On-screen cops and their cars have a rich history, especially Fords. Choose your era but over here we’ve had everything from The Professionals in their RS Escorts and Capris to Jimmy Nail’s Spender in his Sapphire Cosworth. All have to bow to Steve McQueen’s detective Frank Bullitt and his battered, Highland Green GT390 though, the appearance of this car 50 years ago in one of Hollywood’s most famous car chases an integral part of Mustang folklore.
Looking at that car now you know it was a carefully considered choice in keeping with McQueen’s car nut image. Sure, Ford provided the cars and profited handsomely from the association. But the depiction of the Mustang as dusty, battered and well-used adds a level of authenticity. And from the plain black grille to the cue-ball shifter there were just enough subtle tweaks to set it apart. There are probably more Eleanor replicas out there. But Bullitt’s car was arguably cooler.
And now you can buy one of your own. Well, you could if you were quick enough, given the initial UK allocation is apparently accounted for. But for the first time in history there is, technically, a Bullitt Mustang on UK pricelists. This follows two previous US-only versions, the first in 2001 and second in 2008. All followed a similar formula of Highland Green paint, visual tweaks and small improvements to the V8 engine to make it sound and feel a bit more Bullitt.
For a £5,400 premium over a standard 5.0 GT that’s exactly what we get here too, the new Bullitt offered purely as a manual Fastback and starting at a hefty £47,545. To be fair if you optioned a standard GT up with the Recaros, 1000W B&O Premium Audio and other bits that come as standard on the Bullitt you wouldn’t be far off. Bar the £1,600 MagneRide dampers the special edition basically has every box ticked, plus a few unique features of its own. These include the Torq-Thrust style five-spoke 19-inch wheels, the plain black grille, extensive Bullitt branding throughout, cue-ball shifter and green stitching on seats, dash and gear gaiter. Most importantly they include some small but important mods under the bonnet.
Most obvious is the huge yellow air filter fitted as part of the GT350-derived Open Air Induction system. The throttle body itself is now 87mm in diameter, as opposed to 82mm on the standard GT, and everything back from it is also from the GT350. The ECU and active exhaust are also specially adapted for a sound intended to replicate that in the famous chase. If you can’t double-declutch as fast as McQueen then don’t worry – this also includes the new rev-matching option to spare your blushes and now fitted to all post-facelift Mustangs.
Doesn’t sound like much on paper and the 460PS/454bhp is down about 20hp/bhp on what American versions have due to more restrictive exhaust routing on RHD models and our tighter emissions controls. Annoying but the Bullitt is allowed to run out to 163mph where standard GTs are limited to 155mph. And the most important difference is in the way it sounds and feels.
That induction system means the V8 responds even more crisply than usual while the sound has a clarity and depth to it even the improved MY18 car can’t match. This car is properly, unapologetically loud, the classy combination of induction and exhaust sound meaning you’ll rarely be testing the improved stereo. Who needs it when you’ve got an engine like this…
At any revs the Bullitt just feels that little bit more enthusiastic than the standard GT too, responding faster and pulling just a little harder. It’s most noticeable at high revs, the final lunge from 6,000rpm to the 7,250rpm power peak absolutely addictive and more than capable of shrugging off the Bullitt’s considerable bulk. You need something to take your mind off the fuel bills and, in fairness, with the V8 soundtrack you at least get a return on the investment.
The rest of the driving experience is as per the MY18 Mustang, which is to say suitably hefty and old-school but with increased grip and finesse thanks to the improved Michelin tyres and (on the test car) MagneRide dampers. There are also driver modes and configurability galore, including the drag strip mode, line lock and customisable My Mode setting to let you mix and match your preferred combination of steering, suspension and exhaust sound.
These are all just minor tweaks though. Fundamentally this is a big car and happier on fast, sweeping roads than tight and twisty ones. But it’s balanced, surprisingly poised and huge fun at any speed, even just pootling about town. Put simply it’s an experience to be in, the reflected glory of its movie association and McQueen link just adding to the fun.
Ford Mustang Bullitt Quick Spec:
5.0-litre V8, 460ps [454bhp], 390lb.ft, six-speed manual gearbox with limited-slip differential, optional MagneRide adjustable dampers, six driver modes, Electronic Line Lock setting, 19in alloys with 255/40R19 and 275/40R19 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, 0-62mph in 4.6sec, top speed 163mph, price from £47,545 (manual 5.0 GT Fastback)