We have yet to feature an American car on Future Classics, and that is an oversight I plan to correct today. And I will do so in the most American way possible — with a V8-powered Ford Mustang that takes its name from a Steve McQueen movie famous for a car chase.
Of course, I’m talking about the Mustang Bullitt. There have actually been two versions of Bullitt ‘Stangs in the last dozen years or so, and both were remarkable machines that can be picked up without spending a lot of scratch right now, but they may not stay that way.
Obviously, the cars are named after McQueen’s legendary 1968 police drama/car chase flick Bullitt, inspired by the green 390 fastback that Det. Frank Bullitt used to jump over San Francisco’s hilly streets and outwit Dodge-driving bad guys in the movie.
Bullitt is one of the most badass movies ever made, so if you’re going to name a car after it, it had better not just be some fancy graphics-and-wheels package. Luckily, neither Bullitt Mustang disappoints in that department.
The first Bullitt Mustang showed up in 2001 as an enhanced version of that year’s Mustang GT. Opting for the Bullitt got you some exterior enhancements like a blackened grille, a deleted spoiler, Bullitt badges and 17-inch wheels. There are some handling goodies too, like thicker rear and thinner front sway bars and a front body brace. It also claimed the larger disc brakes from the SVT Cobra.
More importantly, Edmunds wrote back in 2001, the standard 4.6-liter V8 was given even more Cobra enhancements like a new cast aluminum intake manifold and the 57-mm twin bore throttle body. The result meant slight upgrades to 265 horsepower and 305 lb-ft of torque, and while those numbers seem laughable from a V8 today, it still got the Bullitt moving from 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, according to MotorTrend, making it still competitively fast. This article from HowStuffWorks claims it was as low as 4.8 seconds, which seems a tad optimistic to me but maybe not impossible.
It only came in blue, black and dark green. But really, why would you want to own any color besides dark green?
Automobile called the car “eager to go street racing, with more low-down urgency and a serious desire to smoke the rear tires from every stoplight,” which is pretty much everything you want in a Mustang.
MotorTrend in 2001 said that while more potent variants like the Mach 1 and Boss 302 were on the horizon, the improvements to the standard Mustang GT — modest as they were — ended up being worth the $3,695 premium. Plus, you can’t really put a price tag on coolness, can you?
It’s also relatively rare. Between 2001 and 2002 only about 5,500 of the special edition Mustangs were made. Today a Bullitt can be had for under $15,000, if you can manage to find one. Not bad for something that is essentially a budget Cobra named after a McQueen flick.
Fortunately for fans of raucous green cars, Ford wasn’t done sticking the Bullitt badge on hopped-up Mustangs. A new Bullitt debuted in 2008, three years after the Mustang received a comprehensive redesign.
What I like most about this Bullitt is that it’s kind of a stealth fighter. The chrome, the spoiler, and the badges are all gone, and the wheels are black. It’s sinister, and it’s so understated it almost feels like something a detective like Frank Bullitt would drive.
But as with the previous car, beauty isn’t just skin deep. Once again parts were taken from more high-end ‘Stangs, like the 3:73 rear axle and seats from the GT500. The car also had an improved suspension, came only with a five-speed manual, and the 4.6-liter V8 packed 315 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, both respectable boosts over the standard GT.
Here’s something else I find really cool: Ford’s engineers worked hard to tune this Bullitt’s exhaust to make it sound like McQueen’s famous ‘68 fastback. That’s an impressive bit of detail, I think.
And it received largely rave reviews for its style and improvements over the regular GT. Here’s what Jonny Lieberman said in 2008, writing for TTAC:
In fact, the Bullitt is what the GT should have been from day one. The sounds it makes are intoxicating... Ford has crafted a very special Mustang that feels fantastic, mile after thundering mile.
One of the other things that made this Bullitt so special was its mechanical legacy. When the Mustang received another redesign in 2010, where it received the body it has now, it carried over many of the upgrades from the outgoing Bullitt, including improvements to the engine and suspension. If you’re going to get a 2005-2009 Mustang, this is one of the ones you really want.
Once again, they’re not super common, as only about 6,500 were ever made. A recent search on cars.com shows that 2008-2009 Bullitt Mustangs seem to go for around $20,000 to $25,000 depending on their mileage, which is slightly higher than the Mustang GT of the same vintage.
So really, why are these cars future classics? If there’s anything the Mustang isn’t lacking, it’s special editions, and there are better, faster, rarer and more expensive versions of both these cars out there.
But they do represent potent yet modest improvements over their Mustang GT base cars which make them extremely compelling to drive. They’re also limited production models, which gives me a feeling that they could be sought after someday.
More than that, they represent what it’s like to get a special edition right. Ford could have easily painted these cars green and called it a day, but they actually put thought into both of them, making them worth the extra premium. The Bullitt Mustangs don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk.
Plus, they’re green and named after Bullitt. You can’t tell me that cars like these won’t be a commodity one day.
We’re about to see another, all-new Mustang debut fairly soon, and in five years, the movie Bullitt will celebrate its 50th anniversary. I’m hoping that whatever the next Mustang looks like, we’ll get a Bullitt edition that can back up its name with the appropriate amount of ass kicking just like these cars do.
It’s what this guy would have wanted.
This is Future Classics, a new, semi-regular feature where we identify amazing and unappreciated cars from the late 90s, 2000s, and today that could be highly coveted by future generations. You may want to pick one of these up while you still can!