Mustang Monthly Editor Donald Farr couldn't help but notice Michelle Holstein while she was getting a Bud Moore autograph during the 2005 Carlisle All-Ford Nationals. While Bud was signing, she said she had a question for the Trans-Am Boss 302 builder. She wanted to know which induction system was better, the Autolite inline four-barrel or Moore's legendary mini-plenum. Michelle had located one of each at the huge Carlisle swap meet and was determined to take one home for her street '70 Boss 302. While other autograph seekers waited in line, Moore put down his pen and took the time to explain why he thought the mini-plenum was a much better design than the Autolite. Within half an hour, Michelle was back at the autograph table with an original mini-plenum for Bud to sign.
People ask Michelle why she owns a high-performance Mustang like the '70 Boss 302. It isn't just her gender that baffles most people. It's also her age: 26. "My answer is always the same. I have always loved musclecars, and my favorite musclecars are Boss 302 Mustangs," she told us.
When Michelle was growing up, she would often tell her father how badly she wanted a Boss 302. He advised her to start saving because even then they were way out of her reach financially. Michelle began moving toward her vision at the age of 15, working at a local hamburger stand and babysitting. When flipping burgers and taking care of children wasn't making the dream happen fast enough, Michelle started thinking about other, quicker ways to get there. A friend suggested starting with a '70 Mach 1 he had for sale and working her way toward a Boss 302. It was satisfying for a while, but her zest for the Mach didn't last. Her dad took the Mach 1, and Michelle continued toward her Boss dream.
Michelle eventually found a Medium Lime Metallic '70 Boss 302, completely disassembled and still in the hands of someone who had purchased the car from yet another person who had torn the car apart in 1986. It was the beginning of a lengthy ordeal for Michelle. The seller sat on the fence for two years before he would sell it to her. He would agree to sell, then change his mind. The original price was $10,000. Then the guy changed his asking price to $17,000, forcing Michelle to arrange a small loan to close the deal before he could change his mind again.
When Michelle picked up the car, much of it was in boxes. She hauled most of it to Ranger Performance, while the engine and transmission were knocked down at home for inspection and rebuilding. Michelle was 21 at the time.
Although she had achieved her dream, she wasn't out of the woods. Her many responsibilities included a waitressing gig at Denny's, clerical work at a veterinary clinic, and college. Nothing was easy, but all of it was worthwhile, as it enabled her to restore the car herself. Larry Binder, a close friend and engineer, helped Michelle build the engine, and she did much of the work herself so she could learn the fundamentals.
People find Michelle's story astonishing because it isn't that common. At car shows, most assume the Boss belongs to her boyfriend or father. Then Michelle tells her story and leaves them speechless. They ask questions, which Michelle answers with ease. The Bud Moore mini-plenum always gets them because you never see them on street Boss 302s.
When building the Boss, Michelle did her homework. She didn't want the usual disadvantages of a Boss 302; poor low-end torque, hit-and-miss reliability, temperamental performance, noise, high fuel consumption, and a stiff ride. She wanted to build a high-functioning Boss 302 she could drive anywhere, opting for features like a Momo steering wheel, custom carpeting, and Dayton 235/60/15 tires on Minilite wheels. She lowered the body with lowering blocks and trimmed big-block coil springs. While she was at it, she removed the antenna and added a radio delete.
Another unusual touch is the Tremec T5 transmission behind the Boss 302 engine. Michelle tells us the five-speed has made a big difference in fuel economy, something most Boss buffs don't worry about. In gears One through Four, it's a rocketship thanks to 3.89:1 gears in a 9-inch Traction-Lok with 31-spline axles. In Overdrive, it's a kitten with a soft purr.
One cool thing about Michelle's Boss is electric exhaust cut-outs, which enable her to startle others in traffic and at the cruises. She cracks the throttle and grabs everyone's attention, then quietly motors away with that classic Boss 302 burble at the tailpipes.
Ever-mindful of reliability and longevity, Michelle thoroughly investigated paint manufacturers, eventually choosing Glasurit. Gil Terrazas of Ranger Performance massaged the body, laid down the paint, and hand-rubbed the basecoat/clearcoat finish.
Michelle's Boss 302 isn't just another pretty face at a car show. It has never been trailered anywhere. Instead, it is driven and detailed to perfection once it arrives. The Boss has taken its share of Best of Show, Best Engine, and Best '70s awards. Michelle took it to the Monterey Pre-Historic Races (again, no trailer), driving hundreds of miles of California highway to Laguna Seca for a journey down the corkscrew and autographs from Carroll Shelby, Dan Gurney, George Follmer, and Parnelli Jones. Other trips have taken her to Button Willow in California's Central Valley and the Hot Rod Power Tour in the Midwest. Michelle's Boss 302 is so reliable that it can be driven anywhere, then go racing when it arrives.
Michelle is grateful to all who have helped her, especially Larry Binder Sr. and Jr. and the guys at Ranger Performance. These gentlemen put Michelle's needs, wants, and beliefs first, along with a few of their own ideas, to build what is undoubtedly one of the nicest Boss 302s we've ever seen.
Despite the obstacles, Michelle never lost sight of her vision, eventually succeeding in what is typically a man's world. She had the courage to break the rules and came out on the leading edge.