Nostalgia and heroic performance come wrapped in a pretty, pulsating package called the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt.
The Bullitt is not unlike one of those Beatles tribute bands, except it makes different music from exhaust pipes. It also comes from the same source — Ford Motor Co. — that birthed the star of the 1969 movie. The other star was actor Steve McQueen as Lt. Frank Bullitt of the San Francisco police department.
Ford delivered two 1968 Mustang fastbacks for the filming, which included a storied episode of McQueen chasing bad guys in a 1968 Dodge Charger, who came to a fiery end. The Mustangs — one still survives — were modified with stronger springs, Koni racing shock absorbers and modest customizing by removing identifying badges.
So goes the 2019 model. It has smooth, flowing lines that make you want to caress it like a newborn, accented by a black hole of a grille. The event horizon paint is the original 1968 Highland Green, the only color offered and only on the Bullitt.
Bullitt’s sensuous body is bereft of ornamentation. Not a Mustang or Ford emblem mars the curvy surface. Only the Bullitt name, in a circle that evokes a target, graces the backside and beckons followers.
The 1968 Bullitt Mustang was powered by a 320-hp, 6.4-liter V8 engine that made 427 lb-ft of torque. The four-speed manual gearbox and clutch were heavy-duty parts from Borg Warner, and the steering wheel came from a Shelby Mustang.
Contemporary tests put the zero-to-60 acceleration time at just over five seconds with a quarter-mile time of about 13 seconds. Top speed was well into three digits, depending on the tester.
Over the years after the turn of the millennium, Ford produced optional Bullitt packages to somewhat mimic the original. But the 2019 Bullitt, 50 years after the movie if you can imagine that, is the monument on the mountain top.
No automobile is perfect or flawless, but any high performance machine should be true to its purpose. The 2019 Bullitt is such a machine in conception and execution.
Its 5.0-liter V8 engine spits 480 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque with a cacophony of sounds through the minimally restrictive exhaust system, making certain that the occupants understand what it is about. The muscular clutch and six-speed manual gearbox require strength and finesse that become relaxed and easy with familiarity. This is a machine that grows on you and you on it.
The 2019 Bullitt Mustang shaves about a second off the 1968’s zero-to-60 time, in the four-second range, with a top speed over 160 mph. But that’s not the point in modern traffic. In the famous daylight chase in the movie, San Francisco’s streets were mostly empty. Now you’d be unlikely to duplicate that at 3 a.m. on a weekend.
Yet even in traffic, the Bullitt delivers tactile sensations: the smooth feel of the round ball on the shift lever, the progressive uptake of the clutch, the positive moves of the shift linkage aided by uncanny automatic rev-matching on downshifts, the blasting exhaust notes.
When the road clears, punch the pedal in second or third gear and experience the adrenaline rush as the Bullitt takes hold of your body and pins you in the seat. Too bad you can’t do it every time because of traffic.
But the Bullitt is docile enough to be perfectly happy noodling along around town in second, third or fourth gears. You know the hammer is there if you want or need it.
With its tidy dimensions, honking V8 power, quick steering, compliant suspension system and performance tires, the Bullitt delivers joyful feedback any time you can find a twisting mountain road with minimal traffic. Think Skyline Drive in Virginia or the Blue Ridge Parkway. You don’t even have to go very fast to enjoy the moments.
Though the Bullitt Mustang has seats for four, it’s best to think of it as a two-seater — or what used to be called a “plus two” with mostly useless back seats. The rear seatbacks fold down to augment the trunk space, which is surprisingly generous considering the fastback design.
As a high-performance sports car, the Bullitt delivers something of a bargain. The base price of the test car was $47,490, including the destination charge. With a few options, including Ford’s MagneRide shock absorbers, which deliver a comfortable ride but stiffen up for quick maneuvering, the bottom-line sticker came to $51,920.
Ford markets more powerful Mustangs. But none with the character and appeal of the Bullitt.
- Model: 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt two-door sports coupe.
- Engine: 5.0-liter V8; 480 hp, 420 lb-ft torque.
- Transmission: Six-speed manual.
- Overall length: 15 feet 9 inches.
- EPA passenger/trunk volume: 83/14 cubic feet.
- Weight: 3,850 pounds.
- EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 15/24/18 mpg.
- Base price, including destination charge: $47,495.
- Price as tested: $51,920.
Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.
Photos (c) Ford