True to a Fault, Just Right for a Remake
When it comes to tribute cars, the more authentic, the better. No one’s impressed by a half-assed effort. Ford, whether it really intended to or not, has built a startlingly credible tribute. The 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt is exactly the car you’d build for an ill-conceived Bullitt remake starring Channing Tatum.
It starts skin deep. The look is bang-on, all Hunter Green and black wheels and cue ball shifter. For my $11,000 USD upcharge, it’s not only the best-looking Bullitt edition yet but the best-looking Mustang currently on sale. The body is clean, no wing or badges save the massive bull’s-eye on the trunk, which I would’ve shrunk or skipped. Like the movie car, it’s understated, and those in the know will recognize it for what it is. No need to scream about it.
The engine does all the screaming you’ll need, anyhow. Fitted with a multi-mode exhaust system finished in four black tips, it sounds all the world like Frank Bullitt’s car when you open it up. It makes you want to run up through the gears at every opportunity, moderately hard acceleration and slow shifts, just like in the chase scene.
The slow shifts come standard, too, because like standard GTs, the six-speed manual doesn’t like to be rushed. You can do it, sure, but you’ve got to put a little muscle behind it to seat the shifter all the way in gear. It’s much smoother and easier if you shift slowly.
Same goes for the handling. Being it’s functionally a GT with Michelin Pilot Sport 4s fitted standard, it retains many of the handling frustrations—frustrating because we know Ford can make a Mustang handle like a supercar, but apparently only if it says Shelby on it. As is, the Bullitt gets nervous and twitchy when you push it past 75 percent of its capability. The stiff springs and limited travel of the suspension, particularly in the rear, results in a lot of instances of the tire losing contact with the pavement. Any kind of bump in the road is enough to make it skip, and if the bump is in a turn, it’ll skip to the side a bit, too. You couldn’t be blamed for thinking Ford maybe put a live axle back in to make this tribute car the real deal.
Perspective, though, can be as important to cars as it is to movie making. Looking at it another way, Ford’s built you exactly what you need to re-create the iconic chase scene. Let’s face it, neither Bullitt’s Mustang nor the bad guys’ Charger handled particularly well even for the day, and that’s part of what made the chase great fun to watch.
If you and your film school friends are planning a shot-for-shot remake of the chase, you’re set up for success. The PS4 tires are strangely short on grip for Michelin performance tires, and the ABS has a hair trigger Frank Bullitt would be proud of. So overcooking that hard right and having to peel out in reverse to make a minor three-point turn will be the easiest scene you shoot. Good thing, because you’ll only get one take. The computer allowed us one good burnout before throwing a warning about both pedals being pressed and cutting power, and Line Lock doesn’t work in reverse.
You won’t even need to rerecord sound effects later, because those Michelins start to howl under moderately hard cornering, and as noted, the exhaust sounds perfect. It’s like having your own Foley artist in the trunk who only does cars.
Really, the only thing missing is the body roll. Bullitt’s car rode high and leaned a lot in corners, and this tribute car doesn’t do either. Movie accuracy aside, it really could stand to ride softer, as even with the optional adaptive magnetic shocks it’s quite stiff over the bumps and in the holes. No need for that if it isn’t going to corner like a GT350R anyway.
By the same token, I’d skip the optional Recaro race buckets and get the standard seats, which are far more comfortable when you’re cruising around San Francisco chasing down leads, not Chargers. Ol’ Frank got by with a lap belt and no headrests; you’ll be fine.
The digital dash I’m more conflicted on. I love the graphics, but it’s maddeningly frustrating to use with myriad controls on the steering wheel and the center stack and menus upon menus. Worse is the way it teases you with the illusion of customizability when you’re actually very limited in which settings you can alter and which mode you’re allowed to alter them in. I think the analog cluster is period correct, but the screen is standard, so you’ll just have to deal with its eccentricities.
If you prefer jumping cars to jumping through hoops, I’d strongly recommend a bit of custom reinforcement under the car. Bullitt’s car received stiffer springs and welded reinforcements around the shock towers, plus braces to tie them together front and rear. The new car is a million times more rigid than the ’68, but it’s got a lot less ground clearance and suspension travel, not to mention worse approach and departure angles. Frank got three jumps down Taylor Street unscathed. You’ll get one.
Unlike the movie car, though, you won’t need to hop up the engine. The new Bullitt gets the GT350’s intake manifold and throttle body along with an open air box. That and some computer tweaking nets you extra horsepower, though with nearly 500 on tap you won’t really notice the difference all the way up at the 7,000-rpm power peak (400 shy of redline). Ford even played with the variable cam timing to give it a lopey muscle car idle.
Ford’s delivered just about the perfect modern interpretation of the Bullitt, then, so all you need now is a black Charger, a black turtleneck, some bad guys, and a gas station you can blow up. A green Beetle and tweed jacket wouldn’t hurt, either, and you should be able to swing them with all the money you’ll save on Dodge hubcaps. I suggest you get on it quick, though, partly because VW is liable to cancel the Beetle any minute now (forget about getting a white Firebird) and partly because the movie celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, so the number of people who recognize the Mustang Bullitt from the movie versus those who remember it from the previous Mustang Bullitt special edition cars is quickly shifting in the wrong direction.
And please don’t cast Channing Tatum.