As a Mopar fan, I have a few gripes with Dodge’s decision in regards to the return of its popular muscle cars. I’ll be frank: In my eyes, the Challenger should not have been the model to be returned to its former glory. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a great car with legendary status. However, even with all that history and glory under its belt, the Dodge Challenger simply cannot hold a candle to the Charger. The fact that the Challenger is Dodge’s vehicle-of-choice set to compete with the Ford Mustang, frustrates me further—especially when it comes to the torch Ford continues to carry for the Mustang Bullitt.
Many cars have left their imprint on the performance world, and each is responsible for contributing to today’s standards of what a car should be. But there are very few that have actually changed the course of history—of which the Dodge Charger took part in more than once, FYI. No, I’m not going to talk about the aerodynamics of the Daytona, nor the land speed records it set. But I am going to mention its influence in media because long before Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto dashed through the quarter mile, the Dukes fled from the cops, or Crazy Larry smashed into a train, the 1968 Dodge Charger and 1968 Ford Mustang Bullitt were caught in a dance that would set the standard for chase scenes on film.
An Instant Classic
Specifically, two 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastbacks were used for filming Bullitt, as well as two Chargers. The Mustangs sported 390-hp V-8 engines mated to four-speed manual transmissions. The engines, along with the brakes and suspension, underwent heavy modifications by racer Max Balchowsky to hold up during the three weeks it took to film the scene. (Just for comparison, some fellow Mopar lovers out there might be interested to know that the two 375-hp, 7.2-liter 440 Magnum V-8 Dodge Chargers used in the film underwent only mild suspension upgrades for their stunt work. Just putting that out there…)
That epic dash through the streets of San Francisco—taking up nearly 11 minutes of screen time no less—isn’t the only thing that made these movie cars so iconic, though. The chosen Mustang was clean and simple, making it the perfect ride for Steve McQueen’s Lieutenant Frank Bullitt. Dark Highland Green in color, with Torque Thrust wheels underneath and all Ford badging stripped from the car, the Mustang Bullitt really wasn’t that far off from what your typical hot rodders of the era would have been doing. And really, that’s what made it so damn cool. It kept flash to a minimum. It wasn’t boastful or over-the-top, but simple, a little understated at first glance.
When Ford originally teamed with Warner Bros to release production variants of the Mustang in 2000, the automaker kept true to this design. And indeed, to this day, new iterations of the Mustang Bullitt maintain this pure simplicity.
Modern Update: The 2019 Mustang Bullitt
Ford knows that a worthy modern take on the classic Bullitt is about more than simply painting a car green and throwing some fancy wheels on it. The company must make sure that no fans of the film will ever feel the meaning of “never meet your heroes.”
The 2019 Mustang Bullitt was designed to give fans what they want—and it flat out delivers. For this rendition, the Mustang has been fitted with all sorts of performance goodies, including Ford’s Active Valve Performance Exhaust system which helps the car sound just like Frank Bullitt’s version, immortalized in film. On top of that, the car is standard with Electronic Line-Lock for help doing those awesome burnouts and 19-inch bright-machined aluminum wheels with high gloss black-painted pockets for a signature cool look.
But before I delve into the specs, I have to mention another gripe—this one with Ford. Despite that deep green color being a part of the Mustang Bullitt’s DNA, Ford is releasing the 2019 model in an optional Shadow Black exterior paint. It’s your world, friend, but I say if you’re dropping close to $50k on a tribute car, get the official color, yea?
Behind the wheel of the 2019 Mustang Bullitt, drivers will feel a variety of things. Star struck? Maybe. Serious sense of power? Definitely. The new model packs a 5.0-liter Coyote engine under the hood, paired with a GT350 intake to give it an additional 20 horsepower over its standard GT relatives. The only transmission available is a manual—fitting, since the ride is geared toward the authentic feel of a ’60s muscle car. The 2019 Bullitt is also set up with 3.55 gears that are attached to a limited slip differential. This gives the car plenty of snap and helps the handling of the S550 platform stay intact. Power is kept at bay with six piston Brembo brakes in the front.
While a drive in the original 1968 Bullitt would surely be a once-in-a-lifetime treat, there’s no doubt the modern take is of a higher caliber. The film version’s soft cumbersome suspension, weak brakes, and overall loose configurations would make you feel as though you were driving a magic carpet that couldn’t stop or turn well. Despite its celebrity origins, there wouldn’t be much confidence behind the wheel.
Thanks to new bells and whistles, paired with the standard GT-performance suspension package and Michelin summer tires, the 2019 Mustang Bullitt won’t leave you doubting its capabilities. The nose won’t dive and the body won’t roll; the car will move with precision in any direction you point the wheel. Its power will set you back in the seat, but you’ll never feel out of control as you power through or forward in a straight line or around a bend. And you won’t have to worry about lack of stopping power as the Brembo brakes on this model are commonly described as overkill.
We all know you can’t throw parts at a car and expect it to go faster. Oh wait, yes you can. So let’s talk stats to back up just how respectable this version of the Mustang Bullitt is. Ford’s squeezing 480 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque out of that growling V-8, which is enough to send the car from 0-60 in 4.0 seconds. Hot Rod Network estimates the 2019 Bullitt could cover the quarter-mile in 11.90-12.10 seconds, while Car and Driver gives it a more conservative 12.4. Respectable, though average when compared to other performance vehicles.
But the 2019 Mustang Bullitt isn’t about stacking up with today’s competitors. It’s about capturing a piece of history—getting behind the wheel of a car sporting mid-century looks and feel, but with today’s level of performance and comfort. Because of that, even this Mopar fan has to admit that the Mustang Bullitt stands high above many other vehicles on the market.
A Special, Special Edition
For those wanting more than the average Bullitt, an official Steve McQueen version is available from Steeda Performance Vehicles. This limited production run of only 300 globally serialized versions per year, “has been purposely re-engineered to deliver supreme performance, improved driving dynamics, and offer an increased exclusiveness for this iconic Mustang,” says Steeda on its website.
So what exactly does that translate to? For an extra $20,995, McQueen superfans get dramatic power increases (a 500-hp McQueen Racing Performance Tune) as well as upgrades to the chassis, suspension, wheels and tires and cosmetic enhancements to the interior and exterior design. You even get a little limited edition key fob, so everyone can know that celebrity whip in the parking lot is yours.
50 Years of Cool
By now, few people generally recall the actual plot of the film Bullitt. What they do remember is the quiet confidence of Steve McQueen and the exciting chase sequence of two historical automotive giants. (As well as that same green VW Beetle they passed nearly half a dozen times.) No special effects, no CGI, no quickly-hashed together stunt cars with Chevy drivetrains slapped inside. These were real deal muscle cars with authentic driving.
Despite being a Mopar guy, I’ve got a lot of respect for the Mustang, particularly the one featured in this film. Sure, part of me loves hearing the chatter about how the Charger stomped behind the scenes, but I get why this ride is so iconic—and it’s not just because the king-of-cool, McQueen himself, was driving it. (Although that helps.) This is a true hero car and the 2019 version is a worthy homage to both the Mustang Bullitt and the 50 year anniversary of the film.