Rethinking The Restomod: 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302 Is Carbon-Clad, Supercharged, But Somehow Subtle
Photography by Drew Phillips
I admit to having spent a lot more of my time watching DTM footage from the 1990s and Group B rally compilations on YouTube than I have reading Hot Rod or Classic Ford. It’s not that a fastback Mustang with Torq Thrusts acting as donut holes to some extra Rubensian sidewalls doesn’t do the trick—we just have our preferences.
A nice period-correct pony or muscle car is a rare sight at most Cars & Coffee meet-ups these days, though. They exist, there are some banner events around the country that gather up high-quality crops of Chevelles and Camaros and ‘Cudas each year, but in general the “domestic” corner of the car show is dominated by restomods that eschew chunky Firestones for rubber band Nankangs and wheel diameters that belong on Suburbans and Excursions—to each their own, but 21” rollers look out of place to me on cars that came with 14s from the factory.
So when my friend Cory Burns at Kahn Media emailed me a note about a modified Boss Mustang that would be at the office for a little while longer and was ready for a little test drive, my cynical side perked up. When the words “carbon fiber,” “Minilite-style,” and “restomod” share the same sentence, those donk-esque domestics that populate the doo-wop section of the Sunday morning coffee shop parking lot come to mind pretty quickly.
And the next line of the message said the build had been overseen by the car’s owner, Robert Downey Jr… I love Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but having never met the guy I was wary of the mega-celeb’s ability to do justice to one of the most iconic cars ever built, in America or otherwise.
Point being, skepticism was the dominant reaction at the time of reading, but who am I to pass up a chance to drive a supercharged Mustang built by SpeedKore on the PCH? Seeing as the car debuted at SEMA back in 2017, there was enough existing content online to get a sense for the build in the days before the drive, and seeing the thing for the first time on my computer screen triggered a moment of recalibration.
This is a clear restomod from glance number one—with the up-sized wheels and the exposed bits of carbon fiber in the livery and all the other hallmarks like intricately recovered bucket seats and Bluetooth and blah blah blah to show for it—but, it pulls it off. When you change a large percentage of a car, if all of those changes are done with even just a slight dip in quality across the board, the cumulative effect can be more woof than wag in the end result. You get the fitment of the wheels wrong, the paint has too much metal flake, the custom exhaust droops unevenly, the shut lines are wonky; things like that add up to a lot of effort that just didn’t go far enough. Not this thing though. Walking up to the thing for the first time in person, the high attention to detail is immediately evident and more than commendable.
For instance, the exposed sections of carbon fiber (the hood, front fenders, both bumpers, splitter, rockers, rear diffuser, spoiler, and rear quarter panel extensions are all made from carbon), match between panels, meaning the lines of the weave are congruent between different panels, which share OEM-even gaps throughout the custom bodywork.
The forged HRE Minilite-style wheels and the color choice are subtle allusions to the much brighter orange and white Bud Moore Boss 302s that raced against Penske and the like in the American Trans Am series in the 1970s, and this restomod has a pretty aggressive pro-stock stance to it to complete the look. It’s definitely a mean mother, but it doesn’t achieve that presence with tacky crap like red headlight bulbs and big chunks of polished billet.
The interior is a little much for my taste in terms of material and colors, but I can’t knock the quality of the work done by Gabe’s Street Rod Custom Interiors—no overstuffed bolsters or wobbly stitch lines in here, and though I’d go for a more monochrome color scheme, I’m all for the rest of the changes to the interior, though I don’t know why anyone would want to hook up their iPod to this thing when you can listen to the Ford Performance Aluminator 5.0L V8 and the Roush supercharger that’s bolted onto it. It revs like there’s no flywheel in that ultra-clean engine bay, and it accelerates like physics blew a fuse.
Stuffing a modern motor with a few hundred extra horsepower in it—this thing began as a 1970 Boss 302, an already-potent clump of machinery—is one way to have fun with a restomod project, but there’s nothing that says going fast as hell in a straight line means sacrificing roadholding if you aren’t chasing quarter-mile times exclusively.
In addition to the modern Michelin rubber around the HREs and the chunky BAER brakes behind them, a bunch of chassis goodies from Detroit Speed help to make the car confidence inspiring rather than terrifying should you bring it into a corner with some zeal: the stock front suspension has been swapped for a full Aluma-Frame setup, along with Detroit Speed’s own rack and pinion steering kit, Pro Touring coilovers, and their QuadraLink rear suspension. Not being an avid American car guy, I hadn’t heard of the company before, but after driving the Mustang through plenty of third and fourth gear sweepers next to the Pacific Ocean I can say that they are doing something very right and that this job makes me a lucky little f*cker sometimes.
It was a joy to drive. Easy too. Nary a new smell in the cabin after a hard pull from the middle of second to the eye-watering top of fourth (the transmission is a Bowler T56 six-speed that sends it all back to a Detroit Speed Ford 9” rear diff). I’m far from an expert on Ford Mustangs, but I have been fortunate enough to drive a lot of special cars, and this one is certainly among those. The yawp of the pissed-off and unencumbered (well, aside from the drag of the supercharger, but we wouldn’t call that a problem now would we?) Aluminator 5.0 compels you to leave the windows down (they’re roll-ups by the way—how cool is that?).
The changes to the suspension geometry and the reinforcements of the chassis make it feel like a modern sports car, and though I’d swap a smaller set of wheels on, the grip provided by the modern tire sizes that are afforded by the bigger wheels is hard to argue with, and the whole package is so synched up within itself that you can boot it in second and teleport forward without any wheel spin even if the front wheels aren’t pointing perfectly straight. It feels like the manifestation of our collective rose-tinted memories of what kind of automobiles America used to be known for.