rac­ing CEO John Buf­fum. Buf­fum was more than happy to share with us what he knew about the car.

The rally star in­tended to en­ter the Mus­tang as a team car with his cham­pi­onship-win­ning English Ford Es­cort, with Uni­ver­sity of Ver­mont en­gi­neer­ing grad­u­ate/week­end racer Mike Fol­som driv­ing. Buf­fum does not re­mem­ber whom he ac­quired the Boss from, other than the party was from Michi­gan or Min­ne­sota. (How­ever, he does re­mem­ber that he traded away his 1968 Monte Carlo Porsche 911. Later he re­gret­ted the trade be­cause that car

in to­day’s ex­otic col­lec­tor car mar­ket­place would be worth a king’s ran­som.)

“The car was half com­pleted,” says Buf­fum. “As with many un­fin­ished race car projects, parts tend to walk.

For in­stance, one of the rear disc brakes was miss­ing. Var­i­ous brack­ets and other items that you would nor­mally find on a car like this weren’t there, ei­ther. The engine wasn’t sup­plied, maybe not even the trans­mis­sion, but I can’t clearly re­call. The body­work was only half com­pleted. It was def­i­nitely a work in progress. Mike fin­ished it up as best as he could with the money he had.”

In 1971 and 1972, Fol­som raced the Mus­tang with lit­tle suc­cess. It would DNS at the Lime Rock, Con­necti­cut, event and DNF in Br­yar, New Hamp­shire. It logged two 20th Place fin­ishes at the 1972 Watkins Glen and Sanair, Canada, Tran­sAm races. There may be more rac­ing his­tory float­ing around the cos­mos, but we sure weren’t able to find it.

Trail Runs Cold

At this junc­ture, we started con­tact­ing every­one we knew who was in the trenches back in the day and is still on the right side of the dirt in hopes that one of them might re­mem­ber the car. That in­cluded forGreen mer Ford En­gi­neer Jack Roush, vet­eran Penske T/A score­keeper and Trans-Am his­to­rian Judy Stro­pus, race car driver Chad Ray­nal, Kevin Marti from the Marti Re­port, for­mer car owner “Ba­hama Jim” Wal­ters, and Joe Cali and Josh Ashby from the In­ter­na­tional Mo­tor Rac­ing Re­search Cen­ter. Other than what we al­ready knew, re­search­ing the early his­tory of the car turned out to be a cold­case in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Jim Wal­ters pur­chased the car in early 1973. He says, “I had just wrecked two C/Pro­duc­tion Sun­beam Tigers—I was not what you would call a highly com­pet­i­tive driver—and needed a car. Friends told me that they had seen this Grab­ber Boss 302 race in Canada and sug­gested I talk to John Buf­fum about buy­ing it.

“I was told that the car came from Ford af­ter it dis­banded the Trans-Am team. I was also told that Ford and Kar Kraft had built in ex­cess of 20 cars, and they were in dif­fer­ent stages of com­ple­tion. This one was one of the last cars built, so it needed a lot of work.”

Wal­ters ran the Mus­tang at Nel­son Ledges on Oc­to­ber, 12, 1974, and it was also ex­hib­ited at an SCCA dis­play at the New York State Fair­grounds in Syra­cuse and won the Track Car class.

Late that year the Boss would again change hands. “At the time I was mar­ried with one daugh­ter and an­other one on the way,” says Wal­ters. “I was also build­ing a new house. I was con­tacted by John Cleve-

“The car’s ear­li­est his­tory is some­what cloudy”

land say­ing he wanted to buy the car. When John told me what he would be will­ing to pay, I told him to come pick it up!”

Cleve­land’s rac­ing part­ner, Mike Knit­tel, con­tin­ues our story: “John and I made a num­ber of run­ning changes and im­prove­ments to the car. We ran the car with a Bud Moore mini­plenum in­take and in­stalled a set of roller-rocker arms that car­ried a Ford DOZX part num­ber. We also dis­cov­ered that both Fol­som and Wal­ters had run the car with the rear calipers mounted back­wards [Wal­ters con­firmed this.—Ed.], and had com­plained about poor brak­ing. The cor­rec­tion made a huge dif­fer­ence. We also re­painted the car blue, in­stalled an SCCA-le­gal spoiler, and painted the num­ber 15 on the sides of the car.”

John Cleve­land drove the car sev­eral times in 1975, at Lime Rock Park in July, Watkins Glen in Au­gust, Po­cono in Septem­ber, and again at Watkins Glen in Oc­to­ber.

“I re­call we fin­ished Sev­enth in class at the Glen,” Knit­tel says. “Then we ran the Fun One event at the Glen in Oc­to­ber, which was an SCCA Fin­ger Lakes Re­gional event. We won First in class and set a new lap time for class.”


Knit­tel told an in­ter­est­ing story from the race at Po­cono. “John re­ported that on the back straight the tach was climb­ing, but the car was ob­vi­ously not go­ing any faster. We then re­al­ized that at about 168 miles per hour the rear wheels were off the track! It ap­peared as though the rear deck spoiler was set too low, and an an­gle ad­just­ment ap­par­ently cured the prob­lem.”

In 1976 the Boss was sold to Penn­syl­va­nia racer and used­car dealer Scott Beshore, who raced the Mus­tang in nu­mer­ous hill­climb events through­out south­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia. Ac­cord­ing to Con­ley, Beshore was the last per­son to race the Boss. We are happy to re­late that, al­though the Boss got air­borne with alarm­ing fre­quency, the car al­ways touched down per­fectly and was never wrecked.

Next up were col­lec­tors

Brent Hacker and Richard

Dean, who jointly owned the Boss from May 1989 un­til Au­gust 1991. Re­storer Chris Lieben­berg ini­tially re­mem­bers see­ing the Boss safely snug­gled away in a con­tainer and tried to buy the car twice. “It blew me away what a qual­ity piece the car was,” he says.

Richard Dean even­tu­ally bought out his part­ner in Au­gust 1991, and Lieben­berg re­mem­bers the Boss be­ing left out in the el­e­ments.

With a foot of snow sit­ting on its roof, Lieben­berg fi­nally was able to pur­chase the car on Jan­uary 23, 1997, and be­gan a 10-month restora­tion. Along the way he made note of a few of the car’s ec­cen­tric­i­ties. While it’s true that the Boss may have been cobuilt by Ford’s X-Garage and Kar Kraft, he’s not 100 per­cent sure that other hands weren’t in­volved in the project.

Lieben­berg says, “The rollcage looks like a Kar Kraft Trans-Am rollcage, but it’s a lit­tle beefier than other KK cages I’ve seen. The top hoop is shaped a lit­tle dif­fer­ently. This par­tic­u­lar cage was also TIG welded. The qual­ity of welds far ex­ceeds that of other KK Mus­tangs I’ve seen. It’s as if it was welded to­gether by some­body who was used to build­ing drag­ster and Funny Car chas­sis for a liv­ing.”

Lieben­berg de­scribed the Boss as “a bit crusty from sit­ting out­side in the weather, but other­wise the car was in ab­so­lutely mint con­di­tion.”

While sanding down the paint, he came upon the orig­i­nal Grab­ber Green basecoat. As it’s such a rare color, he de-

cided to re­paint the Boss in its “born with” hue. Prior to paint, Lieben­berg also elected to re­skin the fend­ers, restor­ing the look of the car back to nearly stock, al­beit with some mi­nor fend­er­well clear­anc­ing to ac­com­mo­date those mas­sive Goodyears.

Along came Craig Con­ley, who says, “When Chris [Lieben­berg] told me about the car be­ing the only Grab­ber Green Trans-Am Mus­tang ever built, I had to have it. Green is my fa­vorite color. All my fa­vorite cars are green: my ’67 Shelby G.T. 500 twin-Pax­ton car, my CSX 4000 Se­ries twin-Pax­ton Co­bra, and my 1966 MK1-A Tiger, all green!”

Con­ley bought the Boss on Novem­ber 9, 2009, and has been hav­ing the time of his life vin­tage rac­ing it since.

Should any of our read­ers have other in­for­ma­tion about this Boss that could help fill out its murky his­tory, please let us know.

“They had run the car with the rear calipers mounted back­wards”

n This photo by Chris Kennedy shows driver Mike Fol­som and an uniden­ti­fied crewmem­ber ser­vic­ing the Mus­tang’s rear sus­pen­sion.

n Be­tween 1976 and 1989,Scott Beshore raced the Boss in Penn­syl­va­nia hill­climb events. Al­though there were many air­borne in­ci­dents like this, the touch­downs were al­ways without in­ci­dent.n This photo taken by Chris Lieben­berg clearly il­lus­trates the pris­tine con­di­tion of the Boss when pur­chased from for­mer owner Richard Dean in Jan­uary 1997, de­spite its be­ing left out­side in the eastern weather.

n Pow­er­ing this Grab­ber Green Ma­chine is a 1970 Boss 302 engine ex­pertly as­sem­bled by Par­adise Wheels’ res­i­dent engine builder Rob Kazan. See “Fast Facts” side­bar for all the mo­tor’s in­ter­nals.n The Boss’s “of­fice” is race-car Spar­tan with the Kar Kraft T/A rollcage, a sin­gle Kirkey race seat, Auto Power safety har­nesses, a Hurst shifter, and Ste­wart-Warner in­stru­ments.

A snail’s-eye view of the front sus­pen­sion shows the Kar Kraft re­in­forced lower con­trol arms, big-bear­ing NAS­CAR-type front spin­dles, Koni dou­ble-ad­justable front shocks, and Lin­coln front disc brakes, cho­sen for their big calipers and ro­tors.

Cur­rent owner Craig Con­ley has an orig­i­nal set of Minilite wheels but chooses to race the car with 15x8 Amer­i­can Rac­ing TA/70 mag­ne­sium wheels for their ad­di­tional strength.In the trunk is a 22-gal­lon ATL fuel cell along with an Op­tima bat­tery.

n Out back the Boss is fit­ted with a 4.56-geared Ford 9-inch. The Mus­tang’s Trans-Am sus­pen­sion uses leaf springs, a Pan­hard bar, and Koni dou­ble-ad­justable shocks. Lin­coln discs are used on the rear axle as well as up front.Con­ley, who owns Par­adise Wheels Inc., proudly poses with his Grab­ber Green 1970 Boss 302 Mus­tang Trans-Am car. His busi­ness got its start spe­cial­iz­ing in wheels for Shelby Mus­tangs, but Par­adise Wheels has grown into a full-ser­vice race shop spe­cial­iz­ing in Shel­bys and other vin­tage Ford race cars.

n The on/off switch is lo­cated on the pas­sen­ger-side sail panel. Twin alu­minum straps keep the rear win­dow glass from pop­ping out due to air pres­sure buildup dur­ing 140-plus-mph top-end charges.

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