King of cool or cynical cash-in by Ford?
The Mustang ‘Bullitt’ is linked to the seminal Steve McQueen film of 50 years ago. We should savour its like while we can, says Alex Robbins
here is something wonderfully silly about the idea of pootling around Britain in a Ford Mustang, the modern epitome of an American muscle car. Plonking one of the latest models in the middle of a tweedy village is a little like inviting Alice Cooper to a supper club.
So quite how it will feel doing so in the new Ford Mustang Bullitt is anyone’s guess. This homage to the crime thriller that put dark green Mustangs on the map has been conceived to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the film Bullitt, which starred Steve McQueen as the San Francisco Police Department’s Lieutenant Frank Bullitt and was released in the US on October 17, 1968.
Oh, and there’s the small matter of it containing one of the most revered car chases in cinematic history, almost 11 minutes of unrelenting action through the streets and hills of San Francisco in an original Sixties Mustang.
Ford has produced Bullitt special editions of its Mustangs before, in
2001 and again in 2008. This one is the first to be officially imported to the
UK, however – although if you want one, you’ll have to hold fire, as our
2018 allocation has already sold out.
As the Mustang’s American engineering manager, Tom Barnes, puts it: “It’s not like it’s got a jillion things on it, but you walk up to it and say ‘Oh, that’s cool’.” In other words, while this isn’t a story of “lovable but slightly dopey Mustang becomes super-sharp sports car”, it is far more than just a lick of paint and a clever marketing tie-up.
There’s a new inlet manifold and induction system which help to boost
CO2 EMISSIONS VED
£2,070 first year, £450 per year for next five years, then £140
More than just a cynical marketing exercise, the Mustang Bullitt is every bit the modern muscle car it sets out to be, and quite a bit more besides. It’s certainly flawed – but it’s hard not to be seduced by its character, playfulness and sheer sense of occasion.
the standard 5.0-litre V8 engine’s power by 10bhp to 454bhp, as well as a sharpened chassis and subtle tweaks to the electronics.
Inside, you get Recaro leather seats and a Bang & Olufsen sound system. Then there’s Dark Highland Green paint, which apes that of McQueen’s Mustang in the film (black is a no-cost option if you don’t fancy it, however), with matching green accents throughout the interior, including on the LCD dials; a cue-ball gearknob; a murderous blacked-out grille and menacing 19in black alloy wheels.
Barnes is right, though; as you approach the Bullitt, it’s impossible to avoid the feeling that you’re about to have a neat time, and twisting the key does nothing to dispel that. Few cars rumble and vibrate with such purpose. It’s a big old thing, though; you can’t really tell where the dropped nose
(that was part of the recent facelift) ends, while the wide hips seem constantly about to graze walls at the edge of the road.
Inside, the Bullitt’s changes certainly lift the interior, although in common with the standard car there are areas where the car’s cut-price nature shows; especially in the awful, scratchy plastics that line the door
panels and fill in the space between the glovebox and the dashboard top.
But few muscle cars were ever concerned with build quality, and muscle is what the Bullitt is all about. Mind you, the changes to the V8 have not turned it into a torquey monster; as with the standard car, acceleration is progressive rather than thunderous, building your anticipation of the top third of the rev range where the Mustang really starts to fly. Happily there’s plenty of woofling and warbling from the engine to entertain you until you get there, and when you do, you’re rewarded with an exultant, ululating bellow and lots of crackles on the over-run.
Muscle factors into the driving experience, too – you’ll need to use some, whether it’s to get the nose turned in using the meaty steering, or to pound the gear lever through the gate. In tighter corners, it’s quite hard work, especially with its mass shifting around from side to side – as it did even with our test car’s optional magnetic suspension firmed up.
But as the road grows wider and the corners faster, the Bullitt starts to flow. The weight transfer can still be a little off-putting – turn in quickly and you feel the outside front dip, giving you the impression it’s about to break traction. But it doesn’t, so push through that initial uncertainty and your confidence grows. Grab a bit more lock and feel the nose respond surprisingly sweetly, ducking into the corner rather than pushing wide.
Add power and the weight shifts to the back of the car, but again there’s more grip than you initially think, so when you squeeze the throttle the car hooks up and blasts you out of the
GET A GRIP You’ll need to apply your own muscle to this brawny, all-American hero; the controls are somewhat heavy
STAR QUALITY The Mustang Bullitt certainly turns heads; Steve McQueen in the 1968 crime thrillerbelow