The 2008 Ford Mustang Bullitt edition doesn't have quad camshafts or forty-eight valves in the cylinder heads. There is no turbocharger under the hood. The Mustang doesn't pack an eight speed twin-clutch super sequential transmission. The Mustang needs not even one of these things to be exactly what it is - a purely American machine that's a blast to drive.
Driving the latest iteration of the Bullitt was a great deal like driving the '67 Barracuda I pummeled for years around the bay area, except nicer and with a five-speed in place of the fusty old Torqueflite. Much nicer. The windows didn't whistle. It had AC. The interior didn't smell like horsehair furniture from ye olden days museum. We didn't even get lost thanks to onboard nav. The exhaust was legally more subdued, but still kicked out a great soundtrack. This music was so good that we didn't even turn on the radio or find the iPod full of period-correct hits in the center console. The volume control was underfoot. 3500 RPM to the rev limiter was the playlist. Each gear was a fresh new track.
Out from Fort Mason and past the Safeway famous for yuppie love, we hopped the back end of the Bullitt over the hill to Geary. The first reaction was to veer off planned course and head down to Red's Java Hut for a double-cheese, or maybe to Tosca for a coffee. Fighting the overall urge to drift down to what's left of the docks lost in some amalgam of San Francisco cop movies and television shows was tough for about five minutes. The Bullitt pointed anywhere would do just fine. Besides. Mike Stone and Inspector Keller rolled the Streets of San Francisco in a Galaxie, the vehicles had been supplied by Ford, and Dirty Harry drove a Plymouth. We'll wait until they re-issue the Fury for any down by the harbor this is my gun Clyde action.
Moving out Geary and through Golden Gate Park we hit the Great Highway in the shadow of the old Nike missile bunkers on our way to Pebble Beach. What fine golf courses have to do with TV-dinner-eating, hard-boiled San Francisco Lieutenants remains a mystery. We thought we were going to end up at what's left of the Thunderbolt Hotel out by the airport in San Mateo, or get holed up at some flophouse down by the Embarcadero. No luck and no matter. Thirty-nine years have changed the city of Detective Frank Bullitt. A 1968 Mustang fastback with a 390 and stick is well out of range of a police Lieutenant's budget these days. The Doggie Diners are gone, only the head remains. While murdering henchmen in knee-length trench coats might still be able to cough up the change for a black '68 Dodge Charger, authentic American muscle has climbed out of reach for many of its greatest fans.
This is where the Bullitt steps up. While retro is an obvious way to view the Bullitt, the appeal of a V8 channeling power through the rear wheels is a good thing now, was a good thing then, and will remain a good thing for a long time. The Ford Mustang nailed greatness the first time around. The Bullitt takes the timeless combination of V8 power and rear-wheel drive and rolls it into the present with an eye on the future. The Bullitt will be produced as a limited run in the factory performance tradition of the Hurst Hemi Dart and Pontiac Judge. The mechanical and visual parts that make the Bullitt what it is will be tightly controlled to prevent any cloning. This Mustang is a collectible performer off the showroom floor.
Out on the open road the Bullitt can either loaf along in a torque-induced V8 slumber, or attack into a higher awareness with a simple upshift and quick lead foot. The five-speed transmission is no swiss watch, but channels the very usable 315 horsepower to the wheels without drama. Rev matching and downshifting into corners made us appreciate that the Ford engineers tuned the exhaust to the original movie soundtrack and worked the suspension for balance with a strut tower bar bolted in for steady lines. The functional cold air intake helps with horsepower by feeding the engine cooler air, and adds to the exhaust soundtrack by way of an open element. We even mimicked a double clutch or two to complete the return to 1968 timeline illusion.
Somewhere on this same timeline Detroit lost track of what it does best. There was a time when even the Mustang name was to be applied to a Mazda-sourced front driver that eventually became known as the Ford Probe. With apologies to the Probe fans out there, we're all happy that never happened. The Mustang Bullitt slots between the GT and the GT500. A sleeper look hides a suspension compliant over city streets, yet competent during murderous-thug-evading maneuvers. The Bullitt champions the spirit of the underdog fighting the uncompromising fight against the man, just as Frank Bullitt triumphed over Chalmers in the movie itself.
Lt. Frank Bullitt: Look Chalmers. Let's understand each other. I don't like you.
Walter Chalmers: Come on now. Don't be naive Lieutenant. We both know how careers are made. Integrity is something you sell the public.
Lt. Frank Bullitt: You sell whatever you want, but don't sell it here tonight.
Walter Chalmers: Frank, we must all compromise.
Lt. Frank Bullitt: Bullshit. Get the hell out of here, now.