The Quest - Jerry O.
My interest in the Boss 351 goes back to a warm evening in June of 1970. I had just been discharged from the Air Force and was making the rounds. A fellow that I had known since I was seven years old was working at the Ford Pilot Plant in Allen Park, Michigan. Ron knew that I was a car nut and we were catching up on who was driving what and the usual gossip. Ron asked me what I had planned on getting to drive since I was borrowing cars from relatives and friends. I told him that with a wife and year old daughter it would have to be used. That is when he got that grin going and started talking about this killer car that was coming out in the fall. He told me to wait till fall and buy the new Mustang. He told me not just any Mustang but a BOSS Mustang. I knew of the Boss 302 and 429 but this was a 351?
He brought out an envelope that
was stamped with “confidential”; “need to know” “do not copy”.
He pulled out this black and white 8X10 picture of a 1971 Mustang Boss
351 taken at the Pilot Plant. Wow,
what a car. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The long body, the slant back, the wheels, the whole look of
the car. I was in lust.
The Pilot Plant is the facility that all new models are built in prior to production. This is where the assembly plants send their people to learn how the incoming models are assembled. It is staffed with engineers and assembly line workers from all Ford locations. This is the prototype assembly facility. The new Mustang body style had been in the building for the previous two years. The vendors would bring in the pre-production parts for trial fits and approvals.
I took the photo to my wife and said that we had to get a 1971 Boss 351 when they came out. No problem she said. Then the bomb dropped. It was only available in 4 speed. Oh, oh, Huston we have a problem. The agreement was that whatever we bought it had to be an automatic. What happened to a Volkswagen in Germany during a “learn to drive a stick shift” is the topic of another story.
The immediate need for a car pressed me into action. Here it is June 1970 and the new model isn’t due out till September. Hit the dealerships looking at cars. Went to one of the local dealers and sat down with the sales person. My wife was well aware of my pent up automotive interests. As we sat at the sales persons desk there was a red 1970 Mach 1 with 428 on the shaker. Equipped with slats, spoilers, magnums it was a stunning car. My wife said that she liked the red Mach 1. She asked the BIG question, was it an automatic. Yes, it was also a SCJ Drag Pack car. My wife said that we should buy it. DUH, enter mental lock up. Oh no, we need a mid sized engine for gas mileage. Gas was $.25 a gallon for premium. She was hooked on a Mustang Mach 1. The yellow Boss 302 on the showroom floor was (as we all know) a 4-speed, which ruled it out. The sales person said that they had a low mileage trade on the used car lot that had a 351 with automatic. Well, guess what we ended up with. A 10K 1969 Mach 1 with a 351 and automatic. I had to be responsible. My wife would settle for second best with the white Mach 1 but the desire was for the red drag pack car on the show room floor.
The ’71 models hit the street and I keep looking for the Boss 351. Every time one was spotted on the street I would point it out to my wife and if she wasn’t with me I would tell her about the ones I saw. There was a yellow Boss on the street where her aunt lived and a bright blue Boss down the street from my cousins. They were the rage around town.
In 1973 we bought a house and now had three children. The agreement had been that when we had a house with a garage I would get a SPECIAL car. The first of the SPECIAL cars was a ’66 Mustang coupe, 289, 4-speed car. That was the first of over a dozen Mustangs that I owned.
The white ’69 Mach, you’re wondering. In 1972 with the third child on the way I decided that we needed a more FAMILY type of transportation. A 1972 Gran Torino Sport with a 351 CJ and automatic was ordered. My wife had said to get a used wagon and keep the Mach 1 for those special rides. Well, guess what I did. DUH, that was one of the many suggestions that I stepped around.
Fast forward to the fall of 1978. A friend of mine had been talking about a BOSS 351 that a 20-year-old fellow in his area owned. The original owner of the Boss was in the Marine Corps and had been stationed on the Hawaiian Islands. He was reassigned to the Michigan area. The Marine knew all to well what the winters would do to the Boss. He kept me updated on its condition and status. One evening I got a call from the 20-year-old owner and he mentioned that my buddy told him that I admired his car. He was in a bit of a spot with college grades and tuition. Hold the phone, what was I hearing?
Seems that his family was not to keen on the idea of him having a second car and were concerned that the car would be a diversion to his college efforts. To keep the peace at home he was going to put the Boss on the market. If the Boss didn’t leave the address he would be shown the door.
My work schedule at the time was plain chaos. I told him that it would be a few days before I could get out to look at the car. No problem. I told him I was free that evening, but was being Mr. Mom for the night. He was a motivated seller to say the least. Out he came.
It was a warm fall evening. I had briefed my children that a SPECIAL car was coming over and that Dad may purchase it. At the time my children were 9, 7 and 5. They were attuned to the Mustang market. Just as night was starting to descend the music of the solid lifers could be heard. We were standing in front of the house as the pewter beauty rolled up the drive. The failing daylight played off the magnums. He rolled the Boss into the garage at idle. He let it idle for 15 seconds then cut the ignition. The million-dollar sound of the exhaust in concert with the sold lifters song was a pure automotive symphony.
I stood with my children looking at the pewter flanks bathed in the fluorescent light of the garage and the setting sunlight. That was a true moment to remember. The car from 1970 was paying me a visit.
It was pewter with saddle tan deluxe interior. AM-FM, magnums, fold down, rim blow wheel and full console. The current owner was moved to relocate the antenna to the rear flanks. Along those lines he also relocated the battery to the right rear of the trunk. The original carb was replaced by a Holley mounted to an adapter plate. A manual choke was used with the Holley. Aside from those items, the car was factory. He had the car repainted to address the parking lot scuffs on the sides of the car. I gather the Marines on Hawaii were not very careful in their parking duties.
There was a quick ride about the area with the kids all giddy in the back seat. Getting into the gas, the kids were roaring with laughter and glee at the sound of squealing tires. Grabbing a couple gears got the children into the Boss spirit. Back at the corral the deal was struck and handshakes were exchanged. As a motivated seller he even offered me the storage that he had arranged for the winter. Wow, it didn’t get any better than that. Within a week money and paperwork exchanged hands. I had my lust machine.
1980 dawned with much uncertainty. I was in a new job and the talk of layoffs in the auto industry was running rampant. Again I got myself all turned around on the need for a SPECIAL car. As the layoffs were getting to my area panic set in and a decision to sell the Boss 351 was made. An ad was run in Hemming; within two days of publication the car was sold. The car sadly left my garage to go to a collector in Oklahoma. I barely survived the layoff threat. Contracts were opened and concessions granted to keep the plants running. My next SPECIAL car was a 1965 Comet Cyclone in 1982. It was a true family project as the children helped in the restoration.
SPECIAL cars came and went. The Boss 351 always held a sweet spot. In November of 2001 I retired from Ford Motor after 36 years. The SPECIAL car at retirement was a 1964 Galaxie 500XL. Reflecting back on my past cars I thought to which one I really enjoyed above all others. It was the Boss 351. The flame that started in June of 1970 was still burning bright.
The decision was made to look for and purchase a 1971 Boss 351. First some ground rules were established. The car had to be 99% to 100% factory original and turn key. With 1805 of these beauties having rolled out of Dearborn Assembly it was going to be an interesting search to say the least. I didn’t want a trailer queen nor did I want a restoration project. I wanted to enjoy the car that I found. I wanted to drive it. I wanted a turnkey Boss, if such an animal existed. I wanted to participate in the various cruise nights locally and the Big Daddy of cruises, “The Woodward Dream Cruise” along with the Downriver Cruise in Southeast Michigan. With the ground rules established the search began.
Thus started a quest that covered seven states over eight months and hours of phone calls. I got out all my literature on the Boss 351 and refreshed my memory. One item that I found to be a real asset was the Marti reports. This separated the fact from fiction. It got to the point that Jack (one of the folks at Kevin Marti’s shop) and I were on voice recognition. I would just tell him the VIN and within the hour the report was on my fax machine. The conversation would follow these lines, Hello Jack, Jerry. Hi Jerry, same card number and fax number. Yes Jack. OK, give me the VIN. A couple hours later there was the basic report that I needed to check the advertised car.
In talking to current owners and previous owners of the Boss machine there was a real appreciation of the car. I spoke with owners of cars with 16K on the clock. I had the pleasure of conversing with original owners that still have their Boss. I also had the displeasure of talking to individuals that had no clue what it was that they owned and were trying to sell. Overall I would say that 95% of the folks that I talked to were very open and honest about their cars.
A couple of folks that went above and beyond were Bob Wilson of Southfield, Michigan and Larry Bellino of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Bob forgot more about the Boss then I would ever hope to learn. Larry provided the needed reality checks and balances. Without their help and the help of many others I could not have found the car that I own.
The first item was establishing value. Using eBay was a good barometer of where the Boss prices were. Also checking the Auto Trader On Line provided an indicator of price and expectations. The prices were all over the map. Dealers tended to be on the high end for what they had. Not to deprive the dealers from making a living, they did provide some fine cars for inspection. The down side was that dealers are interested in moving the unit. Information is suspect as the sales person has to know the entire inventory and some were shaky on the Boss knowledge scale. Private owners were a unique bread of cat. Some were in love with their cars and weren’t to interested in selling other than to bag a perceived big profit from a collector vehicle. Some admitted duress for a sale and acknowledged a real lack of understanding of their vehicle.
In no particular order I’ll review the cars that I looked at in my QUEST.
Early on I spotted an eBay auction that had expired. The car had a buy it now of $26,000 and the bidding got to $19,000. I made contact with an individual that was acting as a seller’s agent. He was the go to person and all questions would be presented to the owner and answers relayed back to me. It seemed that the agent was not very attuned to the Boss line. Many of the answers to my questions were of a canned vague nature. When asked specific hard-core type of questions the response was always the same. The opening statement was along the line of “the owner __________ (fill in the name) told me that”. Any attempt by me to gain access to the owner was met with resistance. I requested a video and had to send money first then received a four-minute video shot from ten plus feet. I commented to the agent that for my money I didn’t receive much. His response was that he had many hours of editing. Hello Spielberg.
I felt the car warranted further investigation. It was a two-day journey by car to the location of the Boss. Upon arrival, I was told by the owner that “he had to leave in fifteen minutes and to hurry up”. I drove two days and now I get a 15-minute look. You can guess where this ended up. One interesting item was that the owner said that he had all the original paperwork on the car. Great stuff, right? I had visions of window stickers, order forms and such. I asked him to show me the ORIGINAL paperwork so I could check things out. Said he would have to look for it but it should be easy to locate. Cool, hop on it. He left the garage and returned two minutes later with the paperwork for the bank loan he had taken out to buy the car. He was all too proud of this documentation. I asked if he had any real documentation on the car. His reply was, this is the original paperwork I have on the car, what else could there be?
Back in the car and a two-day journey back home. Overview, it was a nice car but not for the money he wanted. The Marti Basic Report showed me that the AMFM was added, as were the magnum wheels.
On to another journey…. Responded to an ad in Hemming. It was for a dealer six hours away. Any salesman on the floor would take the call and they seemed to be reading from a script. Rare Mustang, not many made, low mileage (wouldn’t tell what it was, just low), real fast and fun to drive. OK, worth a look, maybe a diamond in the rough. The dealer owned a building that you could park a 747 airliner in. It was filled with some fantastic iron. Being a Chevy dealer he had some rare vintage Chevy racing cars from the 60’s. He also had later production performance cars in storage. Seemed that he liked to order hipo cars and if they didn’t sell they ended up in the building for his collection. He had a few police pursuit Camaros that budget cuts made the state back out of the deal.
The owner would let his sales crew take the cars home for the weekend. No moss was growing under this collection. The salesman that let us in the building and acted as our tour guide told me that he liked to take the Boss for the weekend. Only problem was that a couple months back he took the Boss out on Friday and was served with divorce papers when he pulled up to his house. The memories just keep flooding in.
An important part of finding a specific car like the Boss 351 is to plug into the network. Let it be known that you are in the market and folks will share any leads and tips they may have.
That is how the next journey came to take place. A local friend was talking to a fellow car nut in another state. He mentioned that his buddy (me) was in the market for a nice original Boss. Two days later the out of town friend is looking through his local classified section. What is being offered? An original Boss 351. Car is a few miles from his home. He in turn called the fellow that told him that I was in the market. The local fellow makes me aware of the car and the phone calls start.
The owner says that it is “all original”. Very low mileage (under 28K), Florida car that was brought to the central states 12 years ago. Been driven less than 1,200 miles in 12 years. Kept in a climate-controlled facility for the last 12 years. The statement of “all original” kept ringing in my ear. Is this the car that I’ve been looking for? One way to find out and that is to mount up for a road trip to see for myself.
Contact my traveling buddy and plans are made for an early departure. During the eight-hour drive my thoughts are filled with what I will find. Remember the mention of original. I had been assured that it had never been painted nor had any restoration type of work been performed on the car.
Finally, I arrive at the location. While walking up to the car I am doing a mental check off of what I had been told. Notice some overspray on the rear flank of the pony. The owner tells me to open the hood. I lift the bonnet and am greeted by a load of after market hop up items. Steel tube headers, Accel coil, shocking pink plug wires. Hey, what’s up with this stuff? The owner says that it is original. I told him that I never knew that Ford Motor made a production car with Accel coils, steel tube headers and traction bars. Oh, it is original the way I bought it 12 years ago. If it had a satellite dish on the roof it would have been original as that was the way it was purchased.
Also found out that the low mileage was put on a quarter mile at a time. The car was purchased to be drag raced in Florida… which it was! That might account for the leaking transmission and the fact that it had a high performance, high-pressure clutch installed.
Valuable lesson. One mans original is another mans modified. Have to establish a clear understanding of what key words mean.
In talking to folks within the Boss 351 network I was told of a low mileage car that might be on the market soon. Phone calls were made. This was a low mileage, factory original, three-owner car. When talking to the owner, he was very unsure about the decision to sell. His pricing was in the area for the condition of the car. Remember how I had to determine what my intentions were when I set out to look for a Boss 351. An issue of importance to me was being able to drive the car. I had owned a couple cars that I hardly drove for fear of causing some sort of damage while on the road. I was firm in the posture that I wanted my Boss to be a road warrior and not a trailer queen. Not that there is anything wrong with trailer queens, I didn’t want to have one at this point.
Arrangements were made and another five-hour drive is undertaken. The first look at this car was awe-inspiring. It was truly an original, unmolested example of the breed. Every paint daub, hose stripe, clamp and mark was as Dearborn had put them. The spare tire and inflator can were the best ever seen. If a car could have just rolled off the line this was it. After stepping on my tongue for an hour the owner said that he had established his price. I thanked him for his effort and thoughts but this was too nice of a car for me to enjoy. When the owner let me know where he was on pricing I could see that he was well aware of what he had. His price also indicated that he was not in the market to sell. I thanked him for the opportunity to see he car. Every car that I looked at I took away another piece of detail, information and education on the Boss. This car was no exception. As I understand it the owner is still in possession of the Boss and even put some miles on the clock in the last year.
There were some unique situations that came up during the search. I was at a local car show and swap meet when a friend told me of a Boss in the car coral. My friend mentioned that he wasn’t too sure about the car. I made a beeline for the coral area. Spotted the Boss and approached the vehicle. The owner was engaged in a conversation with a customer and was singing the praises of his car. Overhearing some of his comments didn’t add up with the knowledge I had about the Boss line. When he finished his sales pitch and the interested person mentioned an issue with lack of funds the conversation was over just that fast. I stood there trying to get the attention of the owner. He was now fully engaged in a conversation with a young lady. She had his attention 110%. I waited and after a few minutes figured that the dating game was of more interest than selling his Boss at this time. I walked away and understand that the car is still on the market at a very inflated price.
I ran an ad in the local papers wanted section of the classifieds. I received a call from a gentleman that was testing the waters. He mentioned that he had thought about selling his car but was on the fence. I drove an hour to his location and looked over his car. It was a nice car and he was in the ballpark on price. The fellow realized that he enjoyed the car too much to part with it. I can understand that and appreciated the opportunity to look at yet another Boss.
At this point all that I had done was look to more heart's content. I had received a tremendous education, but still no Boss to call my own. I then saw an ad in the local paper for a Boss on the other side of Michigan. I made the call and got the low down on the car. It was a southern car with low miles and nice options. I saddled up for a 4-hour ride and expanded my education. It was a nice car but not in the condition I wanted. A few of the original parts were missing. Nothing that was a show stopper, but missing non-the-less. I explained that I was not interested in the car. Then we got into a discussion of what I felt the car would need to be in in order to be in the condition that I had in mind. The owner took the car off the market and started to restore the car back to original condition. I guess our conversation got him to realize what he had and how nice it was.
Then I saw a Boss on eBay. There was a “buy it now” that was a tad on the high side from my viewpoint. I wanted to look at the car before bidding. Family obligations made it impossible to get away for a look. I placed a bid on the car and the auction never made its reserve. After a couple of weeks I got an email from the owner saying that he wanted to sell the car and had reduced his asking price. Was I interested? Mildly so. At this point I had given up on ever finding a car. Why get all excited over something that would not pan out. Had a few phone calls with the owner. He filled me in on the history of the car, as he knew it. He had owned it for two years and loved to take his wife out for drives on Sundays. In fact he had some friends that did a road trip at least two Sundays a month during the summer. His group had been Ford drivers and were now making the switch to the Pentstar brand. Not wanting to be the odd man out he had found a Pentstar replacement for his Boss and was becoming more motivated to sell.
I asked if he had any additional photos of the car and paperwork. He had the original window sticker, build sheets, owner’s manual and other documents. He offered to send me a copy of the window sticker and some other documents that he had. I couldn’t believe my change in fortune. Hold on, I’ve been down this road before. The package arrives and I tear into it. The window sticker matches up with the Kevin Marti report that Jack sent over. The rear spoiler was added on. That was the only change from the invoice. Wait a minute. What is this receipt for Mustang parts from a Mustang parts supply house? Is this a phone number and name on the receipt? I quickly check on the Internet and the name and number are valid.
I couldn’t believe my luck. Was my luck finally changing? I called the number and explained to the lady on the other end that I was interested in buying a car that had been owned by someone at that phone number. Anticipating a resounding slam as the phone was slammed down, I was told to give her my number so that if we should be disconnected she could call me back. Yes, the prior owner of the car was there and he would be VERY interested in talking to me.
Seems that two nights before, the prior owner was reminiscing about where his beloved Boss had ended up and what shape was it in. Did the next owner lavish it with good care? Now things were starting to look up. She has to go outside and get him in from yard work.
His first words were, where is my Boss and what shape is she in? Obviously, he was still excited about his Boss. I explained that I was considering buying his car. He was able to provide the lineage back to the original owner. In fact, he had the original owners' name and number if I wanted to talk to him. He was able to provide information about every owner of the car except one. He had owned the Boss for five years and the fellow he bought it from had owned it for 11 years. On his job, he saw a Boss 351 parked from time to time in the employee lot. He could never figure out who owned the car. He had started looking for a Boss and one turned up in his local paper. When he called on the ad, the voice on the other end sounded somewhat familiar. The car that he saw in the lot at work was the car he was calling on. It seems that the owner worked in an area near his work area and they had worked on a few projects together.
The co-worker was into another hobby and was liquidating his car collection. The deal was struck. I was able in one conversation to trace the car back to the original owner, get a fantastic amount of history on the car, and find some things to check on with the current owner. Armed with this new found knowledge, I called the current owner and asked some very specific questions. He told me that he was not a person to work on his cars as such. He was a driver of his cars. He was able to check a few things on the car for me that proved that it was the car owned by the other fellow.
Having verified that the car was indeed his car, I called him back to let him know. He was happy to hear that all was well with his Boss. That begged the question – would you buy the car back? He said he would consider it if he hadn’t gotten to a mid-point on a father–son restoration project on another car. Space and time were not on his side. He told me what he paid for the car and what he sold it for. The price being asked was very fair.
Arrangements were made and another drive was undertaken. Six hours later I am at the owner’s house. As I walked up the driveway I could see the arrow straight flanks of the Boss. Could this be the one? After all the miles, time and hopes? I had figured to spend no more than an hour looking at the car. The owner handed me the keys and said if I needed anything he would be in the house. If I wanted to take it for a test ride, just let him know. I spent the next three hours crawling over, under, around and through every inch of that Boss. I couldn’t find one thing that would have caused me to leave. I finally took it out for a test ride. WOW, 1978 again. The owner directed me to an open stretch of road and told me to let the pony stretch its legs. YES, stretch its legs we did. I was hooked. The quest was over. A brief discussion about price took place and handshakes were exchanged.
I told him that I wanted to talk to my wife and let her know what I had found. We agreed on a drop-dead date of Thursday. I went home with over 300 digital photos to study and share. Tuesday my wife and I decided to go forward with the deal. I started calling his house as agreed on Wednesday. Every time, a busy signal. Was he trying to avoid me? Had he changed his mind? Had someone showed up with more money? The thoughts were racing through my mind. Had I lost out? I had his work number for a back up. I waited till his office opened and placed the call on Thursday morning. The receptionist asked who was calling, when I told her my name she said to stay on the line, he was waiting for my call. She would put me through to him immediately. I told him that I wanted the car. I mentioned that I had called the night before and the line was busy all evening. I expected to hear that the “good ship” Boss 351 had left the dock without me. On Wednesday evening, his children were out with friends and he was expecting my call. His wife commented to him how nice and quiet it was in the house without the phone ringing all night long. He couldn’t understand why I hadn’t called. He told his wife that maybe I had changed my mind. It was after eleven when their children started to return home. One mentioned that they had called to check in and the line was busy. A check of the house found that one of the children had left a phone off the hook. Now he knew why he had enjoyed a quiet night and why I hadn’t called. I couldn’t get through. When he went to his office the next morning he told the receptionist what had happened and that I was to be put through to him immediately.
Arrangements were nailed down on the date and time to pick up the Boss. Was this really going to happen? Was the quest over? Would I be able to reverse the mistake of 1980? Two weeks later, with trailer in tow, a trip through three states was made. The Boss was loaded up and finally the quest was over.
All the way home I got horn honks and thumbs up. Had one family that rode next to the trailer for three miles and were starting to cause a back up on the turnpike. They pulled in front of me and let traffic pass. When the wolf pack thinned out they slowed down so I could pass them. They wanted to see the passenger side of the car. They had spent three miles looking at the drivers’ side now they wanted to give the passenger side equal time.
Rest and fuel stops caused a stir. Everyone wanted to look at the car and ask questions. I think the Boss passed muster on the road trip to its' new home.
Jerry Ostalecki Michigan email jerry
Jerry. Thank you so much for your story. Take good care of her.