NO MOTORING-RELATED marketing tie-up — whether it be The Rolling Stones and Acura, Breitling and Bentley, Roland-Garros and Peugeot or even, er, Barbie and a number of car makers — tops Ford’s association with the movie Bullitt.
It is now 50 years since the Ford Mustang as good as stole the show in the Steve McQueen cult movie, and America’s best-known muscle car (10m and counting have been sold) is still just as synonymous with the movie as the god-like film star.
McQueen, a car, motorcycle and motor racing fanatic, did as much of the stunt driving for the world’s most famous car chase scene as Hollywood executives – and their insurers – would permit.
In fact, McQueen’s heart was well and truly captured by the Mustang. So much so that in 1980, not long before his death in November that year, he tracked down the owner of one of the two original Mustangs used during the making of the film. He wrote the man a letter, as good as pleading with him to sell the car. The owner declined.
More than 30 years after the release of Bullitt, Ford rekindled its association with the movie and did a deal with Warner Bros., which owns the film rights, to launch a special edition Bullitt version of the Mustang. Another followed in 2008, and here we are in 2018 with the latest tribute model, which for the first time is being sold in Britain.
The recipe for a Bullitt Mustang is straightforward: use the same Dark Highland Green paint seen on the car that ripped around the hills of San Francisco in the movie; tune the V8 engine; fit some black-painted alloy wheels; beef up the suspension; create a bespoke interior; and apply a smattering of Bullitt logos about the place.
Now, if you think muscle cars like the Mustang are no more expensive than a Golf, you might be a bit shocked by the price: the flagship of the recently updated Mustang range costs nearly £48,000.
But hold your ponies just a moment. The new Mustang Bullitt has a 5-litre, V8 engine with more than 450bhp. That means this muscle car has more, well, muscle, than a BMW M4. Yet the M4 costs well over ten grand more.
Of course, car snobs will be reading this and shaking their heads, questioning who in their right mind would choose a blue-collar car over a precision instrument from Germany. Probably the clever cookies who know that not only would a Mustang Bullitt turn more heads and be more exclusive, it would leave £12,000 in the bank for super unleaded, trips to drive around Europe’s most famous race tracks and plenty more for a set of tyres or three.
The best bit? The sound. Oh. My. Goodness.
Ah yes, tyres. You will get through a lot if you buy this car. Because the latest Mustang has some bad-to-the-bone features born out of America’s love affair with drag racing.
There’s the usual launch control, found on plenty of cars these days. But added to this is the latest-generation Mustang’s party trick: Line Lock. Like a naughty switch installed by The Stig, it applies only the front brakes, while the back wheels spin as the car’s stationary, for up to fifteen seconds. This creates more smoke than dousing the car with fuel and setting light to it. Childish? Yes. Fun? Heck yeah.
The Bullitt Mustang also has a setting called Drag Strip. With the optional adaptive dampers fitted, the car will squat down at the rear, and use a combination of electronics and witchcraft to reduce the loss of drive between gearshifts, to give a driver the perfect getaway from the lights. At a drag strip, naturally.
And we haven’t got to the best bit, yet: the sound. Oh. My. Goodness. The rumble of the V8 engine and burble of the exhaust transport you to the streets of San Francisco, and you can almost feel yourself scanning the road ahead and checking the rear-view mirror for a black Dodge Charger.
— James Mills (@squarejames) October 15, 2018
Ironically, the ratios of the gearbox are engineered to suit the open roads of Arizona rather than the confines of San Francisco. Second gear runs to about 80mph, which is much higher than most cars. But that’s just fine, because the big motor has so much muscle that it can pull away from a walking pace in fifth gear.
Talking of gears, there’s a six-speed manual transmission fitted as standard but the 10-speed automatic isn’t available as an option on the Bullitt. Let’s face it, if you want to play at being Steve McQueen, it could only be the manual, which is topped off with a gear knob shaped like a white cue ball.
As for the rest of the driving experience, it’s a large, heavy thing and not quite as polished in some areas as other sports cars. But unusually, it feels fun at any speed, whereas in European machines you must drive as though your trousers are on fire before they come alive and stand your hair on end. The Mustang will have you grinning from the moment the engine starts.
Okay, you’ll have to look past the slightly crummy design of the interior, forgiving the plastics that feel as though they’re from a second-hand Ford Focus and wondering whether the digital instruments were modelled on Pong-era graphics. But the Recaro seats are excellent and it only takes another blip of the throttle and bellow from the V8 for you to forgive Ford’s bruiser for its faults.
The really bad news? Ford has earmarked 350 Bullitts for the UK next year, and they’ve all sold out. So if you want one, you’ll have to place a deposit and wait until 2020 for it to arrive.
Still, it leaves plenty of time to watch reruns of the movie and make a digital copy of your vinyl edition of Lalo Schifrin’s soundtrack, ready to be played at full volume on every drive.
Rivals go head to head: Ford Mustang Bullitt vs BMW M4 CS
|Ford Mustang Bullitt||BMW M4 CS|