It’s got a cop motor, cop tires, cop shocks … oh, wait, wrong movie.
The 2008 Mustang Bullitt is a special edition of the venerable pony car that pays tribute to the 1968 film of the same name. In the movie, Steve McQueen plays a detective who hunts down bad guys on the streets of San Francisco behind the wheel of his badass Mustang GT 390 Fastback in what many consider to be the greatest movie car-chase sequence ever filmed.
Both the flick and the car are legendary among car enthusiasts. Ford first introduced a Bullitt edition Mustang in 2001, but the modern car just didn’t look part. Playing off of the retro design of the current Mustang GT, the new one is a much more successful remake.
The first thing you notice about the Bullitt is that you don’t. Befitting the ride of an undercover cop, the exterior has been stripped clean of most of its identifying marks, including the iconic galloping Mustang logo usually found on the grill. Painted a dark green color like the Hollywood version (black is available for non-movie buffs), it is also free of hood scoops and spoilers that might draw too much attention. Even the custom 5-spoke wheels are finished in a dark charcoal color that is classy, not flashy.
Inside, the upgrades are more obvious. Aluminum panels, with a machine-turned pattern, cover the upper portion of the dash, while the metal is also used for the ball end of the 5-speed transmission shifter. They both look and feel better than the materials found in the standard car, and will surely give real police officers who catch a glimpse the impression that you’re hiding some serious firepower under the Bullitt’s plain-Jane exterior.
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The seats are cribbed from the top of the line Mustang Shelby GT500 KR, and are some of the most comfortable that you can get in a sports car. They are supportive for high-speed pursuits, but still cushy enough for overnight stakeouts, upholstered in a tough leather that is a little on the Grade B side, but can shrug off spilled coffee and powdered sugar as easily as the finest police cruiser vinyl.
If a shady looking car with a souped-up engine wasn’t already politically incorrect enough for you, there are gun sights drawn onto the round instrument dials, in case you feel like targeting a particular speed or rpm.
Cop cars need to be tough and at least a little faster than the showroom version of the vehicles that they are based on, otherwise they couldn't catch any criminals. For the Bullitt, Ford dipped into the stockroom of its racing parts division and picked out a few goodies that would make any trooper, or weekend racer, smile.
The 4.6-liter V-8 gets a cold air induction system and a higher redline for a power boost. The modifications only add 15 horsepower to the standard GT’s 300, but I know a lot of people who would be happy with a 5 percent increase in anything. On the road it feels like more than that, helped by a revised rear-axle ratio for better acceleration.
To make life easy for you, the engine computer can adjust to regular or premium fuel with no loss in power or damage to the mill, though the good stuff is recommended for optimum performance.
The Bullitt is only available with a 5-speed manual transmission, but it is as reliable as a Colt .38 revolver. The shifter needs a firm hand, but you'll never miss a gear or stall with a clutch pedal that has nearly perfect take up despite a slightly springy feel.
Fully aware of the fact that a good car chase always includes many high-speed turns, the Bullitt's suspension has been lowered and firmed up a bit, with a brace installed across the front strut towers to stiffen up the chassis. The steering is instantaneous, with no lag when you turn the wheel, and on smooth asphalt the rest of the car follows suit. Hit a mid-corner bump, though, and you'll avoid being side by side with anyone in the next turn for fear of bouncing into them.
One of the signature elements of the chase in “Bullitt” is McQueen jumping his Mustang through the intersections of San Fran's hilly streets. With relatively long-travel springs, the Bullitt's body floats over humps in the road giving the impression that it too wants to fly, but the firm damping makes landings something you're happy to walk away from.
At least the car stays together, mostly.
An updated Mustang is on the way for 2010, and it can't arrive too soon. With the new Dodge Challenger and Chevy Camaro breathing down its neck, Ford is about to lose its monopoly on the American two-door, rear-drive market. As it is, the fit and finish of the Bullitt leaves much to be desired.
The interior has a good look, but the plastic is hard and too easily scuffed. My example had 10,000 miles on the odometer and looked much older than that. There was even some loose trim where the carpets tuck under it, a reminder that there is a version of the Mustang available for under $20,000. For the $34,705 sticker on my test car, the Bullitt should offer more in the way of refinement.
There's also a lot of noise inside, which is sometimes loathed and sometimes loved. On any surface rougher than fresh blacktop the road roar is deafening, making you wish you had opted for the 1,000-watt Shaker audio system, because the 500-watt unit seems a little overtasked for the job. Luckily, the Bullitt comes with its own soundtrack that makes the stereo redundant, so I'll let you off with a warning this time.
Ford's engineers actually brought a DVD of “Bullitt” into the shop with them and tuned the exhaust note to sound like the one in the film, using a larger exhaust tips and a connector between the pipes to recreate the sound. Thanks to the limited insulation in the rest of the car, you hear it all the time, from idle to redline — a deep, throaty rumble that is almost out of place in this crazy mixed-up world today.
With no video player in the Bullitt, I couldn't listen to it back-to-back with the movie, but I did check out the scene on the internet after a drive. There is a definite similarity, but the real-life car seems to have a slightly lower tone, and that's not the only thing that's low about it.
If you watch FOX News Channel often, you'll know from all of the live car chases we broadcast that a favored method of bringing them to a conclusion is to simply let the perp run out of gas. With an EPA combined rating of 18 mpg — the same as the standard Mustang GT — you'd better hope the Code Five you're tailing isn't driving a hybrid.
At least you won't have a problem getting him in your sights, waiting for the order to take him out. Hopefully he’ll pull over out of fear before you need to pull into a gas station.
Or doughnut shop.
2008 MUSTANG BULLITT
As Tested: $34,705
Type: Front-engine, rear-drive, 4-passenger coupe
Engine: 4.6-liter V-8
Power: 315 horsepower, 325 pound-foot torque
Transmission: 5-speed manual
MPG: 15 city/23 hwy
What do you think of the Bullitt?
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Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.