With the introduction of its new 2019 Mustang Bullitt at the North American International Auto Show, Ford has added yet another chapter to the iconic pony car’s storied past.
The introduction celebrates the 50th anniversary of the movie “Bullitt,” starring Hollywood legend Steve McQueen, which propelled the Mustang nameplate to rock star status. In the movie, McQueen drove a 1968 Mustang GT Fastback in a 10-minute scene chasing hitmen through the streets of San Francisco. The introduction at the show in Detroit also featured a film starring third generation McQueen family member Molly, racing the Bullitt through a parking structure battling a Dodge Charger for a final parking space.
“This new Bullitt is, as Steve McQueen was, effortlessly cool,” said Darrell Behmer, Mustang chief designer. “As a designer, it’s my favorite Mustang – devoid of stripes, spoilers and badges. It doesn’t need to scream about anything – it’s just cool.”
Due out as a special edition later this summer, the Mustang Bullitt has a 5.0-liter V8 under the hood that puts out 475 horses and 420 lb-ft of torque, topping out at 163 miles per hour on the track. The engine is mated to a manual gearbox with a shifter inside that has a white cue ball knob – an obvious homage to the movie original.
Other performance elements include an active valve performance exhaust system, open air induction system, a Shelby GT350 intake manifold with 87mm throttle bodies and a powertrain control module for optimum performance.
As for the exterior, it’s obviously modern, but like the original used in the movie, its accents are understated. If you’re looking to buy one, color choices are limited to the Shadow Black and Dark Highland Green coat worn by the Mustang GT Fastback in the movie. There are some subtle chrome accents around the black front grille and windows, and red Brembo brakes, but the badging is purposely minimal – a faux gas cap with a Bullitt logo dead center rear the only indication of the vehicle’s commemorative, limited edition status.
“When making a Bullitt, there are certain things it absolutely must have,” said Carl Widmann, Mustang chief engineer. “It has to have the right attitude, it has to be unique in some way from a Mustang GT and, more than anything, it has to be badass.”
In filming the movie, Warner Brothers execs used two identical 1968 Mustang GT Fastbacks, one used by McQueen, the other essentially a stunt vehicle used for the dangerous jumps in the classic 10-minute car chase. The originals had 6.4-liter V8s under the hood mated to four-speed manuals. The engines were capable of 327 horsepower and 427 lb-ft of torque. They could turn a quarter mile in 13 seconds.
After filming, the stunt car was sent to a salvage yard in Baja, Calif., resurfacing early last year. The other, thought to be lost to history, recently resurfaced thanks to a private owner.
It was owned by Sean Kiernan, who inherited the vehicle in 2014 from his late father Robert. Kiernan contacted Ford officials, who revealed the original movie star car alongside the new 2019 Mustang Bullitt during the NAIAS here. Kiernan said it was never his family’s intention to keep the car under wraps.
“It just kind of happened,” Kiernan said. “I’m just completely buzzing to join with Ford and the new Bullitt and show this car to the world on one of the biggest automotive stages there is.”
While the movie “Bullitt” played a large part in building the Mustang legend, the pony car was popular from the get-go. The original was introduced at the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York on April 17, 1964. It was based on a 1962 vehicle called the Mustang I Concept, a two-seater that established the classic pony car proportions for the nameplate. Named after the legendary P51 Mustang fighter plane from World War II, the original sticker was just $2,368. But remember, back then the average cost for a gallon of gas was 30 cents and you could get a new house for around $13,050.
The very next year, the Shelby GT350 was rolled out, featuring a 289 V8 that put out 306 horsepower. Less than two years after the first Mustang’s introduction, sales passed the one million mark in March of 1966. In 1968, the 302 V8 replaced the 289 mid-year engine, and a medium-riser version of Ford’s premiere race engine, the 427 V8 rated at 390 horsepower, was offered as a $622 option.
1969 was another banner year in Mustang history, with Ford rolling out new models that included the Mach 1, Boss 302 and Boss 429, putting out 429 horsepower. In all, Ford offered 11 different powertrain combinations under the premise of providing a “steed for every need.”
The 70s saw a variety of model and powertrains added to the nameplate, including the Boss 351, one of the largest Mustangs ever built. In 1974, Ford rolled out the completely redesigned Mustang II, 19 inches shorter and 490 pounds lighter than previous models – and for the first time, there was now a V8 engine. Only a year later, V8 power returned in the form of a 302 cubic inch small block. In 1978, the new King Cobra was the first Mustang to wear the 5.0 badge, the metric equivalent of 302 cubic inches, in the form of a decal on its rear facing hood scoop. That same badge would return to the Mustang in 2011 with the introduction of the 5.0-liter Coyote V8.
Across the years, the Mustang nameplate has been synonymous with styling and performance innovations that have kept it at the very top of car enthusiasts’ most wanted lists. The 2019 Mustang Bullitt not only adds an exciting new chapter to a storied history, it will also likely become a highly collectible and coveted edition in the very near future.