Ford's Mustang Bullitt is the latest homage to the classic Steve McQueen cop thriller, and draws inspiration from that film's iconic Highland Green GT390 - the star of the greatest movie car chase, ever.
In the metal
If the Ford Mustang already looked cool (and boy, does it) then associating it ever more closely with the 'King of Cool' - Steve McQueen - should make it ever cooler. And, barring some nervousness about McQueen's turbulent personal life (which included accusations of alcohol and drug abuse, and wife-beating) it does. Back in 1968, McQueen, director Peter Yates, and stunt co-ordinator Bud Eakins choreographed a ten-minute car chase, adding a thick slice of vehicular violence and drama into an otherwise slow-moving and densely plotted police procedural movie. The chase, between a Ford Mustang GT390 and the baddies' black Dodge Charger, leaps, jumps, slides and roars around the streets of San Francisco, creating an indelible sequence, and one that cemented the Mustang as one of the ultimate four-wheeled Silver Screen stars.
Since 2001, Ford has had a Bullitt special edition in the Mustang range and now, at last, is our chance to get it in right-hand drive. The Bullitt takes the standard 5.0-litre V8 Mustang GT and adds to it. It adds more power (officially 460hp - a 10hp increase - but quietly Ford admits that it's probably more like 475hp in reality, depending on fuel quality), a new rev-matching system that automatically blips the throttle to wonderfully noisy effect on downshifts (and which will now be available on the whole Mustang range) and some cosmetic styling tweaks to make it look more like the movie original. There's Highland Green paint (bizarrely, a black option is also available, but Ford says literally no-one has yet ordered one), black-finished alloy wheels, red Brembo brake calipers, a de-badged grille and a Bullitt badge on the boot. Inside you get green-backlit digital instruments, Recaro leather bucket seats, and a numbered Bullitt plaque on the dash. Oh, and possibly the best bit - a white cue-ball gear shifter, which takes tactility to a whole new level. Basically, if you thought the Mustang looked cool already, now it looks cool and mean...
You'd think with the extra power, the Mustang Bullitt would feel dramatically different to the regular 5.0 GT, but it really doesn't. That V8 engine has a surprisingly peaky power delivery, with max power developed above 7,000rpm, so unless you're really caning it hard, you're mostly driving on the abundant torque, which is unchanged from the standard model's. While the Bullitt is a fraction quicker in acceleration terms, the fact is, with a six-speed manual gearbox (and no auto option), a standard 5.0 Mustang, with the ten-speed automatic gearbox, is probably going to out-sprint all but the most committed and skilful of Bullitt drivers.
Which would be to miss the point entirely. If ever a car was all about the feelgood factor, it's the Mustang Bullitt. You are, to all intents and purposes, driving a modern recreation of one of the ultimate movie props. It's rather like, in certain terms, being given charge of a real-life USS Enterprise, or maybe the helicopter from Airwolf. You look as if you've just rolled off a sound stage and out into real life (at least until people clock that, no, you're nowhere near as chiselled and handsome as a 1968-edition Steve McQueen). The Mustang is brilliant to drive BECAUSE it's brilliant to look at. If you've got the Bullitt, you've got the coolest-looking car on the road, and that's even taking into account the high volume of Ferraris and Lamborghinis on the roads of the French Riviera, where we were test driving the Ford.
Thankfully, it is also enormous fun to drive, once you make one or two allowances. It's heavy (1,800kg at the kerb) so even with that big V8, you need a bit of time to build momentum. It's also a touch slack in both suspension and steering terms (even with the optional Magnaride electronic dampers), but that's OK too. You see, the Mustang is quantifiably less sharp to drive than almost any potential high-performance rival you might care to mention, but you simply won't care. That touch of wiggle and wriggle in the suspension, the slight lightness of the steering just off-centre, the way you have to work with it, quite hard sometimes, to extract the performance. Yes, a BMW M4 would murder it around a race track, but you won't care - you'll be having more fun, and being more involved in the performance, than in almost any other comparable car.
Plus it is, when all is said and done, bloody quick. With that V8 engine singing and bellowing its head off, the Mustang Bullitt can carry serious speed across the ground, even on tight and twisty French mountain roads. The six-speed gearbox has a wonderfully hefty shift quality, but if you don't fancy playing, you can just leave it in third 99 per cent of the time...
Downsides? Well, the ride is rather over-firm.
What you get for your money
Ford Ireland hasn't announced a price for the Bullitt, but it's probably irrelevant. The UK has already sold out of its entire 350-strong allocation, so we're not going to get many, and even at the likely €85,000 price tag, they'll sell to those keen enough to have one. For the rest of us, you'd have to say that a standard V8 Mustang is much better value - the Bullitt is really a styling and paint job, and the Mustang didn't really need any extra help to look awesome. If you're a big enough fan of the original movie, of Steve McQueen, or just of films in general, then it might be worth the extra cost, but it's one for the dedicated only.
The Mustang Bullitt is, in all seriousness, pretty silly. A paint-and-stickers special edition that, objectively, adds little or nothing to the usual Mustang experience, and is just as flawed as its standard stablemate. But... But it really is huge, grin-inducing fun to drive, makes the sorts of noises that all cars should make and has the dangerous whiff of Hollywood superstardom (however damaged or damaging) about it. Kind of hard to resist, really...