By Lisa Calvi
SAN FRANCISCO — I have a love-hate relationship with car-chase scenes in movies. On one hand, I love the adrenaline rushing through my bloodstream, the thrilling squeal of tires, the exhilarating engine sounds, the acrobatic stunts, vehicles defying gravity.
On the other hand, I hate seeing cars get smashed up, blown up, torn up. I feel for the vehicles which could have just as easily led long, comfortable lives in someone’s suburban driveway taking kids to hockey practice and on family outings.
Watching the chase scene in the 1968 movie Bullitt is no exception. With one of the most widely known and revered car chase film scenes in history, the movie Bullitt was released 50 years ago on Oct. 17.
Of course, I was a toddler at the time so I’m sure my parents wouldn’t have taken me to see the movie but I know I would have been a fan.
Charming, handsome, cool-as-a-cucumber Steve McQueen in the role of Detective Frank Bullitt, hunting down criminals? Oh yes.
And then there was that car. The green 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback with a 320-horsepower, 390 cubic-inch V8 engine was just as cool as McQueen and, after the movie was released, became a star in its own right.
The 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback and the 2019 Mustang Bullitt. (LISA CALVI)
The car, which saw some pretty serious abuse in the 10-minute chase scene through the notoriously hilly streets of San Francisco, actually ended up living a long, comfortable anonymous life. Finally out of hiding this past January, the 1968 Mustang GT is perhaps more adored today than ever by fans all over the world.
Inside the 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback.
I was as tongue-tied as if I were meeting Steve McQueen himself when I met the Mustang recently on a trip to San Francisco where the iconic car has returned for the first time since it was sold by Warner Bros. studio back in 1974. Back to the scene of the crime, so to speak.
I definitely got a kick seeing the illustrious ’68 Mustang GT but that wasn’t the reason I was so excited.
In honour of the 50th anniversary of the Academy Award-winning movie’s release, Ford has produced another star, the limited-edition 2019 Mustang Bullitt. I had the absolute pleasure of plying the streets of San Francisco behind the wheel of the rumbling, snarling beast.
The snarling is sweet, sexy music to the ears made possible by the unique performance-tuned 5.0-litre V8 engine that makes 480 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. I didn’t actually reach the Bullitt’s top speed of 260 km/h but I gave it a good legal try with the opportunity to drive a variety of roads from tight twisty mountain roads to historic California Highway 1, to some spectacular seaside straight stretches.
The vehicle feels big, yet nimble on the narrow mountain roads. It sticks to the pavement in the hairpin turns. The six-speed manual transmission (the only option for the Bullitt) with rev matching is super responsive, easy to drive and I love the white cue ball shift knob on the gear shifter which honours the original.
I liked the look of the available Recaro Ebony Black leather-trimmed seats with green accent stitching but personally almost prefer the standard seats for comfort.
The 2019 Mustang Bullitt, priced at $52,980, features a new open-air induction system and Shelby GT350 intake manifold.
With MyMode, you can customize shift points, steering feel and drive mode (think: track and dragstrip settings).
The exhaust note, just beautiful no matter the mode, can be customized as well. During the drive, approaching the many tunnels carved into the mountains, it became obligatory to lower the windows and wind through the gears.
Of course, before sunrise in the thick San Francisco morning fog, I didn’t drive as wildly as Detective Frank Bullitt did, but then I wasn't being pursued by two hit men in a 1968 Dodge Charger out to kill me.
At least, if I was, I believe I lost them at the corner of Chestnut and Taylor streets after plunging down the impossibly steep and deserted streets in the pre-dawn mist.
Besides the joy of driving it, feeling its performance, hearing its ferocious roar and experiencing the thrill of every gear, whether wearing the classic Dark Highland Green or Shadow Black paint, it turns heads. Not because of its flash or dazzle but rather the opposite I think.
It’s something special on the road.
There are no stripes, spoilers, Ford or Mustang badges (except for a round Bullitt logo on the decklid). The minimal chrome accents, red Brembo brake calipers and unique black honeycomb grille add to its mystique.
As Carl Widemann, Mustang chief engineer, put it: “When making a Bullitt, there are certain things it absolutely must have. It has to have the right attitude and it has to be unique in some way from a Mustang GT. More than anything, it has to be badass.”
Ford should be proud of the 2019 Mustang Bullitt which is an understated, timeless, ultra-cool package that thrills, never disappoints and is, of course, totally badass.
Like Steve McQueen.
2019 Mustang Bullitt (LISA CALVI)