We didn't know it then, but the '71 Boss 351 Mustang was something of a swan song when it debuted in the Fall of 1970. It was a radically different Mustang than the 302 it replaced, packing a larger Boss 351 Cleveland powerplant with an aggressive mechanical camshaft and the same basic, large-port heads as the Boss 302 to produce 330 hp. Not only was the engine bigger, so was the car around it.
The '71 Mustang was more like a Torino than a Mustang because it was built on the Torino/Fairlane platform. A larger, longer, stiffer, wider platform gave the Mustang a smoother ride and improved handling. At the time, if you asked Ford why it built a larger Mustang for '71, you would have heard of big plans for future Mustangs, including a larger 385 series big-block displacing as much as 500 ci. This was Ford president Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen's idea for the Mustang before he left Ford in the late '60s after the '71 Mustang was finalized. Knudsen envisioned a more powerful Mustang to compete in the factory musclecar wars. To get more power, Knudsen believed the Mustang needed a larger engine and larger engine bay. And to get the larger engine bay, the Mustang needed the Torino's larger platform.
When the '71 Mustang arrived in Ford showrooms, both the insurance industry and federal government were growing concerned about vehicle safety. Street racers were getting maimed and killed, so insurance companies and safety advocates were speaking loudly. Performance went from being a popular household word to something people (especially automakers) didn't talk about. In just one year, the Boss 351 went from a highly visible Mustang performance option to invisible for 1972 as the 351 High Output engine option.
This brings us to Gerry Glem of western Washington. Gerry admits he had no interest in '71-'73 Mustangs when he was driving a '65 fastback. "I had never been much of a fan of the '71-'73 Mustangs," he told us. But when the time came to get into another Mustang, he wanted something different and unusual. A friend of Gerry's, Bob Shaw, who owned a '71 Boss 351, convinced him to consider a fourth-generation Mustang. Gerry found this '71 Boss 351 in The Oregonian newspaper. Gerry took Bob with him to Salem, Oregon, to check the car out. A deal was struck, and they hauled it home.
Gerry learned a lot about '71-'73 Mustangs during the five-year restoration. Parts weren't easy to come by. He also learned about the differences between '71 and '65 Mustangs. It was indeed more like an intermediate Torino or Fairlane and less like a Mustang. It also had fewer parts and was simple in scope compared to a first-generation Mustang. With help from Bob, Gerry wound up with a restoration he could feel good about.
Gerry will tell you he still likes early Mustangs. However, he has cultivated an appreciation for larger '71-'73 Mustangs. For one thing, the Boss 351's wider track, longer wheelbase, and greater weight make it a terrific road car. Acceleration is crisp thanks to a well-tuned Autolite 4300D carburetor and Ford ignition system. A needle-point valve adjustment gives Ford's high-performance 351C a soft chatter and throaty exhaust tone.
Ironically, the Boss 351 is a challenge to open-road manners. Because it has a 3.91:1 Traction Lok 9-inch rearend, it's great fun with the throttle pinned but not much for that 500-mile drive to a car show in California or Utah. This is a car to trailer long distance because the revs will chatter your valvetrain out of adjustment in short order over vast stretches of interstate.
Gerry started out with a coastal Mustang. The salty ocean air had led to rust, and it needed sheetmetal replacement. Once all of that was out of the way, he tackled the restoration in earnest. He gives a lot of credit for parts to Bob, who was able to come up with much of what he needed. Gerry also gives credit to Mustang Monthly. "After reading an article on how to detail a 351 Cleveland engine, I literally tore the pages out of the magazine so I could prepare my engine correctly."
Gerry tells us he didn't intend to take his Boss 351 to judged shows when he began the restoration. However, the car has performed well in People's Choice shows, which has prompted Gerry to consider entering judged competitions. Mustang Club of America judges would be impressed with Gerry's black and argent finish. They would also appreciate the job he did underhood, as well as inside, where the Boss has full instrumentation, a clock, and an AM radio. The standard black-vinyl interior reminds Gerry of his '65 fastback due to its simplicity.
The Boss 351 driving experience centers around both engine and drivetrain. In the tunnel is Ford's close-ratio Top Loader four-speed motivated by a Hurst shifter from the factory. And with 3.91:1 gears in back, it's a rocket ship few can keep up with. We like the throaty bellow at the tailpipes and the whine of First gear.
We asked Gerry what he liked most about the car. "The adrenaline rush I get when I put the hammer down," he said, "and black is really beautiful."
We couldn't have said it any better ourselves.