As the tacit Detroit liaison at Car Craft in 1971, I snatched the keys to the Boss and wouldn't let anyone else touch them for weeks. That's about when the PR guy began yelling to get his Mustang back. The Boss was a delightful, well-balanced car with ferocious mid-range balls and the chassis power (such as it was in those days) to back it up. I loved it. For me, it was the perfect daily driver--stick shift, 3.91 gears and all. With headers, it ran a 13.74 at 104.28 on street tires--better than most workaday musclecar sleds.--RM
Erik Gagnon's Boss 351 was built for just one model year. Its authenticity makes it a car that some charitable drones would restore for its historic "value," and others would spiff it within an inch of its factory issue and happily relegate it to The Dust Ball collection. Not our Erik. His '71 is one of approximately 1,800 Boss 351s, DNA-related directly to the homologated Boss 302 and the notoriously benign Boss 429. It ran a mean and treacherous life.
Boss 351 the original had an 11:1 compression ratio, solid lifter camshaft, a cylinder block with four-bolt main bearings, and cylinder heads with large-by-big ports. Physically, the rockers, air dam, NACA-duct hood, side stripes and floating trunk spoiler were in satin black, maybe a bit much for our arctic white car. I thought we were damn lucky to have it. By '71, the lights on the Musclecar Midway had grown dim and the calliope was all but silent. The stench of the government was inescapable. Let's be thankful that this Boss exists at all. Let's give praise that it wound up in Gagnon's care. Let's exalt the level to which he's brought it. Erik was born the year that the Boss 351 went on sale.
"Unlike most stories where someone finds some ultra-rare numbers-matching musclecar in perfect condition in an old barn, my car found me. My future stepfather, Dave, wouldn't take no for an answer. He was driving my pride and joy," proclaimed Erik.
"It was abused and battered, a pewter metallic Boss 351. It had an ill-fitting black fiberglass hood, a yellow door, and red primer taking up more of the real estate than the original color. The right rear wheelwell was dented from an altercation with a mail truck. This caused the Sears bias-ply super-wide 60 to rub on it under heavy acceleration, which was pretty much every time he took off."
Dave beat on the Boss for a few more years. Chained to a lead foot, stiff gears, and bias-plies, it withstood the harsh New Hampshire winters, but then the accident list began to grow. The idea went around. How about let's stash it under an old Army tent in the backyard before something really bad happens? Motion passed.
"I remember the last burst of motivation. Dave decided it would be cool to see if it would still run. My brother Kenny went to the back of the car to hear the exhaust. The motor started almost immediately. Something had built a nest in one of the pipes. Acorns were shooting out the pipe at an alarming rate. My brother got hit and yelled louder than the car, which by this time was revving at what sounded like 5,000 rpm because the throttle linkage was stuck!" laughed Erik. Were those the days?
Years later, Erik did glom a Mustang, but not the Mach 1 he sought. "...The reality was a cheapie beige-colored '69 with a three-speed manual. This car was a crime against horsepower and cool. Luckily, I went into the Air Force soon after I bought it, but now I was saying 'I'll fix the Boss up someday.'" The big clock in the sky zings ahead 18,000 hours. Spring 2000. Erik dragged the car to his good friend Leo Staller (Pembroke, New Hampshire), a valued pal, an ally with 40 years bodywork experience. Leo sniffed. Leo scoped. Leo picked. The news wasn't the kind you'd pop a tall boy and fire a bone over. New Hampshire's climate and ambience slowed Leo. Figure, too, that it was the last car he was inclined to drive everyday. He finished the Boss three summers later. But man, there was a lot to be done.
He replaced both of the rear quarter-panels, rear valance, driver-side floor pan, part of the front clip where the hinges attach, the radiator support, etc. Erik's good karma was what did it. Erik's friend Leo did all this for friendship. He spent hundreds of hours more replenishing the sheetmetal and applying the PPG Moss Green metallic. Rob Berger did the powder coating. The rarely seen SEM trim black was laid down by Phoenix Graphix of Chandler, Arizona.
The 351C (Cleveland) had endured so many summers and winters au natural that its rings were rusted stuck to the bores. Tuf-Enuf Auto & Marine Performance (Avondale, Wisconsin) rejuvenated the block, did the balancing, decking, honing, and dressing the oil drain-back holes before installing the 4.100-inch stroker crank and 6.125-inch long H-beam rods. The 351 quickly grew to 418 ci. Since the Cleveland Ford is way down on the aftermarket hit parade, Erik coddled his cast-iron cylinder heads with stainless steel valves, bronze guides, COMP Cams springs, retainers, 10-degree locks, and "healthy" porting. Spawn at the wheels: 402 hp @ 5,800 rpm and 400 lb-ft of torque.
If you source Edelbrock on the Web and go to intake manifolds for the 351C, you'll find just two. Erik got ingenuity. "Since Cleveland intake manifolds are few, the technology has largely passed them by." An old Torker had to be cut, welded, filled, and ported. The 800-cfm Holley double-pumper settled right down."Once the engine was in the car,
I wired up the ignition and fired up the 418. The sound from the open headers was exquisite ... and apparently terrifying to my 18-month-old daughter Danielle." You go, Dad! Better get her back in that thing right quick.
"I had a simple plan to make a nice driver with two years and $10,000, but it was much wor
In order to get 418 cubic inches out of a 351 Cleveland, it requires a 4.100-inch stroker