Tooling down tulsa's Peoria Avenue on a warm summer evening, I feel like I've been transported back to the early 1970s. With the yellow glow of street lights streaming over the huge, black scoop in front of me and the soft clatter of solid-lifters coming from under the hood, my passenger, longtime buddy Mark Storm, and I trade comments about how this must be what it was like to cruise in a Boss 429 nearly 40 years ago. We've got the windows down-there's no air-conditioning, after all-and elbows propped on the doors. Getting stopped by a red-light means another chance to accelerate through the gears. The only thing missing is good tunes on the radio. All we can find on the old Philco AM is talk-radio and static.
The idea about driving a Boss 429 came to me last spring during a phone conversation with Jim Wicks, organizer of the 35-year-old Mid America Ford and Shelby Team Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As always, Jim asked if there was anything I needed at the show. I mentioned that, instead of the typical car photo feature, it would be interesting to spend some time in a rare Mustang muscle car, something most enthusiasts would never get a chance to drive, something like a Boss 429. Only 1,358 were built during 1969-'70 and surviving examples are worth a quarter of a million dollars or more, so cautious owners seldom take the risk of putting them on the street.
And perhaps there was a selfish reason-after nearly 30 years in the Mustang magazine business, I've never driven a Boss 429.
"I've got just the car," Jim quickly responded. "All I need to do is get it out, clean it up, and make sure it's road-ready."
The engine in Wick's low-mileage...
The engine in Wick's low-mileage Boss 429 is representative of these cars in the mid-1970s. The original owner removed the smog equipment and air-cleaner snorkel, and that's the way it remains today. It's a solid-lifter "820 A" engine, essentially the same as the more common "820 T" engines from '69 and '70 except for minor changes in the smog system.
"Just the car" turned out to be a Grabber Orange '70 Boss 429, a 21,000-mile survivor that looks like a time-capsule from the mid-1970s. The original paint is slightly faded with minor door dings and nicks, some touched up, just like five-year-old '70 Mustangs in 1975. The headers that original owner A.C. DeLoach installed on the Boss 429 engine nearly 40 years ago are still there, with muffler-shop replacement mufflers clamped between the original exhaust pipes and tailpipes. In 1972, DeLoach replaced the original F60 Goodyear Polyglas tires with slightly wider G60 BFGoodrich T/As; they are still on the car. Wicks notes that the huge "Boss 429" plaque stuck on the middle of the dash pad was likely put there by DeLoach when he received it with a Boss 429 Performance Upgrade newsletter from Ford. In another reminder of the 1970s, there's an oil pressure gauge hanging under the glove compartment.
According to the original sales invoice, DeLoach purchased the Boss 429 from Woody Anderson Ford in Huntsville, Alabama, on November 22, 1969. The price was $5,116, a lot of money for a car in 1969, although the total reached $6,161 by the time the dealership tacked on taxes, finance fees, and life insurance (did they feel there was some risk involved with a loan for a Boss 429?). Final cash price ended up at $4,334 after DeLoach traded in a '66 GT350, SFM6S2077; the dealership gave him $1,816 for the three-year-old Shelby.
DeLoach drove the Boss 429 for several years before selling it to Alabama Boss enthusiast Dan Case, who drove the car sparingly in order to preserve its original condition before eventually turning the preservation duty over to Wicks in 1984.
Like the engine, the interior...
Like the engine, the interior is well-preserved. The seats and door panels show little wear. The metal Boss 429 plaque in the middle of the dash was added by the original owner in the early 1970s. The original Hurst T-handle is slightly yellowed; Wicks thinks the original owner tried to protect it by applying clear paint, which has turned yellow over time.
When I arrive at the Tulsa Marriott Southern Hills for the Mid America event, the Grabber Orange Boss 429 is sitting under the canopy in front of the lobby doors. Wicks suggests that I drive it during Mid America's Thursday evening cruise, so I meet him at the car to climb in for the first time. I've owned a couple of '70 Mustangs, including a Boss 302, so the layout is familiar-the twin-pod dash with gauges tucked deep into the instrument panel, ignition switch on the steering column, and Hurst four-speed stick with T-handle jutting out of the center console. I shove in the clutch pedal and try to get a feel for the shifter, but quickly learn that the locking mechanism, which was new for 1970, is still in place. Most owners were quick to disable the locking function, which prevented the transmission from being shifted out of Reverse with the ignition switch in the "Off" position.
Jim hands me the keys and tells me to pump the accelerator pedal once, then fire it up. It's unusually hot, even for an Oklahoma heat-wave, so there's no need to pull the manual choke handle. The big 429 cranks instantly and, except for the sound of the solid lifters, idles like a regular passenger-car 429.
The original owner, A.C. DeLoach...
The original owner, A.C. DeLoach from Huntsville, Alabama, snapped this photo of the Boss 429 on his first day of ownership in November 1969.
Mark Storm joins me in time to move the Boss 429 into the lineup for the cruise. People stare as the bright orange SportsRoof rolls into place between a red Ford GT and a 5.0L Mustang hatchback. We've driven just a short distance but already I notice that the temperature gauge needle is leaning toward "H." I've dealt with the combination of old car and hot weather many times before. I cross my fingers.
At the start of the cruise, the 21,000-mile engine once again fires immediately. Even though we're near the front of the 500-car cruise, the line moves slowly toward the entrance onto 71st. St. I keep a wary eye on the temperature gauge.
Once on 71st St., I can finally dip into the throttle. I'm curious to see if the Boss 429 engine, with its huge intake ports and valves, lacks low-rpm torque, but that's not the case at all. This one has as much low-end grunt as a 428 Cobra Jet. Just touch the pedal and it leaps forward. We're stuck in the middle of the cruise, so there's too much traffic for a full-throttle run. I expected finicky manners from such an exotic, high-performance engine but this thing is as smooth as butter with no hesitating or bucking, even as I notice the temperature needle headed for "H."
So I did something that no Boss 429 owner ever did in 1970-I grabbed my cell phone. Haunted by the thought of damaging an original, never-been-apart Boss 429 engine, no doubt one of the few remaining on this earth, I called Wicks at the front of the line to ask if I should abandon the cruise to allow the engine to cool down. Not to worry, he says. The temperature gauge isn't accurate; it reads on the hot side. Now he tells me.
In line for the Mid America...
In line for the Mid America cruise. Everything was cool-literally-at this point.
Rounding corners, I notice that this Boss 429 doesn't drive like a big-block car. With power steering, it turns easily, almost too easily. But power steering was like that in 1970. Also like 1970 is the Hurst shifter, which was standard equipment in four-speed Ford performance cars that year. Revered as the top-of-the-line performance shifter back then, you can't help but notice the long throws, especially if you've spent time in a newer Mustang. Going into First, you can almost change radio stations with your knuckles. And you could hurt a back-seat passenger with your elbow when yanking into Second.
We finally reach Tulsa's Brookside area, where police have blocked off three city blocks for cruise-in parking. The procession into town is stop and go; Mark and I notice the odor of antifreeze at about the same time. The temp gauge may be incorrect but the steam coming from under the hood appears to be accurate. I grab the first available parking spot and shut off the engine, which is punctuated by the sound of the vacuum-actuated hood flap closing. The next sound we hear is the hiss from the radiator, followed by the expelling of green fluid.
Uh-oh. This is what happens...
Uh-oh. This is what happens when you drive an unrestored '70 Boss 429 in 100-degree temperatures in heavy traffic.
Nothing ruins the experience of driving a really cool car than having it over-heat in front of hundreds of other cool-car owners.
Few things in the automotive...
Few things in the automotive world are more impressive than a Boss 429 engine. Open the hood and people gather around.
Raising the hood as much for cooling as for showing off, we're soon joined by Ed Meyer, noted Boss 429 restorer and preservationist, who pulls out a camera and starts photographing various markings, stampings, and other factory-original details. He's known the car for a long time, noting that it's one of the best-preserved '70s in existence.
With the cruise over and the 40-year-old radiator filled with much-needed coolant, Mark and I head back to the hotel via Tulsa's famous cruising street, Peoria Avenue. With cooler evening temperatures and no traffic to contend with, the Boss 429 was a pleasure to drive. I check the fuel gauge and hope that it's as inaccurate as the temperature gauge. Mark notes that the clock, positioned right in front of him on the passenger side, works intermittently; we both recall that those clocks did the same thing in the 1970s.
The original bill of sale...
The original bill of sale from Woody Anderson Ford in Huntsville, Alabama, shows the $5,116 sale price and $1,816 trade-in for DeLoach's '66 Shelby GT350. Those were the days.
With traffic thinning, I finally get a chance to put my foot into the Holley four-barrel. From a rolling First gear start, I'm rewarded with lots of tire spin, followed by more protests from the old T/As as I slam into Second. Obviously, the 37-year-old tires are not up to the task of handling the Boss 429's power. With 375 hp and factory 3.91:1 gears, we need drag slicks for any chance of traction.
I get another shot at the Boss 429 later in the week, this time with less traffic and Wicks in the passenger seat as witness to any possible damage I might inflict upon his rare, super-valuable Mustang. But again, I can't get the big Boss to hook up on the old tires. Wicks and I swap seats, much to my relief because if anyone is going to be responsible for blowing up the engine or veering off into a ditch, I prefer it to be the car owner. Wicks begins his banzai run from a rolling start. The tires squeal, but we're picking up momentum. More tire spin in Second. In Third, I can finally feel the expected rush from a 429 big-block equipped with racing heads and solid-lifter cam. This thing is strong.
Jim Wicks was relieved to...
Jim Wicks was relieved to get his low-mileage, mostly-original '70 Boss 429 back in one piece.
Many car magazines from the late 1960s were disappointed with the Boss 429's performance. Perhaps they were expecting more from a race-inspired engine in a relatively lightweight Mustang. In my short street experience with Wicks' Boss 429, I learned that it has plenty of low-speed torque, unexpected good street manners, and a ton of high rpm power. For a 40-year-old survivor, Wicks' Boss 429 was impressive-although it could've used some better tires and a new radiator.