Respect Your Elders: The 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt is a love letter to the 1960s
The iconic highlight of Bullitt is the scene that sees a Highland Green 1968 Mustang GT 390 Fastback, driven by Steve McQueen as Lieutenant Frank Bullitt, chase a black Dodge Charger R/T through the streets of San Francisco. It’s regarded as one of the most influential chase sequences in movie history the inclusion of close-ups showing McQueen doing the driving himself makes it the scene by which all others are measured, and this in spite of the Charger losing no fewer than eight hubcaps. The scenes most enduring moment arrives when the bad guys are searching for Bullitt he suddenly appears in the Chargers rearview mirror.
Fast forward to today, and we pit a replica of the original against the 2019 Mustang Bullitt that pays homage to the movies sassy co-star.
The restoration of the replica 1968 Mustang has been meticulous, to say the least. It was built on the same assembly line two weeks after the movie cars, and it came with the same options, including the S-code package. After the body was stripped, it was painted using the original PPG Highland Green paint, has the same door mirror from a 1966 Mustang, and the radio antenna was moved to the right rear fender to keep it out of the shots of McQueen muscling the steering wheel. Further adding to its accuracy, the replica has an Autolite battery and alternator, both of which are rare finds.
The original Mustang GT 390 had a 390 cubic-inch V8 that got its go-juice from a four-barrel Holley carburetor. It produced 320 horsepower, 427 lb.-ft. of torque, and drove the rear wheels through a four-speed manual gearbox. The engine was bored and stroked, now measuring 435 cubic-inches and produces 500 horsepower insert a very big smile here. The hitch in the powertrain is the manual gearbox. It has a less than defined gate and the throws are just shy of a time zone, but in fairness, the gearbox does whats required. The long ratios and the engines flexibility see the two work together rather well, once youve gotten used to the setup.
The 2019 Mustang Bullitt counters with 5.0-litre V8 pushing out 480 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque through a six-speed manual and a Torsen limited-slip rear differential at the back wheels. The transmissions throws are short, the spacing just right, and clutch action light. It also benefits from a rev-matching system, blipping the throttle on a downshift. I do have one wish for the new Bullitt, however: Its been 50 years, so 10 horsepower for each year would put an even 500 under the hood. Im not complaining about what it has, but 500 just seems like such a nice, round number.
Any Mustang without a proper exhaust note would be an utter travesty. Both cars have that and then some, and unlike so many modern cars, none of the wonderful sound is man-made. The 68 has more or less straight pipes all the way through, so it blasts a deep, guttural growl whenever the gas pedal is worked. The key difference with the new Bullitt is the exhaust modes at one end of the spectrum, theres a quiet mode for a stealthy getaway, while at the other is Track mode. Now, Ford does warn against using Track mode on the road, but when you encounter a silly Civic at a red light with a baked bean can for a muffler, a quick switch to Track mode will show them whos boss.
The performance differences proved to be surprisingly small. The original 320-horsepower Mustang GT 390 ran from rest to 100 km/h in 6.4 seconds, while the 2019 Bullitt chops that to 4.9 seconds. Considering theres five decades between the two cars, the original holds its own with its big-block heads high. With its enlarged engine, this 68 rips off the dash in about 5.5 seconds, which is nothing short of outstanding.
The replica also departs from the original with a coilover suspension setup fitted up front, along with lower rear trailing arms and coilovers in place of the leaf springs out back. The difference is remarkable and underscores McQueens driving prowess; theres much less axle tramp off the line and body roll through a corner. Likewise, ditching the manual steering rack and adding a powered setup brings better precision, although you still tend to nudge the 68 in the desired direction rather than actually steer it there.
The 19 Bullitt arrives with a fully adaptable magnetic-ride suspension setup it ranges from comfortable to track-firm, and changes according to drive mode selected. The beauty is MyMode, allowing the engine and exhaust to produce their best work while keeping the suspension slightly softer for frequently rutted sections of tarmac. The steering setup is sharp, with various settings that progressively add more weight in the wheel. Where both cars benefit greatly is they come with decent brakes: The 68 has power disc brakes front and rear as part of the S-code package, while the 2019 counters with a set of fade-free Brembos.
The original Mustang had two-point lap belts, an AM radio, Armstrong windows and door locks, and no rear defroster. Likewise, there are no headrests and the seats do little to stop you from sliding around when putting the boots to it. For the movie, McQueen replaced the steering wheel with one from 1967 Shelby GT 500, and added the oil pressure and ammeter gauges from the GT 350. By todays standards the cabin is bare bones, but that really matters not a whit. It is also devoid of electronic assistants, so push too hard and the tail wags wildly. It can be a handful, but its a very pleasant reminder of what its like to drive a car on the edge without a safety net mess things up and 500 horses will bite in a serious hurry.
Todays Mustang Bullitt is positively sumptuous the Recaro seats offer superb support, the instrumentation changes according to the drive mode selected, and it has a full suit of modern technologies to help out at the drag strip, including Line Lock to perfect smoky burnouts, and launch control that enables the Bullitt to rocket off the line.
Based on looks alone, the 1968 Mustang GT 390 wins hands down. It was an iconic design then, and it has lost none of its shining appeal today. From a drivers perspective, however, the 2019 Mustang Bullitt has its act together, using technology to produce a very quick car that doesnt object to being driven hard. The beauty here is the original set the stage for it modern counterpart as it was then, and remains today, both cars are all about muscle.2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt alongside its predecessor Graeme Fletcher / Driving