For more than half a century, a battle more than 50 years in the making has continued to progress on American soil for the title of the best musclecar.
In these two cars, you have to do different things to achieve the same outcome. -Conrad Grunewald
Arguably two of the best ‘sportscars’ to ever come out of Detroit, the muscle duo, the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro, have generated millions of passionate enthusiasts and brand loyalists on both sides. And with the horsepower wars still alive and well for the time being, competition has reached an all-time high for these two domestic auto icons.
We’re certainly not here to create a means to an end in any particular way. Nevertheless, we can’t help but indulge in the competitiveness when given the opportunity. Here, we fare a slightly older and modified 2013 Boss 302 against a bone-stock 2015 Camaro Z/28 in an all-out battle for the fastest lap time at Willow Springs International Raceway near Rosamond, California.
After reading that last sentence, we can safely bet that some of you may have some feedback on the legitimacy of this matchup. You may be asking yourself why we didn’t choose a newer Shelby GT350R instead, or why we chose to use a stock Camaro Z/28 instead of a modified one.
We embrace your curiosity to the fullest, and we’re here to answer those questions. From our experience at Willow Springs, we can safely say that when modified, a Boss 302 makes for one hell of a proper contender when fared against a stock Camaro Z/28. Utilizing a modified version of the Boss 302 closes the gap between the two cars from the factory (including price), ensuring our matchup is more even and our results are more accurate.
It’s the nature of the beast, but we’re sure you know that. We’ll also note the Boss’s upgrades help to even things up a bit more. Especially when you factor in that, in stock form, the Boss comes to the ring with a 60-plus-horsepower deficit with 444 from its Coyote-based 5.0-liter, compared to 505 from the Camaro’s 7.0-liter LS7.
Michael Heinz' Mustang Boss 302 has come a long way since purchasing it in 2013.
You may even recognize this particular School Bus Yellow Boss 302 owned by Michael Heintz from a few previous articles we have published. You may also recognize the Camaro Z/28 as belonging to one of our good friends Bob Florine, the executive vice president and director of sales and marketing for ARP. Last but not least, another good friend of ours and professional driver Conrad Grunewald, had the pleasure of posting the quickest lap times in both cars.
The Cars: Ford Mustang Versus Chevrolet Camaro
This LS7-powered Camaro Z/28 looks right at home on the streets of Willow Springs International Raceway.
While Bob’s Camaro Z/28 remained in factory condition for our purposes here, he does plan to modify the car later down the road. “I plan to keep everything naturally aspirated for the life of the car,” Bob told us. “I’d like to eventually do heads, a cam, and an intake setup on the car to gain more power, but nothing crazy. Naturally aspirated is the way to go in my opinion.” For a road-going corner carver, we would have to agree.
Michael has taken a similar path as well. His Boss 302 has become host to a ton of components for a potent naturally aspirated setup. Components such as a Ford Racing Cobra Jet intake manifold, a dual-blade throttle body, a cold air intake, and a set of camshafts helps Michael’s Boss 302 keep the powerband linear. A pair of Bassani Xhaust long tube headers and a 3-inch cat-back exhaust expels gasses as fast and efficiently as possible. Power numbers translate to 473 hp and 369.2 lb-ft of torque at the wheels, which puts it about on par with the Camaro's stock LS7. However, the fun doesn’t end there.
All of the additional power Michael’s Boss 302 is making has to translate to the road course and the street as smoothly as possible, which is why he enlisted an army of suspension suppliers.
Maximum Motorsports provided this aggressive Boss 302 with its tubular K-member, bump steer kit, rear lower control arms and relocation brackets, and a transmission scoop; while KW Suspension doing what they do best and supported this Mustang with a set of its ClubSport coilovers. Lastly, a custom Watt’s link from Don Richardson and front control arm bushings from Energy Suspension tailors the complete suspension package.
But all of the suspension and power in the world doesn’t mean a thing but when you can’t transfer it to the driveline, which is why Michael used a Mcleod Racing Street Extreme Clutch and MGW Shifters Race spec Version 2 MT82 shifter paired with a set of True Forged 18×10-inch three-piece Chicanes wheels wrapped in a set of Toyo Tires Proxes R888 in a meaty 295/30ZR18 size at all four corners.
It’s important to keep in mind that while Michael tracks the car regularly, his Boss 302 still remains his daily driver. “I had a goal to be able to drive this car daily and take it to the track and have fun running it hard,” Michael said. “I do not want to trailer the car. I want to drive it to the track and drive it home. My car is used for road trips where ever I go. My son rides in his Recaro car seat in the back, and he loves it. I’m hoping he grows up to love fast cars like his dad!”
The Professional Behind The Wheel
Conrad Grunewald gearing up for a perfect lap in the Boss 302.
If you’re familiar with our content, then you’ll know just exactly who Conrad Grunewald is. For those of you who are not, here’s the inside scoop.
“I’ve been a professional driver for about 16 years, although I actually started off as a mechanic back in high school and college,” Conrad said. “I was working in various shops for a living before I went to a racing school in California. I was into drag racing as a teenager…that’s kind of where I started. Then I went to road racing about 16 years ago, and I worked my way up in a year from being a mechanic at the school to an instructor.
“I’ve raced for several years, including professional drifting for more than 13 years. I’ve done lots of coaching for Ferrari at its North American School, and a ton of private mentoring,” Conrad continued. “Everything from GT cars to prototypes, and everything in between. It’s what I do for a living, and I have done it for the last decade and a half.”
Carving corners like a champ is something that takes years of practice, Conrad said.
After a few warm-up laps, we released Conrad into the wild and back in his natural habitat of Willow Springs Raceway to perform the critical work; posting the fastest lap times possible in both cars. We’ll let Conrad take it from here.
“The power was very similar between the two cars,” Conrad relayed. “The biggest difference really was how much heavier the steering felt in the Camaro as opposed to the Mustang. The Mustang steering felt very light, but it didn’t necessarily help with the turn-in. It felt like I was driving a lighter car.”
“Straight-line speeds and braking points were very similar,” Conrad said. “There was a lot more shifting involved in the Boss than in the Camaro. I think this is because the Camaro has a longer gear spread. Braking performance felt fairly close. I’d probably have to give the edge to the Camaro, but only because of its wider tires. I think if the Boss 302 was on the same tires, the lap times would have been even closer.”
At the end of the day, these modern-day musclecars put up one hell of a fight on the track.
It’s important to note that all track testing was done on the same day within 30 minutes of each other. Weather conditions remained the same as well during our day at Willow Springs, and Conrad was the driver of both vehicles for the fastest lap times.
At the end of our track-day expedition, Michael’s Boss 302 posted a best lap time of 1 minute 23.8 seconds, while the Camaro Z/28 countered with a best lap time of 1 minute 22.7 seconds; a difference of 1.1 seconds.
The Camaro Z/28 proved itself as a fierce competitor on the track.
“In these two cars, you have to do different things to achieve the same outcome,” Conrad relayed. “That same outcome is you have to maximize what the tire can do at all times. You can really feel the weight of the Camaro when you’re driving it; it feels very, very stout. Weight affects everything — braking, cornering, and acceleration coming out of a turn. Removing weight would, as always, would be a beneficial thing as well. For example, if you take the seats out of the Z/28, the power windows, and other accessories, it would make a world of a difference if the car could lose a couple of hundred pounds.”
“As far as the Mustang goes, that would be an amazing car to spend an entire day tuning,” he continued. “Getting the suspension dialed in just right would really benefit the car. I felt like the car had way more potential.”
In the end, the two cars are very similar in several ways when it comes to their performance, stock or modified. It’s clear that both vehicles are great track cars, and what makes them so great is that you can continually push to the limits.
These are cars that you can continuously drive hard and never have to worry about power or braking falling off, as if it was the same as it was 30 minutes ago on its first lap. In the end, isn’t that what you really want in cars like this S197 Boss 302 or the fifth-gen Z/28? We’d say a resounding yes.