Ford Mustang Bullitt
The Mustang Bullitt pays homage to the iconic hero car … and will introduce the facelift to our market
THERE’S nothing quite like sidestepping the clutch on a big V8-powered brute … especially one wearing a Mustang badge. No flappy-paddle transmissions or turbocharged frippery here; just a thumping 5,0-litre lump under a vast bonnet, connected to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual transmission.
Traction control off, clutch in, cue-ball shifter into first, revs up and go! Eight cylinders of fury bark from the open exhausts as torque is transferred through the limited-slip differential to the unfortunate strips of Michelin Pilot Sport rubber wrapped around the rear alloys. The Mustang’s back-end wiggles down the road, necessitating slight steering corrections to keep it on the black stuff, while tyre smoke fills the rear-view mirror. Antisocial? Yes, but I’m sure Steve Mcqueen would’ve approved.
When it comes to special occasions, Ford has a knack for perfect timing. The very first Mustang produced in 1964 was a Wimbledon White convertible powered by a V8. In August 2018, the 10 millionth ‘Stang rolled off the production line in Michigan in the form of (you guessed it) another Wimbledon White convertible V8. It was, however, still a surprise to learn on our arrival in France the movie Bullitt was launched on the same day 50 years before. Although Mcqueen is a legendary actor, it’s the car-chase scene and particularly the 1968 green Mustang which captured many a viewer’s imagination.
South Africans saw the return of the iconic Pony Car to the local market in 2015 when Ford decided to produce right-hand-drive versions of the sixth-generation model to not deprive the various parts of the world driving on the “wrong side” of the road. It’s still terrific news to learn South Africa will also receive a limited number of Bullitts in 2019. Pricing has not yet been announced but converting the cost from euros to our local currency (not the most accurate method, it must be said) suggests this will be the first million-rand stock Ford Mustang to hit our shores.
So, for the extra money, what do you gain over a current, standard 5,0 GT Fastback? Well, first up are the changes brought about by the Mustang facelift, which include a 12-inch digital infotainment screen, optional Mag-
neride adjustable dampers and a 10-speed automatic transmission (as found in the Ranger Raptor). The latter gearbox is not available in the Bullitt, so buyers will have to make do with the stick shift, as the Americans call it.
Meanwhile, Bullitt-speci c exterior additions include this Dark Highlands paint job, blacked-out wheels with red brake callipers, a debadged grille and the Bullitt logo on the fuel- ller cap (interestingly, this design belongs to the Warner Bros entertainment company). The end result is a car so striking passers-by can barely divert their gaze.
Inside, the theme continues with Bullitt signage on the doorsills, black Recaro seats featuring green stitching, another Bullitt logo on the steering wheel and that magni cent cue-ball gearshifter. The last-mentioned item was apparently the most dif cult upgrade to source because the rst supplier went bankrupt and the second couldn’t get the colour right. Luckily, an engineer in Michigan knew a small machine shop round the corner capable of producing the product.
Under the bonnet is the familiar, naturally aspirated 5,0-litre V8 now featuring an open airbox design with a cone lter to increase the induction noise (and reduce the restriction to incoming air) as well as an active exhaust system complete with selectable sound levels (from “quiet” up to “racetrack”). Peak outputs are rated at 338 kw and 529 N.m.
So, how does the this Mustang drive? To objectively report on this seems impossible, as even getting into the car and starting the engine is an emotive experience. That classic V8 whoopwhoop-whoop idle sends tingles down the spine. It’s dif cult to resist aiming quick prods at the throttle, as the exhaust note in its unrestricted state is cinematic.
That white shift ball ts perfectly in your palm and the swapping action is short and mechanical. It’s not quite at the precise level of, say, the Honda Civic Type R, but certainly meaty in its operation. Leaving the parking lot and ltering through traf c is a more relaxed experience than expected, considering the beast beneath the bonnet.
Still, the car is massive and care needs to be taken on narrow streets. On the motorway, the Mustang shows its GT roots and is comfortable at speed, devouring mile after mile with ease.
But this isn’t why we’re in France. Soon a turn-off approaches, pointing in the general direction of the mountainous countryside. With that famous car-chase scene from the movie fresh in my memory (I watched it the previous evening), it’s time for a spot of re-enactment. Loud pedal to the floor in third, the Mustang builds speed in a progressive manner, with the V8 changing its soundtrack from a growl to a full-on war cry at 7 000 r/min. Hard on the brakes for the hairpin, I select second gear (the auto-blip function matches engine and transmission speeds), turn in and let rip on exit. The already wide grin on my face stretches even further, making me feel like a movie star. Am I going too fast? Who cares when it feels this good?
A few hours later, in an attempt at objectivity, I conclude the Bullitt is no hard-core sportscar. It’s too big and heavy to play that role and, in a world with turbocharged rivals delivering more low-down torque, it just cannot compete on the racetrack. The suspension setup also favours comfort over precision. Indeed, a well-driven Golf R will give this analogue beast more than a run for its money but there’s no denying the Mustang driver will be the one having a more memorable experience.
Where Ford seems to have missed an opportunity, though, is with the gearing. It’s too tall to allow the hooliganism the owner might crave at lower speeds; second gear is good for 100 km/h and third passes 160 km/h. Thus, exiting a slow bend in second, there’s little chance of sliding the rear just by planting the accelerator because there’s simply not enough torque heading to the wheels at that point. Corner harder at higher speeds and the action of the limited-slip differential can be felt. But it requires a brave pilot to extract the most from the Bullitt at the limit.
That diff does, though, afford the owner the privilege of painting extended black 11s when the clutch is dumped in first gear; not something Steve Mcqueen could manage during the chase scene where only one wheel spins (thanks to the open rear differential in the original 1968 model).
Ultimately, the Bullitt is rich in history, with arguably enough emotional appeal to warrant its elevated price tag. Neither the performance nor the interior quality can compare with its German rivals but that was never the Blue Oval’s aim. In a world where cars have become so similar – with hybrid and electric powertrains plotting an imminent takeover – the Bullitt offers something money cannot buy: a true American muscle-car sensation.
The 2019 model captures the style of the original, down to the debadged grille, wheel design, functional interior and that cueball shifter.
clockwise from top The view over the long bonnet feels really special; driving and exhaust modes let you set up the ‘Stang to your preference; Bullitt logo on fuel- ller cap; one of the best manual shifters to hold in your palm.
top Note the open air-box design with cone filter. opposite With the Mustang’s traction control deactivated, lighting up the rear rubber is an all-day doddle.