Ford has wisely tapped into a streak of nostalgia with the introduction of the 2019 Mustang Bullitt, a tribute car to one that appeared in the 1968 classic film Bullitt.
If you are of a certain age and remember the movie, the cars were as much main characters as the actors, including the legendary Steve McQueen.
The main chase scene of the film features McQueen driving a Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 fastback at high speed in and around San Francisco (against a Dodge Charger).
The 10-minute car chase sequence is recognized as a classic today.
Two cars, the original car that McQueen drove as well as a stunt car used for the punishing action scenes, were brought together last year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the movie — and the introduction of a limited-edition Bullitt trim for the Mustang. (Spoiler alert: This is not the first tribute car. Ford also offered a Bullitt model in 2001 and 2008.)
I drove a Highland Green 2019 Bullitt (it is also available in black).
Hats off to Ford for making fun so affordable and accessible. The Mustang fastback coupe can be equipped from mild to wild, starting from $30,699 and ending up at $75,600, before options. There is also a convertible model.
In the Mustang hierarchy, the Bullitt model is slotted just above the GT Premium trim and under the high-performance-oriented Shelby GT350, with a list price of $57,625.
Unlike most cars, there are few options. The only one of any consequence is a pair of Recaro front sport seats in leather.
If you like your muscle cars to sound like one, even in 2019, you’re in luck. Ford engineers have put an active valve into a quartet of exhaust pipes, allowing you to control the sound.
Suppose you live in a quiet neighbourhood — you can select Quiet Start so as not to announce your impending drive to the neighbourhood.
Out in the open and ready to let loose? Switch to Sport or Track modes and your movie soundtrack will rock your ride.
The engine is an upgraded version of the 5.0-litre V-8 found in the Mustang GT. In the Bullitt, an extra 20 horses were released (bringing power to 480 horsepower) thanks to a more open induction system and recalibrated powertrain module. Torque remains the same at 420 pound-feet.
Power is delivered to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual transmission (no automatic available) with rev matching. The term refers to a driver momentarily blipping the accelerator to bring the engine revolutions up during a downshift (on a manual transmission) to make for a smoother shift.
The Mustang now does the rev matching for you — but it may surprise you the first few times with this new-found trick.
The car that McQueen drove was supposed to be an undercover car, so as not to attract attention from the bad guys.
Similarly the 2019 version is also low-key — so as not to attract too much attention from the police this time.
There are no fake air scoops, there’s no rear spoiler hanging off the back, or even a galloping horse on the black grille. The word “Bullitt” replaces Mustang on the rear plaque, but otherwise it’s as stealthy as you would might want.
The tipoff for keen Mustang fans is a set of black five-spoke retro-look wheels and a set of bright-red Brembo brake calipers peeking out beneath them.
Canadian cars get Ford’s MagneRide shocks (an option for our U.S. cousins), which change their rebound based on driving mode and road conditions.
But put your foot on the pedal and the thought of all these nice bits and pieces flies out the window. All you can think of is holding on tightly to the steering wheel as the engine roars and you get pushed back on your seat.
It is a visceral experience that bombards the senses — and catapults you from 0 to 100 km/h in about six seconds. Should you be so lucky to find a track with a long straightaway, you can determine if you can indeed hit the 262 km/h top speed the manufacturer has promised.
The engine is smooth and willing to rev. I have driven machinery twice the price and this V-8 is hands-down more fun. It has power throughout its range and the exhaust pops and burps like an exotic.
With so much power, you can almost keep it in first gear in the city just to hear the braaaap as you goose the accelerator. Third gear is good for more than 160 km/h — insane.
The interior is pretty much what you will find in the regular Mustang GT, save for a dash plaque and a retro-themed white shifter that evokes memories of using a cue ball for a shifter knob.
Is ordering a Bullitt over a just-as-nice Premium Fastback at $39,867 justified? That’s your call. Both are powerful and fun — and fully warranted.
The original Bullitt car, should it ever come on the market, would fetch between $3 and $5 million US, according to experts. For just over $54,000 Canadian, you can get the same thrills, without the big bills.
If you do get one, and happen to live near me, I would appreciate it if you would select the quiet setting on your exhaust before you start your car for your Sunday morning drive.
THE SPEC SHEET
Type: Two-door sports car, front engine, rear wheel-drive
Engine: 5.0-litre V-8, 480 hp at 7,000 r.p.m., 420 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,600 r.p.m.
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Dimensions (mm): Length, 4,783; width, 1,915; height, 1,382; wheelbase, 2,720
Curb weight (kg): 1,681
Price (base/as tested): $57,625/ $61,275 (includes $1,750 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)
Options: Recaro seats $1,800
Tires: Staggered 255/40 R19 front, 275/40 R19 rear
Fuel type: Premium
Fuel economy (L/100km): 16.1 city/ 9.9 highway
Warranty: Three years/60,000 km new car, five years/100,000 km powertrain and roadside assistance