Mr Bullitt, we’ve been expecting you
It was inevitable. You can’t build a retro version of America’s favourite sporty car and then ignore the fortieth anniversary of its starring appearance in arguably the greatest car chase film of all time, could you? Well Ford’s Mutsang team couldn’t, and we don’t blame them. The result is this limited production Bullitt Mustang, a mildly reworked GT model complete with Highland green paint, albeit a slightly darker shade than the stuff covering Steve McQueen’s ’68 390 GT. This isn’t the first time Ford has cashed in on the Mustang’s McQueen connection: in 2001 Ford did a similar job on the previous shape Mustang, eventually shifting over 5000 copies. And of course it worked some CGI magic to put him behind the wheel of the Puma in TV adverts.
So green paint aside, what do you get?
It’s more about what you don’t get. Like the film car, this one is fairly stripped of ornamentation. There’s no galloping pony in the grille, no graphics down the side and just a Bullitt logo on the rear panel-mounted fake gas cap and a set of 18in Torq Thrust rip-off rims to give the game away. The result is a tastefully understated car, possibly too understated for some and it sits far too high, particularly at the rear. Inside, while flat vinyl perches were enough for Frank Bullitt, modern buyers get sportier seats from the supercharged Shelby GT500, a leather-wrapped wheel, aluminium shift knob and a special engine-turned dash panel. The retro dash looks okay but the centre console is disappointingly bland and the cabin plastics are a couple of generations behind everything else in the world. You just know that if the Mustang was in Honda or Nissan’s back catalogue rather than Ford’s, they’d do the job so much better. Incidentally, if green isn’t for you, you can order your Bullitt in black, the only other hue available. But wouldn’t that be missing the point?
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Bullitt runs the same 4.6-litre V8 as the GT model its based on but a heavier crank damper has allowed Ford to raise the rev limit 250rpm to 6500rpm and there’s an aftermarket-style cone-type air filter that constantly draws cold air, so boosting power from 300bhp to 315bhp. That’s backed up by a stout 325lb ft of torque. These figures were recorded on regular fuel too. Engineers reckon that premium juice fattens the torque curve considerably, although peak power remains unchanged. While we’re on the subject, a cursory glance at some old figures suggests that the original 390GT was actually packing 10bhp more than this new Bullitt but in fact its 325bhp was calculated, as all sixties muscle cars were, using a totally different – and wildly optimistic system. It was probably nearer 250 ponies in truth. Equally optimistic - allegedly - is the engine noise you hear on the film’s soundtrack. Some stories have it that the producers dubbed in a racer’s engine sound; others that it was a 390’s burble, just beefed up. Whatever the truth, Ford execs on the new Bullitt programme say they spent ages listening to that noise and trying to replicate it. The silencing effects of catalytic converters, noise laws and common sense means it’s actually pretty muted though.
But will it keep up with a ’68 Charger?
Unlike the original, yes. Because although the performance of McQueen’s old 390GT (0-60mph in around 7sec depending on transmission and diff ratio) was pretty epic by the standards of the British cars of the sixties, it was nothing startling compared to some of the proper muscle cars of the time. Including RT versions of the contemporary Charger with the 440-inch or 426-inch V8s. But this car will hit 60mph in close to 5sec, around 0.3sec faster than the standard GT. That’s partly down to the power boost but has a lot to do with the shorter 3.73:1 rear axle ratio. This isn’t some undergeared freeway nightmare though – it cruises happily at 90mph, radar detector willing, and doesn’t run out of puff until 151mph has registered on the retro speedo dial. Except that it only reads to 140mph. The uprated pads offer decent brake feel and manage to stave off fade on all those rollercoaster San Francisco hills and the gearchange of the five-speed manual gearchange – the only one available - surprises with its slickness. In fact it’s easier to drive the Bullitt smoothly in traffic than it is a modern BMW.
But how does it manage that serious left hander from Taylor on to Filbert?
Surprisingly well. That prehistoric live rear axle means it can thump and skip on mid-corner bumps that wouldn’t faze a modern independently sprung coupe but it steers fairly tidily, unlike the ’68 original, the body control is pretty decent and there’s enough poke to crank the rear round by just a degree or two or the full half turn depending on how lairy you’re feeling. The BF Goodrich boots aren’t the grippiest, but so what? Defining a primitive V8 rear driver by the number of Gs it can pull is plain wrong. Clearly it’s no M3 then, but it’s not a sham either. Accept that the driving experience is going to be a retro encounter and you can have a lot of fun without feeling you’re driving a classic car.
So what’s the cost for this blue-collar supercar?
Depends where you live. If you’re in the US then the $31,075 sticker (slightly more than a top spec GT) makes it look pretty great value - and incredible value to Brits, for whom that translates as just £15k. But by the time you’ve shipped it to the UK and paid your duties, you’re looking at nearer £25k, although at that price it’s still significantly cheaper than a Nissan 350Z. If you can’t be bothered with the hassle of bringing a car in yourself, various grey importers will do it for you, but expect to pay nearer £30,000. And that’s if they can get hold of one. Just 7700 will be made and Ford expects them to be snapped up quickly.
This isn’t a landmark in the history of Mustang but it’s probably the best of the current generation of cars. It’s still crude by European standards, but think of it as a bargain 350Z that’s quicker, sounds better, is full of charm and has a proper boot and room for four and it starts to make a lot of sense. Even with a thirst for fuel that means you’d be amazed to see 25mpg, this is a car that wouldn’t be out of place in Europe. So what about it Ford?