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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fortunately, my previously mentioned buddy bought one and took me along to pick it up from Vegas (that story here: ). 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.
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.