Bullitt is an iconic film for its star, Steve McQueen, and a car chase that forever changed the genre. In it, a 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback battles a 1968 Dodge Charger on the streets of San Francisco. Ford introduced a run of special-edition Mustangs inspired by the film in 2001 and 2008. Now, 50 years after the film's premiere, there's a new one.
The 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt debuted at the 2018 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, alongside an original 1968 Fastback that was one of the principal cars used in the filming. For most of us, they stole the show. Now, in San Francisco, under the shadow of the film and the very same Fastback, we get to find out if the new model lives up to its namesake.
Is This Just a Green Mustang GT?
The Bullitt starts at $47,590, including destination, which is $11,240 more than the base Mustang GT. That may sound steep for what looks to be an appearance package, but the Bullitt treatment goes further than cosmetics. There are some items that you can't get on the standard GT, including a 20-horsepower increase (to 480 hp), an 8-mph improvement to top speed (to 163 mph), an intake manifold from the GT350, a unique active exhaust tuning, the gorgeous Dark Highland Green paint (also available in black), black 19-inch wheels, a revised front end, chrome exterior trim, and a cue-ball shift knob. You also get other features that are optional on the GT, including some Performance package parts and a digital instrument panel.
Options are limited to Recaro bucket-style seats, MagneRide adaptive suspension dampers, and the Bullitt Electronics package, which adds blind-spot monitoring, an upgraded sound system, and three memory settings for the driver's seat.
On the surface, the Bullitt is a well-appointed Mustang GT, but all of the elements produce something much more special. The subtle grille treatments remove the oblique strakes and give the nose a more sinister appearance, as does the absence of Ford and Mustang badges. The dark wheels and fat tires fill the wheelwells perfectly. No stripes, no spoilers. It just looks right. If you're a fan of the movie, you can't help but feel as though you're doing Steve McQueen proud. If you don't care about the movie, it's simply a cool car.
The Bullitt drives like a smartly optioned Mustang GT. It benefits from the same optimal balance of comfort and handling, especially with the adaptive MagneRide shocks. The steering effort and feedback feel great, and the brakes are reassuring and trustworthy. The active exhaust is slightly more aggressive than the already boisterous system available on the GT, encouraging you to stay in lower gears to allow the engine to snarl and roar. With perfectly executed automatic rev-matched downshifts, you'll find yourself grabbing for second and third gears far more often than you normally would. It's irresistible in tunnels.
On the pragmatic side, the Bullitt is easier to live with than the Chevrolet Camaro and livelier than the Dodge Challenger. The Bullitt hits the Goldilocks zone between the two, but convenience is secondary to how this car makes you feel. There's a sense of occasion. You're constantly aware that you're driving something special and that feeling makes you feel special, too.
What About That Original Bullitt Mustang?
During our trip to San Francisco to drive the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt, there was an ever-present reminder of why this car exists. One of the original 1968 Fastback Mustangs that was used in filming — the same one that stole the show in Detroit — was in attendance. After production on the film ended, a Warner Bros.' employee purchased it and then sold it two years later to a New Jersey police detective. In 1974, it changed hands again, this time to the Kiernan family. Steve McQueen tried to buy back the Fastback in 1977, three years before his death. In his letter to the Kiernans, McQueen noted that he intended to keep it in his family and in its original condition.
The car remained active until that same year. Despite all of the prior back-channel negotiations, the Bullitt Fastback was parked away in obscurity. Many collectors had tried to find it, but the Kiernans kept its existence a secret. A light restoration of the car began in 2001 by the elder Kiernan and his son. Over the years there were some stops and starts, then an illness claimed the father's life. His son Sean completed the restoration in 2016, starting the engine once again on the Fourth of July.
Finally, this original Bullitt Mustang saw the light of day at the Detroit show, flanked by Molly McQueen, Steve McQueen's granddaughter. We were there, and we felt the excitement in the room as the car rumbled down the aisle in its unrestored glory, just as the King of Cool intended.
We love the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt. It's a fitting homage to the original movie car and to Steve McQueen. For fans of the film and its stars — both actor and car — it's more likely a decision for emotional ties than logic. Short of the top-tier Shelby GT350, the Bullitt is the Mustang to get, whether or not you're a fan of the movie.