1969 Mercury Cougar Eliminator Boss 302 (top); 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302 (bottom). Images by the author.
This or That is not a comparison report between two vehicles, but rather a feature that enables us, in an idyllic world, to add a collectible vehicle into our dream garage on a weekly basis, but with a catch: We can only pick one vehicle from this pairing and it has to be for enjoyment purposes rather than as an investment.
Featured in this edition of This or That are a pair of small-block Bosses: a 1969 Mercury Cougar Eliminator Boss 302 and a 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302. What’s wrong with a little sibling rivalry? The answer may depend upon your point of view. Such similar creations, though aimed at different price gaps, could strengthen the parent company’s overall market gain. Others, playing the devil’s advocate, offer that such a tact could cause rifts in the family, particularly from an on-track perspective. Like the events that unfolded during the 1967 SCCA Trans-Am season when Mercury nearly snatched the manufacture’s title from Ford. How’s that saying go about a house divided? Though Mercury was suddenly and conspicuously absent from A/Sedan racing thereafter, the division’s performance prowess in street form continued, which ultimately brings us here, posing the question of which sibling would you prefer to add to your dream garage. Before jumping to a quick answer, here’s a small look at each (if you’d like to read more than we provide here, both were featured in our Hemmings Muscle Machines magazine; just click on the provided links above).
High-performance upgades were not foreign to the Cougar line by the time the Eliminator was offered for the ’69 season; the pony-sized big cat had already long-established itself as a multi-faceted platform a la the Mustang. But ordering an Eliminator wasn’t the cut-n-dry process one might assume. Rather than it being a separate line with its own VIN, an eager customer had to start by ordering a base Cougar hardtop coupe, and then select the Eliminator Equipment Package and Eliminator Décor Group off the option chart. The former of the two added much of the visual panache: high-back bucket seats; a unique instrument panel with tachometer, Rallye clock and trip odometer; front black and rear body-color spoilers; blacked-out grille; body-color hood scoop (functional only when the Ram Air option was chosen); styled steel wheels; Eliminator body-side stripes and emblem decals; color-keyed remote-control left-side mirror; and the performance axle (3.50:1 or shorter). The Décor Group then provided curb molding, Rim Blow steering wheel, custom door trim, rear seat arm rests, door-mounted courtesy lights and padded interior moldings. Just four colors were available: Competition Orange, Bright Blue, Yellow and White, and although it was possible, records indicate nobody took the time to special-order a different hue. But if you’re going to order a car as sinister-sounding as the Eliminator, you’re going to want power to match, right?
To that point, division engineers provided punch by issuing a mandate stating that the base Eliminator engine was to be the 290-hp 351 Windsor. Initial upgrades beyond the 351W included the 320-hp 390; both the Q-code (non-Ram Air) 428CJ and R-code (functioning Ram Air) 428CJ engines, each rated at a silly-sounding 335 hp; and — of course — the slightly more powerful-on-paper 428SCJ. As to the underrated 290-hp Boss 302 engine, the point of our main topic, it was added to the Eliminator option chart late in the season; so late, in fact, that not only was it never listed in the 1969 owner’s manual, dealers probably didnt get the memo, either. A mere 169 Boss 302 eliminators were built (another 469 were built the following year). We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that the Boss 302 carried its own stipulations, such as the inclusion of a four-speed manual transmission, Traction-Lok 9-inch differential, staggered rear shocks, and 8,000-rpm tachometer (rather than the Eliminator’s standard 6,000-rpm unit).
We’re all-too-aware that Ford also unleashed the Boss 302 Mustang in 1969; a not-at-all clandestine link to fully homologate the high-revving V-8 for racing. Rather than a late-season option, it was a full-fledged model right from the get-go. Which means for this to be a fair pick-n-choose pairing, we shouldn’t have offered the ’70 edition instead. You didn’t really think we’d make it that easy for you, right?
At its basic core, the ’70 Boss retained much of the traits first seen a year prior, which meant that, like the Eliminator, the Boss mandated a four-speed manual, Ford’s ever-durable 9-inch differential housing a 3.50:1 (or shorter) gearset, heavy-duty suspension, a limited number of eye-catching colors, appropriate reflective and matte stripes, matte-black hood scoop, bucket seats, and front and rear matte-black spoilers. Still, the Mustang was the cheaper cousin, thus niceties that were standard on the Eliminator were options in Boss Mustang form, such as a tachometer and Traction-Lok differential. Yet along the way the Boss engine received timely internal upgrades to enhance longevity and performance, and front disc brakes became standard equipment. Bolstered by track and street exploits, the fine tuning led to a tremendous jump in production: from 1,628 in ’69 to 7,102 for ’70.
As to individual performance, one could argue that it should be almost a dead heat between the corporate siblings. Granted the Mercury is a little longer, and a little more plush, making it a tad bit heavier. Still, it seems nary a contemporary magazines compared the two in Boss 302 form. The only direct comparison quickly uncovered for this writing came in 1969 when Motor Trend (in their March issue) pitted a 290-hp 351-powered Mach 1 against a 290-hp 351 powered XR-7. Both cars were equipped identically — automatic transmission; F70x14 tires; power front disc brakes; power steering — save for the rear gear: the Mustang contained a 3.25:1 gearset, while the Cougar was fitted with 3.00:1 gears. Interestingly, the quarter-mile times were nearly identical: the Mustang recorded 15.6 seconds @ 88 mph; the Cougar 15.8 seconds @ 86 mph.
So which FoMoCo pony would you pick and why?