In the late 1960s, the NHRA needed Pro Stock. Truth was, the Super Stock division that had become a stand-alone part of the NHRA's program in 1967 had problems from the start. In an effort to continue what had been the normal method of racing in categories other than Top Fuel and Top Gas, the NHRA split Super Stock into a group of classes with a handicap starting process based on vehicle weight to factor-corrected horsepower, meaning the NHRA had to determine an engine's actual power output to classify the car.
That sounds easy in theory, but with Detroit looking to win, the idea of sportsmanship was replaced by race-by-race wranglings for the best possible advantage. Racers would "sandbag," deliberately slowing down to keep from showing how much power was really under the hood. Also, if you went faster than the index, you lost. If you were running heads-up for a class title, a record-setting victory would reset the index for your combination. This was later modified so that any run below the index became the new index!
Al Joniec was familiar with the game. He had started out at the birth of the era, when Super Stock was the top echelon of the Stock Eliminator division. Originally a line mechanic in Philadelphia at Al Swenson Ford, he had run lightweight Galaxies, FX Mustangs, match-race nitro burners, and a Cobra Jet-powered '68 Mustang fastback that won the 1968 Winternationals.
But drivers were clamoring for something new. By early 1969, the AHRA had announced a new heads-up division called Pro Super/Stock, a non-indexed bracket for cars meeting a 427-inch displacement limit at a minimum weight. Also, the northeast's biggest drivers, who had long been involved in match-racing, formed a Division I Super Stock circuit with a heads-up category, which had its own rules. Drivers like Joniec got busy, and for 1969 that meant new cars like the Boss 429 Mustang.
Joniec bought his '69 Boss 429 in June 1969 at cost, $3,994, from New Jersey's Rice & Holman Ford, a Joniec sponsor. The dealership even financed the car for 12 months with no interest. Immediately, Joniec drove his new Mustang about four miles to his speed shop, Mr. Speed Incorporated in Pennsauken, and with mechanic Bud Rubino converted it to race trim. According to Joniec, a lot of the parts-magnesium wheels, seats, etc.-came from Ford as direct factory assistance. This would be the final Ford package for Joniec; in 1970, the drag program was drastically curtailed.
After it was gutted, a ladder bar suspension was added and the leaf springs were reversed, trimmed down, and clamped for better traction. Adding a single air shock to the right rear gave Joniec additional control. The front suspension remained stock, but the left front coil spring was heated and collapsed slightly to help launch the car straighter by off-setting the engine's torsional twist. Fiberglass fenders, hood, and front bumpers, along with other diet tricks, lightened it to about 3,100 pounds. The rear fenders were sectioned, opened up an inch, and rewelded.
Before buying the Boss 429, Joniec had measured the engine compartment and knew that any Ford engine would fit. Since the NASCAR-derived 429 was not drag-ready, he installed one of his tried-and-true 427 SOHCs for the hot heads-up scene.
When the new NHRA Pro Stock category arrived in 1970, Joniec's Mustang was outclassed, so he reinstalled the original Boss 429 engine and sold the car to finance a new '71 Maverick. The second owner, Lou Guglielmo, would clock a best elapsed-time of 9.43 using the Boss 429 engine, which was quicker than Joniec ever ran with the 427 SOHC. A subsequent owner blew up the engine and the car disappeared into the sands of time.
Decades later, Jerry Spinelli noticed what looked like a Mustang under a car cover in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. After meeting the owner and uncovering the car, Jerry knew right away it was a Boss 429, but a 351 Cleveland was under the hood and the body was painted bright blue with "The Grabber" lettering. The owner wanted to keep the engine and didn't have a title, but Jerry went ahead and made a deal for the Mustang. After installing a 427 medium riser, Jerry decided it was too difficult to drive and sold it to his brother, Joe, who began researching the car's history. It was second-owner Lou Guglielmo who mentioned, "Oh, by the way, I bought the car from Al Joniec."
That changed everything, and Joe began to restore the Boss 429 as it was raced by Joniec. He contacted Joniec, who gave Joe permission to restore the car with his name on it. He did decide that, being a real Boss, it would need a Boss 429 under the hood. A low-mileage engine was found in Philadelphia. Joe sold a few of the scarce original pieces to help fund a performance buildup. The car was finished in 2006, where it was unveiled at the York US30 Reunion in Pennsylvania.
"Joniec flew up from South Carolina," Joe remembers. "When he saw the car for the first time, he was speechless. He pointed to the 'Heads by Bud' logo and got a little choked up about it, since Bud had been his long-time friend. It was pretty special."
Joniec couldn't believe how good the car looked, telling Joe that it was not a correct restoration-the car had never been so clean during its racing career.
"He says he never thought this car would be part of his life again," Joe added. "He was back in the spotlight, signing autographs and meeting old fans. That was a really cool part of all this. This being a real Boss 429 makes it very special. Misrepresentation was a big part of the story; some people thought Holman Moody had built it, or perhaps Dearborn Steel Tubing. No, Al and Bud built this car themselves."