REVIEW | Ford takes aim at small target audience with retro Mustang Bullitt

07 August 2020 - 11:11
The Ford Mustang Bullitt is a homage to the 1968 film starring Steve McQueen.
The Ford Mustang Bullitt is a homage to the 1968 film starring Steve McQueen.
Image: Supplied

By modern standards the lengthy car chase sequence in the 1968 film Bullitt is as riveting as old repeats of Isidingo. An unpopular opinion – but let me go on anyway.

In the last two decades the world was introduced to franchises such as The Fast and the Furious and The Transporter.

Even though both chronicles grew progressively outlandish with each instalment, many continue to regard either as foremost reference points when discussing big screen convergences of action and automobiles.

Exotics flying through skyscrapers and other stunts had us captivated. Unbelievable, but these are the kind of ridiculously riveting computer-generated theatrics that kept us enthralled and amused. At the very least, the theatrics of the scene in Bullitt seemed true to reality. Just a goodie chasing two baddies up and down the hills of San Francisco.

With the criminals eventually meeting their end in a fiery crash about 10 minutes later. It was not the character portrayed by a steely Steve McQueen, but the Fastback in Dark Highland Green that remains front of mind when one thinks of the movie.

The Bullitt gets a fettled exhaust system that provides a satisfying rumble.
The Bullitt gets a fettled exhaust system that provides a satisfying rumble.
Image: Supplied

Last year Ford released a special-edition Mustang commemorating the association with the film.

We recently had a few days behind the wheel of the muscle car. It occurred to me, after virtually everyone inquired about the meaning behind the special logo and Bullitt lettering that the reference is an enigma to most.  

Which is completely understandable, considering that the movie was released before even the parents of Mustang’s intended South African audience were conceived. My dad was born in the year 1967, for example.

It is sort of like if Volkswagen were to drop a David Kramer edition Golf GTI, with free red footwear and a bicycle: a throwback that’s not likely to make many of us go “vrr-pha” with excitement. Anyway, even if the American cultural significance of the Ford fails to impress, people are still going to take in the stylistic accoutrements of this Mustang with awe.

That paintjob lends a sophisticated appearance to the Ford, a welcome break from the lurid bright shades one usually sees on it. And look at its 19-inch rollers, echoing a classic design, with Brembo calipers peeping from behind the five-spokes.

The simple act of de-badging the grille has created a sinister appearance. And all the horse emblems have been replaced with bespoke Bullitt nameplates.

The interior gets Bullitt logos and 'cue-ball' white gear knob.
The interior gets Bullitt logos and 'cue-ball' white gear knob.
Image: Supplied

As for the drive, well, it makes a person feel sufficiently brawny, enough to consider serving in the fight against wrongdoers as a law enforcement officer. Or as a member of the community policing forum at the very least. Thanks to the fettled exhaust system, it sounds burlier than the regular 5.0 V8 Mustang, starting up with a rumble that makes the corrugated metal of carports vibrate.

It is also only available as a six-speed manual – replete with a cue ball shifter – for that extra dollop of “bad-ass”, old-school charm. Truth be told, this was my first time driving a manual Mustang. And it was far more agreeable than expected.

My left calf had been primed for a heavy clutch pedal. And my arm was equally braced for a clunky shift action, anticipating a lever that needed to be manhandled to facilitate 338kW and 529Nm.

What a surprise when the execution of the mechanical ballet proved to be a leisurely affair. Rowing through each of its six-forward gates is a real treat, especially on downshifts, where the throttle blips automatically for a smoother engagement of cogs.

At the launch nearly a year ago, Ford announced that only 50 examples of the Bullitt would be brought here. Probably no need to despair if you think you may have missed a chance to pull the trigger on the retro-themed Mustang, because it remains listed on the Ford website, at a price of R1,079,700.


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