When a Mustang goes into competition season, it’s no sure thing it’ll come out a winner. For every glorious Shelby there’s a poorly conceived SVO lurking in its past.

The 2012 Boss 302, prepped for a renewed battle against the Chevy Camaro, wipes the slate clean. It’s gone through intense training to buff up its 5.0-liter V-8 into awesomeness, and at the same time it’s leaned out to make this ’Stang the quickest, nimblest you’ve ever driven.

A classic C-shape scoop shows off the cuts in its flanks, sculpting it away from the look of the stock GT. The Mustang’s new-for-2011 eightcylinder is a show-off as well. The GT powers out 412 horsepower, but the Boss finds 32 more through some brainy engineering tricks for a grand total of 444 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque.

Activate the TracKey—software controlled by an electronic fob that unleashes the full power from the Boss—then hit a technical piece of road like Monterey’s Laguna Seca, and the Boss lets you know who’s in charge. Fire it up, stab the V-8 to life, and it shrieks and rumbles right in your ear, clawing through corners with a sharpness you’ve never felt in the live-axle Mustang. It’ll rip to 60 mph in about four seconds and tops off at 155 mph while maintaining a full grip on reality. That’s unbelievable progress; the classic ’60s muscle cars couldn’t hit 100 mph without scaring the crap out of the driver and everyone watching, too.

The cue ball shifter and Recaro seats are just the finishing touches on this Mustang masterpiece. It’s too bad Steve McQueen preferred Pall Malls to outliving his own legend. He would have been the first to strap on the Boss and run it to the horizon. Want to take his place?

All you need’s about $41,000—and some serious skills.

The bottom line: Muscle cars from the 60's were never this balanced or ballsy.

The Big Numbers

The Price
$41,000 up to $48,000 for the Laguna Seca edition

The Basics
444-horsepower 5.0-liter V-8; six-speed manual transmission; rear-wheel drive

The Numbers
0-60 mph in 4.0 seconds; top speed, 155 mph