There were a few movies in 1968 that prominently featured cars.
Two of them were family films: “The Love Bug,” a Disney comedy about a Volkswagen Beetle race car that had a mind of its own, and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” featuring Dick Van Dyke and a Roald Dahl screenplay based on the Ian Fleming novel about a broken-down Grand Prix from the early 1900s that, given some TLC, is able to fly.
And then there was “Bullitt.” Rated M (equivalent to PG today), it’s about a car – a 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback 2+2 in Highland Green with the 335 horsepower, 390 cubic-inch Thunderbird Special V8 and a four-speed manual transmission stock engine with a set of American Racing mag wheels and a white cue-ball shifter added (badges removed). It also flew, but only because Steve McQueen was at the wheel, chasing a couple of bad guys all over San Francisco.
How well does “Bullitt” resonate 52 years later? Well, the family of the man who bought one of the two identical Mustangs used in the movie – the only one still fully intact – for $3,500 in 1974 sold it at auction last January for $3.4 million.
On a retail level, Ford has found “Bullitt” to be a profitable association twice before. The first time was 2001, when it took a Mustang GT and nudged the horsepower from 260 to 265, painted it dark green and gave it a cue-ball shifter and some wheels that looked kind of like the movie car’s. I drove one at the time; it was OK. That generation of Mustang looked nothing like a 1968; the proportions were wrong, and the performance was not noticeably better than a regular Mustang GT.
The 2005 redesign of the Mustang changed everything, and made the 2008-2009 Ford Mustang Bullitt a lot more convincing – especially given that 315 horsepower was now on tap.
I think McQueen would approve of the current version, which debuted last year and will only be available through 2020. It is easily the meanest-looking since 1968, so the Dark Highland Green (it also comes in black) and the black wheels make it look positively sinister.
For the first time, this one also packs more horsepower than McQueen had to play with. The 5.0-liter V8 is good for 480 horsepower – 20 more than a non-Bullitt Mustang GT. Thank the throttle bodies and intake manifold from the 526-horsepower Mustang Shelby GT 350 for that jump. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy average is fairly sobering: 14 mpg city, 23 highway. Your mileage may vary, and if you drive it like you really, deep down want to drive it, your mileage will be worse.
Other performance-enhancing standard equipment includes Brembo brakes, an active valve performance exhaust system with quad-tipped dual exhaust, a limited-slip rear axle and variable exhaust settings: Quiet (normal), Normal (really loud), Sport (was that an earthquake?) and Track (bring earplugs).
The base price of the 2020 Bullitt is $46,705. The standard equipment includes a 12-inch LCD digital instrument cluster, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-trimmed seats, rear-view camera and reverse sensing system, and 8-inch SYNC3 infotainment system, as well as a dash plaque showing your car’s number in this limited run of cars.
Our test vehicle also had extra-cost options that included the Bullitt Electronics Package (blind-spot information system with cross-traffic alert and upgraded 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system with subwoofer and navigation) for $2,100 and the MagneRide damping system for $1,695.
With those options, a $1,000 gas-guzzler tax and $1,095 destination and delivery charges, the as-tested price is $52,595.
For the level of performance and features, it’s a relative bargain. And on top of that, it’s a limited edition; maybe 5,000 will be made for the entire two-year run. (It’s being replaced by a revival of the Mustang Mach 1 for 2021.) Just don’t expect to get $3.4 million for yours 52 years from now.
Mike Hagerty is vice president of membership for Western Automotive Journalists (waj.org). He has been writing about cars since 1997. Read more of his reviews at MikeHagertyCars.com and follow him on Twitter (twitter.com/mikehagertycars) and Facebook (facebook.com/mikehagertywritesaboutcars).