Some say there is nothing new under the sun, and that’s especially true in the world of cars. It’s because what we’ve got is already pretty hot.
Ford started the retro muscle car trend back in 2005 when it reskinned the Mustang with styling from the classic 1968 model. The Blue Oval didn’t stop there, though: In addition to making its Pony Car look like a blast from the past, it also brought back some legendary performance models.
With today’s Shelby GT500 and Boss 302, it’s 1969 all over again.
Chevrolet was a little slow to join the party, reviving the Camaro for the 2010 model year. However, it’s quickly caught up by putting out the GT500-rivaling ZL1 and a reborn version of the Boss 302’s historic rival, the Z/28.
This is a rematch that’s been decades in the making.
The original Mustang Boss 302 and Camaro Z/28 were created in the crucible of motorsport, specifically Trans-Am road course racing. Both cars were homologation specials built to legitimize their respective makers’ racers.
With legends like Mark Donohue and Parnelli Jones behind the wheel, they brought glory – and sales – home to Detroit and Dearborn.
Trans-Am rules limited engine displacement to 302 cubic inches, and since the cars were tackling road courses and not dragstrips, handling was a priority. There’s no limit on how big today’s Boss 302 and Z/28 engines can be but, fittingly, they are hardcore models designed for track driving.
The Boss 302 is coasting through this year as a 2013 model, but with the Z/28 arriving before the end of the calendar year, we couldn’t resist a comparison of these classic rivals. Here’s our prediction of how it will turn out.
Powering the Boss 302 is a steroidal version of the 5.0-liter (which, of course, equals 302 cubic inches) V8 found in the Mustang GT. In the Boss, it produces 444 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. It’s coupled to a six-speed manual transmission; no automatics or double-clutch flappy paddles here.
Instead of souping-up the stock Camaro’s engine, Chevy decided to borrow one from the Corvette. The Z/28 boasts the 7.0-liter all-aluminum LS7 V8 from the Corvette Z06. Chevy says it will deliver “at least” 500 hp and 470 lb-ft. Like the Boss 302, the Z/28 will be offered exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission.
While Ford deserves points for historical accuracy, it’s hard to argue with the numbers on the Z/28’s spec sheet. Regardless of which car wins at the dragstrip, both should offer plenty of old school driving fun with their naturally-aspirated engines and manual transmissions.
Power is important, but what makes both of these cars unique is their focus on handling and on-track driving. Each brings plenty of hardware to bear on the task of turning faster lap times.
Ford’s Boss gets lowered suspension and standard adjustable shocks and struts. There’s also an optional TracKey that adjusts the car’s computers to race settings and includes a two-stage launch control mode.
Gripping the road are Pirelli PZero summer tires (255/40ZR-19 front, 285/35ZR-19 rear); The limited-edition Laguna Seca model gets R compound tires. At the front, four-piston Brembo calipers clamp 14-inch vented rotors; the rear brakes are the stock Mustang GT units with uprated pads.
For the Z/28, Chevy went with spool-valve shocks, which it says offer a greater range of adjustability. Like the Boss 302, the suspension is also stiffened and lowered.
The Z/28 also uses Pirelli PZero tires, but these are massive 305/30ZR19 Trofeos. Chevy says the fronts are the widest of their type on a production car.
The Bowtie Brigade also went big on the brakes, which feature Brembo Carbon Ceramic Matrix rotors specially designed to prevent fade.
As a result, Ford says the Boss 302 will go around a road course two seconds quicker than a Mustang GT. However, Chevy says the Z/28 will even outrun the more powerful Camaro ZL1 to the tune of three seconds due to the handling upgrades.
Both of these cars look amazing, but for different reasons.
With its “hockey stick” graphics and optional School Bus Yellow paint, the Boss 302 looks like a clone of Parnelli Jones’ Trans-Am car. In fact, the graphics package looks great no matter what color combination you choose. With the optional Laguna Seca package’s front diffuser and spoiler, it looks ready for the track.
Chevy decided not to include any decals with the Z/28, which means laymen won’t find out what it is until they get a close look at the flared fenders and vented hood. If the Boss 302 is a Blue Angel, the Chevy is a stealth fighter.
So if you want your muscle car to look as fast as it is, the Ford is for you. If you’d like to fly under the radar, go with the Chevy. We love the Ford’s retro look though. Why not be loud and proud?
The track-focused ethos continues with the interiors, which means buyers may have to spend as much time thinking about what they can do without as what they would like.
The Boss 302 includes Ford’s Sync voice-activated infotainment system, displayed on a 4.2-inch LCD screen. There’s also a Track Apps feature that logs performance data like acceleration and cornering g-forces.
The driver and front passenger enjoy standard Recaro bucket seats, while rear passengers had better hope their transporter doesn’t go for the Laguna Seca package, which replaces the rear seat with a chassis stiffening brace.
Chevy, however, is even more draconian. Forget tech, the Camaro Z/28 doesn’t even have an audio system. There’s less: air conditioning is optional, and sound deadening and trunk carpeting have been removed to shave weight.
The stripper treatment is supposed to make the Z/28 lighter, and we admire Chevy’s commitment to building a car that is purely focused on driving, comfort be damned. The Mustang and Camaro are already sporty cars; their hardcore counterparts should push them even further away from regular cars.
However, we don’t think most customers are that committed. Unless they trailer their Z/28s to the track, they’ll probably be happier with the Boss 302 and its air conditioning.
It’s hard to believe that two cars built for such a specific purpose can be so different. The Mustang Boss 302 proves that a car wearing the pony badge can handle, and pays homage to its 1960s forebear.
The Camaro Z/28 eschews retro references and anything resembling compromise for modern racing tech. When it goes on sale later this year, it’s Corvette-derived V8, carbon ceramic brakes, and trick suspension should make it a terror on the track.
Both cars won’t offer Mercedes any competition in terms of comfort, but the Mustang’s interior accommodations strike a balance between sportiness and practicality, while the Camaro is downright spartan.
Consequently, the Mustang Boss 302 may seem like the more sensible choice, but neither of these cars is supposed to be “sensible.” They’re supposed to be the ultimate track weapons, and the Camaro Z/28’s intense focus on that mission makes it the winner here.