Frank Bullitt was the man most baby boomer boys wanted to be in 1968 – tough, taciturn, smart. The rest of us wanted to be Steve McQueen.
Steve McQueen was the 1960s embodiment of a kind of cool that burst from the screen into the very being of generations of men. Sure, Frank Bullitt was a celluloid hero and Steve McQueen merely the actor who brought him to life. But both presented a male ideal, the lone wolf willing to risk everything to do the right thing — the righteous man in pursuit of justice, despite the cost.
Bullitt the movie was ground-breaking and Steve McQueen was a generational actor. The move itself is now preserved in the Library of the U.S. Congress as part of that country’s National Film Registry. Steve McQueen lives on, too, further immortalized in not just his ground-breaking performances and persona, but also in more recent documentaries such as I Am Steve McQueen.
Bullitt the movie is a cultural artifact of historical and aesthetic significance – from its Lalo Schifrin jazz-inspired score, to the Oscar-winning editing and Oscar-nominated sound and perhaps most enduring of all, it’s stunning chase scene.
Ah, the car chase through the streets of San Francisco. Steve McQueen did all the driving scenes in which you see his face, portraying the gritty determination of Frank Bullitt. The car is a thundering Ford Mustang 390 GT 2+2 Fastback with a 13.8-second quarter mile time.
His nemeses – aging hit men armed with shotguns who are terrifying because they look so very suburban — are in a 1968 Dodge Charger 440 Magnum with a 13.6-second quarter mile. They are silent but deadly, which makes the end they suffer in a fireball so very affecting. After all of it, Frank Bullitt and his Mustang are spent.
It is genius, this car chase. The only one perhaps even better has Gene Hackman playing Detective Jimmy (Popeye) Doyle behind the wheel of a brown Pontiac LeMans. He chases a hitman riding a New York City elevated train in a riveting attempt to get away. If you haven’t watched either, or if it’s been a long time, watch both back-to-back.
Pontiac the brand disappeared many years ago and General Motors never managed to figure out how to capitalize on The French Connection connection. But the Mustang endures.
Ford Motor Co. long ago recognized the power of a toxic mix of Mustang, Steve McQueen and Frank Bullitt. These touchstones of masculinity have proven enduring, even as boomers battle grey hairs and paunchiness,
Ford once again has brought us another version of the Bullitt Mustang. It’s a staggeringly effective work of engineering. The 21st century Mustang is no massaged Ford Falcon, unlike the original. Yet it’s also a loud and unapologetic throwback.
The 2019 Mustang is the closest in its look to the ’68 Fastback. As such, my Dark Highland Green test car simply took my breath away. That is, elements of the McQueen-era car have been updated for the 21st century.
Ford has emptied its engineering bag of Mustang tricks into this car, not the least of which is the 480-horsepower, 5.0-litre V-8 with its modern electronic controls. The fully independent suspension, of course, has been dialed in for comfort and handling; the latest electronic driving nannies are all there, too.
But my word, the Shelby GT350 intake manifold, combined with a larger throttle body (87-millimeter) benefit further from unique powertrain control module calibrations. The sounds that gurgle and growl from the black NitroPlate quad-tip exhaust are intoxicating and perhaps more than a little frightening, at least for some.
To get the most out of this ‘Stang, you need to splurge on premium gas. And yes, it’s all a bit of an anachronism. I suspect this just may be the last of the old-school Bullitts we’ll see from a Ford Motor now determined to electrify its fleet of mostly trucks and SUVs, and make them all self-driving at some point.
Of course, I fully understand the changing times, which is why I savored my short time with this Bullitt. For the record, I never managed to hit the 263 km/hour top speed (163 mph), but I have no doubt the car would be very happy at that crazy speed.
On the way there, you must work the classic white cue ball shifter. The Bullitt car has so much torque – 420 lbs-ft – the six-speed gearbox is perfectly suited to get all you can and want out of this lovely toy.
It’s also very easy to drive. Ford loads the Bullitt with the latest Mustang GT Premium and Performance technologies, which means it corners like a deer in the woods, with the ride comfort of a Lincoln. The 19-inch aluminum wheels look very much as though they were taken off the ’68 car, but the red Brembo brakes scream of something modern and useful in a car with staggering horsepower.
A few last bits and pieces. Ford deserves credit for not make this Bullitt a gaudy piece of nostalgia. It’s tasteful. The badging, inside and out, is subtle, the leather-trimmed cabin understated, right down to the accent stitching in green on the dashboard, door panels, centre console and seats. It’s also affordable, given what you get: $61,650, all in with freight and dealer prep. Taxes extra.
Guilty pleasure? Of course. These sorts extravagances are increasingly rare. So, I will enjoy it and live in the moment. Don’t hate me.
2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt
Base price: $57,527. As tested: %61,650.
Engine: 5.0-litre V-8 (480 horsepower/420 lb-ft of torque).
Transmission: six-speed manual.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 16.1 city/9.9 hwy (using premium fuel.