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2008 Ford Mustang Bullitt Review

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A Nostalgic Ride in the 2008 Ford Mustang Bullitt
By Steve Purdy
Photos By Margaret Hehr
Detroit Bureau

Before product placement was a big deal in Hollywood a ’68 Ford Mustang costarred with Steve McQueen and some bad guys with a Dodge Charger in a classic 1969 cop movie set in San Francisco called Bullitt. The real-life McQueen, an accomplished racer and car guy, oversaw modifications of the Mustang for the movie that made it go faster and handle better than just about anything of its time. He made it look mighty mean as well.

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Ford has commemorated the Bullitt Mustang before, most recently in 2001. That limited edition, of course, was the previous generation of Ford’s original pony car. With this uber-successful, retro-themed new Mustang they’ve updated the Bullitt again. Built with some of the ambiance of the Shelby GT this newest iteration is hot, authentic-looking and more fun than a giggling toddler.

In the movie McQueen played rogue cop, Frank Bullitt, assigned to protect a mob stoolie who gets killed (or so we think) early in the film. Most memorable for car lovers are thrilling chase scenes through San Francisco featuring the bad guys in their Dodge Charger 440 R/T with skinny tires and huge overhangs wagging its tail and bouncing over the jumps so violently that it looks like it’ll leave the road any minute. McQueen is in mad pursuit in the dark green Mustang doing the same tricks but the suspension is obviously beefed up because he’s making the same maneuvers without nearly as much wild wagging and wallowing. This chase scene, with no special effects by the way, and with McQueen himself at the wheel, is still considered a classic.

One of the buff magazines (Motor Trend, I think) arranged for Steve McQueen’s son to drive this new Bullitt through the streets of San Francisco matching some of those great maneuvers. What a hoot. Look that one up if you have time. In the meantime I’ll just tell you about my experience with it.

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Our test car is the modern version of the Bullitt Mustang with details as close to the original as the new design will allow including the dark green paint. We first notice a plain black mesh grille without a galloping horse or driving lights, a lack of shiny trim and cool wheels. Just about the only shinny piece is the faux gas filler cap in the center of the rear with the Bullitt logo emblazoned thereon. McQueen massaged the ’68 GT350 for the movie making it look fast, stealthy and utilitarian, by making essentially those same changes. The ambiance of the Bullitt reflected McQueen’s personal automotive tastes which, like other categories of fashion, are often influenced by celebrities.

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Inside we find well-bolstered front seats and steering wheel from the GT500 with the Bullitt logo on the air bag cover. Our hand falls easily onto the machined aluminum shift ball that, for some reason, just feels familiar. Aluminum trim spreads across the retro-styled dash giving an upscale performance look and feel. The shoulder belt’s top anchor is so far to the rear because of the huge doors that it cuts across my neck uncomfortably. Otherwise everything inside is unchanged from the new Mustang – which, in my view, means well done. And, everything feels fast and sporty. Our tester came with the multi-color ambient lighting in the foot well and cup holder that we can change at will.

The dedicated performance engineers at Ford punched up the normally-aspirated 4.7-liter V8 from the Mustang GT just a bit from the standard 300 horsepower to about 315. Not a big difference but every little bit helps, I suppose. Torque is 325-pound-feet. The only transmission available in the Bullitt is a tough Tremec 5-speed stick. A dual exhaust system finished with chrome-tipped outlets makes a brash, barely-muffled, throaty sound that takes me back to the days of raucous glass packs. The Ford engineers spent much time and effort matching the exhaust note to the original. Premium fuel is recommended but not required and the engine’s control system adjusts to either. Premium just gives us a better torque curve and probably marginally better mpg.

Suspension is stiff enough to remain competent on a race course but not so stiff as to be obnoxious on our often-rough Michigan back roads. Virtually no lean or sway and a rigid body structure, enhanced by a strut tower brace under the hood, make it feel like we can do anything including race track work if we like.

The styling and design of the new Bullitt Mustang is as timelessly retro as the blue turtleneck, tweed sport coat and armpit holster in which McQueen looked so handsome in the late 60s. Wish I could look half so good.

Base price for the Bullitt Mustang is $31,685 as of this writing.

Though I couldn’t find any jumping places to test the Bullitt’s air born poise I did finally turn off the traction control and electronic stability controls to experience some adolescent-style wheel spins. Get a tad more than 2-grand going on the tach and dump the clutch. Then, at about 5-grand, shift decisively to second and dump it again. Wow! Sure glad Ford is paying for the rubber on this one.

Ford will build just 7,700 Bullitts this time around with about 2/3rds designated as ‘08s and the rest 09s. With such a dismal auto market currently it may be a struggle to sell them all. But, who knows? You’ll be constantly entertained if you’re one of the lucky ones to use this as your daily driver.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved