Built at Ford's Dearborn Assembly Plant on April 18, 1969-the second day of production for the Boss 302-the Mustang was purchased by Johnny as a gift for Rick, who was 16 years old at the time. As the winner of the first Southern 500 in Darlington in 1950, Johnny had racing in his blood and wanted to instill the same competitive spirit in his son. Through his Southern California racing connections, Johnny delivered the new Boss 302 to Bill Stroppe's race shop, which was operating as Holman-Moody's West Coast arm. At Holman-Moody/Stroppe, the Boss was treated to a number of racing modifications, including a quick-release Monte Carlo bar, a 1-5/16-inch front sway bar, a 3/4-inch rear sway bar from a Boss 429, a GT40-style aircraft oil cooler, an electric fuel pump, Air Lift airbags, beefed-up rear spring pads for wedge plates, a trunk-mounted battery, and welded-on traction bars. Those weren't typical shade-tree modifications. They continued with a rubberized racing steering wheel, a four-point rollbar, racing harnesses, a Hurst Trans Am racing shifter, mechanical SW water-temperature and oil-pressure gauges, and toggle switches for the fuel pump and gauge lights.
Amazingly, John still had a box of paperwork for the Mustang in his garage, which he sent to Rob. The box contained photos, the original window sticker, and a type-written listing of competition-only Boss 302 chassis parts from Ford. As a surprising bonus, the box also contained an Auto Meter tach that John said was used in the car. Auto Meter revealed that the tach was a prototype, not something the average hot-rodder could find at the local speed shop.
According to a buildsheet, the engine was rebuilt to performance specifications in September 1969. The rebuild included a hotter cam and 11.3:1 pistons. There's no shop name on the buildsheet, but according to the paperwork, the engine was delivered to George Elliott, then-publisher of Popular Hot Rodding magazine, and signed off by Doug Nash.
Through his research, Rob has learned a lot about the Boss 302, but there are still mysteries, such as the missing Boss 302 stripes. Based on photos supplied by Rick's brother, John R. Mantz, the Boss was delivered with the factory side stripes and black headlight buckets. It didn't have the black-out treatment on the hood or the rear deck. Photos taken a short time later show the car without stripes, replaced by the unique front-fender lettering.
Rick drove the car on the street for a couple of years. In 1970, he contacted the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. John R. Mantz supplied Rob with a copy of the reply from Bondurant's General Manager, who told Rick that the school would get him "on the racetrack sooner and for less money." According to John, Rick attended the school with the Boss 302.
Tragically, Rick was killed in a scuba diving accident in 1971. The Boss 302 was sold, minus the engine and the transmission, to Los Angles racer Gordon Boen, who stored the car in a warehouse until 1989. Across the country in North Carolina, Mandy Purser ended up with a Boss 302 engine and was in search of a body to put it in. An ad she ran in Mustang Monthly was spotted by Gordon. After a year's negotiations, Mandy bought the car and had it shipped to North Carolina. A divorce ended Mandy's restoration plans, and the car was stashed in the barn until Rob bought it.
Initially, Rob planned to restore the Boss 302 to factory condition. But upon learning about the car's unique ownership and history, he decided the Boss would be more interesting if it was returned to the condition it was in during Rick's ownership, right down to the gold leaf "Boss 302" lettering. Rob leaned on Mike Kutkuhn for restoration and engine-building expertise. Longtime Holman-Moody fabricator Kenny Thompson helped with the restoration-or in some cases, rebuilding-of the racing equipment, including the rollcage and traction bars.
This vintage photo, supplied...
This vintage photo, supplied to current-owner Rob Bodle by Rick Mantz's brother, John, shows the Boss 302 without stripes in 1969.
Rob located much of the vintage racing equipment, including the Harrison oil cooler, Firestone Trans Am tires, and Minilite wheels, but had to make allowances for total accuracy, such as the airbags, which had split from dry rot. "I learned that they were made by the Air Lift Company, a longtime Stroppe sponsor," Rob says. "The part numbers came back as a limited run of kits made for Mustangs because the standard kit required special mounting brackets for '69s. Since it appeared that these were special pieces, I had to do what was necessary to get them back on the car. Only the airbags were still available from Air Lift. I worked on the mounting bracket, springs, and mounting plates to get them back in shape. The new bags are poly and red rather than rubber and black, but at least they add color to the suspension."
Rob admits his Boss 302 is a work in progress as he continues to learn more about the car and its interesting history.
As for the '69 Boss 302 that Rob originally tried to buy, it turned out to be a fake.