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Bullitt Mustang – Car & Classic Review

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By Chris Pollitt

You don’t even need to be into cars to know the significance of Bullitt, or more specifically the car chase in Bullitt. The movie itself is largely forgettable, but the chase, oh the chase. A black ‘68 Dodge Charger 440 R/T squaring up against a ‘68 Ford Mustang fastback. The streets of San Francisco. The jumps. The engine noises. The fifth hubcap of the Dodge and that green Beetle. It was a chase scene that had it all, and with it, an icon was born in the guise of the Mustang, or the Bullitt Mustang as it would forever be known.

Part of the fascination around this car was the mystery surrounding it. After production wrapped, the two Mustangs used for the film were sold. One, a heavily battered stunt car went one way, while the other ‘hero’ went another. It’s that hero car that captured imaginations, because for decades it’s whereabouts were a mystery. There were stories of it being hidden in a secret collection, or that it had been destroyed. The reality was far more… normal. 

Battered by the rigors of film work, the car was restored and sold, somewhat fittingly, to a police detective on the East Coast of the U.S. In ‘76, he sold it to Robert Kiernan, who used the movie star as family transport until retiring the car to a barn, where it sat until Robert’s death in ‘14. It was at this point that it was inherited by his son, Sean. It was Sean who decided to alert the world to the existence of this iconic machine. Unrestored, and still with rigging from production attached to its underside, the ‘68 has been a spectacle for gearheads around the globe in recent years. And rightly so, it is after all the start of one of Hollywood’s greatest car chases.

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But what’s all this got to do with the car you’re looking at here, a brand-new Bullitt Edition Ford Mustang? Well, quite a lot. You see, the mystery around the original Bullitt car only served to further cement its icon status, and that was something Ford wasn’t going to miss out on. As such, from the SN-95 generation Mustang onward, there has always been a limited run Bullitt edition. This one though, unlike the others, is finally available in right-hand drive, which means it’s the first chance we get to play the role of Frank Bullitt. But in Somerset, not San Fran. 

Being British, it’s only natural to be a little bit cynical. Is the Bullitt Mustang just a normal Mustang 5.0 with some different paint and wheels, or is it something more? Well, yes and no. The Bullitt edition falls squarely in the ‘want’ pile rather than the ‘need’ pile. There’s nothing the Bullitt can do that a normal 5.0 can’t, apart from being green and Bullitt-like, of course.

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This is purely an exercise in the aesthetic. The Dark Highland Green paint (you can have black, which seems utterly pointless and you should disassociate yourself from anyone who specifies that colour – they’re obviously not right), the 19-inch alloys, the Recaro seats, the Bullitt-branding claymore that’s detonated and peppered the car with ‘Bullitt’ seemingly everywhere. If you buy one of these, Ford will not let your forget. No matter where you look. 

And yes, you, at the back frantically waving your arm about. We know the power is different, but only by a mere 8bhp. And when you’re talking about a 5.0 V8, that’s hardly an increase to write home about, nor is the increase of throttle body size from 82 to 87mm.

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So then, it’s just a Mustang 5.0 V8 with some visual tweaks to better link it to the movie car of old, right? Yeah. And is that a bad thing? Not at all. The Bullitt Mustang is a wonderful, brash, shouty, exciting occasion of a car. It’s a brutish hammer of power and noise in a world of eco this and hybrid that. It is wonderful by its mere existence. It is incredibly cool because that existence has been linked to a moment in cinematic history that still thrills and excited even today.

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When you get into the Bullitt and slide into that big, winged Recaro bucket seat, you feel special. As you adjust and get comfy, you also get a chance to see just how well-equipped the car is. Digital dash, various drive modes, adjustable steering weight, adjustable exhaust note. The Mustang might be a bit of a blunt tool in comparison to other sports cars, but it’s a blunt tool with a contemporary interface. And happily, that’s where the technology stops. Ford has been very clever in not letting modern tech bleed into the drive, other than a very basic traction control system and ABS etc. It has launch control and line lock, but they’re only for track stuff and you wouldn’t know they were there otherwise.

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Dip the clutch, push the start button and that V8 barks into life. And what a bark. It’s not a lazy engine, it revs freely and with purpose. As you go to slip it into first, your hand engages with the Hurst-esque white ball shifter which is delightfully tactile. Get going and first is incredibly short. Things get going in second, then third. The engine sings and howls as you progress. You’re never going to get decent fuel economy out of such a car, so you throw caution to the wind and let the revs build. Huge great dollops of torque, of which the Bullitt has 529Nm, shunt you along with each stab of the throttle. It’s glorious. And it only gets better when you have to slow down. First of all, those six-pot Brembo brakes are excellent. But that’s not what makes you giggle. Instead, it’s the Bullitt’s automatic throttle blip as you shift down the gears. It makes you sound like the racing driver you’re not.

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Pushing on, we were keen to see what the Bullitt was like in the bends. If old wife’s tales are to be believed, we’d crash at the mere mention of a turn. We didn’t though, because the Mustang can deal with corners. It actually feels remarkably European in that respect – it’s not as sharp as a Porsche, but it holds it own. Heavy duty springs and increased torsional stiffness give the Bullitt a welcome edge, while the limited-slip rear end is more than happy to let you have a little slide about before the traction control comes in and slaps your wrist. 

Today’s Mustang is an accomplished, modern, sharp machine and it’s evident that Ford has put a lot of effort into making it right for us Europeans. It doesn’t feel American, it just feels like a Ford, and that’s where it perhaps falls down a little. The interior plastics aren’t great, the moulded stitching in the dash is a bit naff and the overall fit and finish isn’t mega, though it is passable. On a normal Mustang, we might be a bit more forgiving, but the Bullitt is a £50,000 car, and that puts it in punching range of plenty of Germans, and it’s just not there in terms of quality.

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However, that doesn’t actually matter. The Mustang has a big silly dog appeal. It’s just a big, daft car that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s noisy, it’s a bit agricultural around town with the heavy clutch, it’s a bit brash, but we love it for that. And we love the Bullitt link, because that just makes it cool. But in a good way, not a naff way. The colour, the wheels, the trim, they all suit the Mustang and elevate it a little. We’d love it without the Bullitt badges. They just happen to help. Being linked to the coolest car chase ever is no bad thing.

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It’s not perfect, but in its defence, it’s not trying to be. The Mustang, like a big dog, just wants to bound around like a fool and amuse you. It wants to make you smile and it wants to make your driving experience fun, and it does that in spades. The other cars in this class are all too serious about what they are, the Mustang isn’t. And that’s refreshing.

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