In 1968 the action-thriller Bullitt was released in theaters. Directed by Peter Yates, the film starred Steve McQueen as Frank Bullitt, a lieutenant in the San Francisco police department, who had been tasked with babysitting his brother in law Johnny Ross — a Chicago mobster-turned-informant — who was about to testify at a US Senate subcommittee hearing. That was something the mob wasn’t particularly thrilled about. You know how that goes…
While Bullitt is a pretty solid crime flick overall, it’s the 10-minute car chase in the middle of the movie that it is most fondly remembered for. It’s a face off between a pair of mob hitmen in a black-on-black ’68 Dodge Charger R/T and Bullitt, who is piloting a 390 FE-powered, Highland Green 1968 Mustang fastback. When Bullitt started tailing the bad guys rather than vice-versa is when all hell breaks loose. The pursuit that ensued became one of the yardsticks by which all other movie car chases have been judged.
Looking to recapture some of that vintage muscle car magic in the then-modern era, Ford decided to offer a Bullitt Mustang of its own in 2001, taking cues from the original car’s brutal powertrain and tough, understated look with a contemporary spin. The package would prove to be popular enough for Ford to revisit it again less than a decade later with the fifth-generation pony car, and recent rumors hint that there could be a sixth-generation Bullitt on the horizon as well.
New Edge Bullitt
By the close of the 20th century domestic performance was on the upswing, and factory cars were finally starting to offer the kind of capability that had made their 1960s namesakes automotive icons decades prior. After debuting a concept version at the 2000 Los Angeles Auto Show to great acclaim, Ford’s brass green-lit the Bullitt package for production the following year.
Based off the GT, the 2001 Mustang Bullitt package featured an aesthetic treatment atop the familiar New Edge styling. Along with the unique 17-inch five-spoke, forged-aluminum, Torq Thrust-style wheels, brushed aluminum fuel door, rear deck spoiler delete and optional Highland Green paint.
2001 Bullitt Production
Nearly 5,600 examples of the fourth-generation Mustang Bullitt would be built in its sole year of production. Among those cars, 3,041 were painted Dark Highland Green, another 1819 in Black, and the remaining 722 cars in True Blue. Each car was outfitted with a factory serialized identification label to verify each as a 2001 Bullitt, adding to the model’s collectability.
Its 4.6-liter V8 scored a new cold air induction system, along with a new aluminum intake manifold and a twin 57mm bore throttle body. New high-flow mufflers help the engine to exhale easier and allowed its song to be heard with far more clarity than the stock GT exhaust too, giving the modern Bullitt Mustang a soundtrack that recalled the manic bark of McQueen’s fastback. Output stood at 265 horsepower and 305 lb-ft of torque.
Testing by Motor Trend revealed a sprint to 60 MPH in 5.6 seconds and a quarter mile e.t. of 14 seconds flat, figures that compared favorably with the original big-block car’s performance.
The first production Bullitt Mustang proved such a success that Ford decided to revisit the package to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the movie in 2008. With the S197’s retro styling the Mustang’s design was ripe for the Bullitt treatment and Ford opted to take the package a few steps further this time around.
Engineers again looked to improve the coupe’s handling capability while maintaining reasonable ride compliance. The stock struts and dampers from the Mustang GT were swapped out for more aggressively tuned components, while a unique strut-tower brace designed specifically for the Bullitt brought additional torsional and lateral stiffness to the chassis for improved cornering. The strut brace also displayed a unique serial number for each Bullitt car.
The rear axle got a 3.73:1 gear ratio for more urgent acceleration, while braking was enhanced with specifically developed pads for the Mustang Bullitt. Like the previous generation car, the Bullitt also rode on unique five-spoke wheels, this time 18 inches in diameter, which were wrapped in BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDWS high-performance rubber.
You can easily take Bullitt from the track to the street and back onto the track with confidence. — Paul Randle, Ford
“The 2008 Mustang Bullitt delivers balanced performance,” Paul Randle, Ford’s chief engineer, said of the project at the time of the car’s unveiling. “Comfort is not compromised for performance. Performance is on demand. You can easily take Bullitt from the track to the street and back onto the track with confidence.”
The 2008 Mustang Bullitt, like the movie car, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. — Doug Gaffka, Ford
“The 2008 Mustang Bullitt, like the movie car, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Doug Gaffka, the car’s chief designer, said. “Mustang is — and always has been — such an icon that it’s recognizable without the badges. But Bullitt’s clean exterior doesn’t give away the Ford Racing-inspired power and performance lurking under its skin.”
The 2008 model would sell in even greater numbers than the 2001 Mustang Bullitt had, with 4,377 Dark Highland Green models rolling out of dealer showrooms, along with 1,431 examples in Black, bringing the production total for this one-year model to 5,808.
With the repeated success of the Mustang Bullitt in the fourth- and fifth-generation cars, it stands to reason that Ford might want to revisit this package with the sixth-generation Mustang, especially when you consider the fact that 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the original movie.
Adding fuel to the fire is a behind-the-scenes promotional Ford video released earlier this year featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson while he was shooting a commercial at Ford’s Dearborn facility. During one of the shots in the video a board can be seen which seems to show various pictures of a Dark Highland Green sixth-generation Mustang wearing five-spoke wheels and minimal badging.
Recent sightings of what appears to be a next-gen Bullitt stoked the rumors that a new version was forthcoming, and the car finally broke cover at the North American International Auto Show. Packing a 475-horsepower 5.0-liter V8, independent rear suspension, and Brembo brakes, it’s clear that the new Mustang Bullitt is undoubtedly the most capable Bullitt yet.