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Reader Submission Thur-er, Friday: For the love of the Bullitt

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Arguably, one of the most iconic cars in the history of cinema is the Mustang from the Steve McQueen’s Bullitt. I can’t say for certain when I first became aware of the car or the movie, as it predates me by over a decade, but at some point in my formative automotive years, the dark highland green ’68 fastback was revealed to me. It wasn’t necessarily life changing, but it had a profound impact on my aesthetic tastes in cars going forward.

The genius of McQueen’s alleged design on the Mustang’s appearance represents everything that is right about automotive styling to me. A stark contrast to the cars of the Fast and Furious franchise; the Bullitt Mustang has nothing to prove. It knows what it is. It knows exactly how cool it is and requires validation from no one. Cars with outrageous scoops and wings seem to be projecting an insecurity to me.

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Cool confidence aside, I’ve had the pleasure of involvement with all 3 of the Bullitt variants. Although Ford did not ever do a special edition of the original 68, they apparently saw market potential in limited runs of the car in 2001 and then again in 2008. Each car has its own strengths and appeal-

The 68, obviously being the original, is the standard by which all others are judged since they must answer to its unique design. There can truly be no substitute.

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I’ve driven a 68 fastback (owned by a coworker) in the process of a Bullitt cloning/restoration. Though I didn’t exactly wring it out, I don’t think I really needed to. That wasn’t the point of this car. It’s a first generation Mustang and it doesn’t have to be fast or handle well. It mostly just has to look and sound good. And this example did those things quite adequately.

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The 2001 is perhaps the weakest of the group since it comes from one of the Mustang’s less inspired generations. Power is not impressive at 265hp. The interior, despite some cool retro bits is mostly a holdover from the ’94 refresh. But what I feel is most offensive is the large, fake, hood scoop. Not only does it defy the subtle aggression of the original car, it looks like a glued-on afterthought (which I assume it is). Oh… so I should probably mention something appealing about this one… Well, it doesn’t have a spoiler (must have been tortuous for the guy that green-lighted the hood scoop) and it did revive some awareness and respect for the original.

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I dated a girl whose father owned an 01 and he let me take out for a drive once. In this instance, I had the opportunity to give it a proper flogging. Coming from my car, an 06 GTO, the Bullitt felt anemic. The steering, shifter and brakes left much to be desired as well. In spite of all that, the feeling of cool that it bestowed upon me was not diminished. The requisite V8 rumble really made up for many of the car’s foibles.

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The 2008 car really redeemed the half measures of the 01. No more hood scoop, improved power train and suspension, and an interior that made it respectable amongst the great variety of special edition Mustangs. I recall the first time I saw the 08 Bullitt at the 2007 San Francisco Auto Show. I was awestruck by it and very nearly justified trading my GTO in on one.

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Fortunately, my previously mentioned buddy bought one and took me along to pick it up from Vegas (that story here:http://wedothings.org/?p=1248 ). The car and road trip were great. Again, not quite as gutsy as my GTO, but lighter and more nimble. Even that solid rear axle proved to be almost no hindrance at all on some twisty mountain roads. The shifter had some rather long throws, but that was remedied a few short months later with an aftermarket unit. Now the throws are short and tight and just absolutely satisfying. My buddy did extensive suspension, brake, wheel and tire upgrades to make a weekend track car. Today, that car retains the menacing, cool exterior (wheels were changed from stock to larger TSW Nurburgrings in matte gray) with a much improved handling and stopping set up.

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Another blog recently hailed the Bullitt as a future classic, and I’m inclined to agree. Whether or not it does attain such status is really irrelevant to me. The Bullitt Mustang, in all of its forms, is an achievement in the field intangible cool; something that many cars strive for but rarely touch.

  • Cameron Vanderhorst

    While you were busy complaining about the “outrageous” hood scoop, you neglected to mention the coolest feature of the ’01…the stamped quarter panels, which were unique to that model, and eschewed the stuck-on side vents all of the other New Edge cars received. Kind of makes up for it a bit, yeah? Anyways, great article!

    • Stephen

      Thanks. The hood scoop was TURRIBLE. Especially consider the Mach1 had a legit one the year prior (?). I’m not saying it added any legit HP, but at least it wasn’t a lie!

  • tonyola

    Wait – that Bullitt Mustang is a ’67 – dual side “scoops” and no side marker lights. The movie car was a ’68. Am I missing something here?

    • Stephen

      The first gen cars in the photos were from a Bullitt Mustang gathering in the Bay Area 2 years ago. I can’t vouch for what years they were individually as my first gen knowledge is pretty limited.

  • JayP

    A few things while I’m waiting on the medication to kick in..,

    In context, the ’01 Bullitt was a real machine. I think it was a $4500 option but many people bought Bullitts at the same price as a Plain Jane GT. PBR brakes worked good, the suspension sat right when all Fords looked like 4x4s and it made the right noises. I drove one while instructing last year. It was a dog compared to the S197.

    The ’01 Bullitt and Cobra got the first batches of tr3650s and they were JUNK. Mine lost 3rd gear sync at 70k miles. The car needed that hood scoop. There was a little indention the V6 had and it was pitiful.

    The 2nd gen Bullitt started out as the Boss… but it was deemed less than a Boss so they made it the Bullitt. Even after Ford said the ’01 would be the last Bullitt ever! Whoops.

    I shopped for an ’08 Bullitt in 2010 but the prices were still a little too sharp. And I really didn’t care for the BULLITT logos. The McQueen was a GT, so was the ’01. I did like the grille so I looked online… funny that the Bullitt owners didn’t like them and sold for $50 on forums. Try to get one not and it’s north of $400!! So hell.

    Upgrades to make… Billet Hurst shifter, not that tube crap. Long chrome stick and a white ball too. You can upgrade your brakes to 2012 spec 13″ and still fit under the Bullitt wheels. 4 pot brembos are a no-go unless you get new wheels. K code FR springs and GT500 strut caps. Your car as an intake and a light tube but Bama can set you up with a race tune that’ll make it much more responsive.

    • Stephen

      I’ll try to get my buddy to provide his exact specs. Rest assured, the car is on the track at least once a month. He hasn’t done much in terms of power, but wheels, tires, brakes, suspension and shifter have all been upgraded.

      • JayP

        We really don’t need to do any engine work. The 4.6 3v a strong engine out of the box. And light since it’s aluminum.

        So yep- wheels, brakes, tires, suspension and shifter are all things you can install in the driveway. Easy stuff that’ll make a huge difference.

  • Sjalabais

    “Reader submission” – does it say who wrote it? GTO is a hint – does ptschett have one next to his ‘bird? Can’t remember…

    Anyway, dark green has always and will always be the perfect colour for cars in my mind. Saw such a Volvo 960 with a coffee brown interior once – the automotive holy grail in my world. So am I right to assume Ford’s answer to BRG is simply called “Bullitt Green”?

    • dead_elvis

      I was wondering about the author, too. Following the source link, it appears to be someone named “Ryan”, but that’s about it.

      That dark green/brown combo on a 960 sounds fantastic!

    • ptschett

      Wasn’t me, though my Thunderbird does occasionally get parked in the same quonset as my dad’s ’67 and ’70 GTO’s (when the quonset isn’t being used as an impromptu grain bin). The writer writes better than I do, his friends’ taste in cars is more interesting than most of my friends’, and I’ve never been west of Colorado.

    • Stephen

      My understanding was that the green in 67 was officially named “Dark Moss Green” and in 68 it was changed to “Dark Highland Green”. And that’s only from anecdotal references to the Bullitt car I’ve read in various car magazines over the years.

      I was the author. 🙂