I’m pretty sure I first saw that epic 1968 Steve McQueen movie Bullitt from the back of the old man’s pastel yellow, V8-powered Rambler Ambassador at the local Drive-In, with the audio coming in from a single speaker box hanging off the left front window.
It didn’t matter that the sound was horrendous or that my father demanded dead silence from the back stalls, because from that moment on I was 100 per cent hooked on the Highland Green Ford Mustang – specifically, the GT 390 Fastback, the exact version that McQueen, and his mate Bud Elkins drove in the movie.
The two scenes that sold me on the Mustang were the opening sequence off that iconic chase, where McQueen is about to blast up the first hill while struggling to find a gap in the traffic.
He’s absolutely steely-eyed and working the steering wheel hard as he opens it at full noise in pursuit, while the scene when he overshoots the corner as he’s chasing the Black Dodge Charger (two-door back then), and smokes the tyres as he’s in a full-throttle reverse. Awesome camera work.
Not so long after, and as luck would have it, my father’s business partner had just purchased a Highland Green Mustang Coupe, and even though it was a standard 289 V8 (not the fastback), it was still one of the coolest cars in Sydney at the time, and we were heading from Sydney to Canberra in it for the long weekend.
50 years later and I get the word that Ford is making a third-generation Mustang Bullitt and Ford Australia has got its hands on 700 examples only, but word on the street was that every one of them had been accounted for – seems I was a month too late. In fact, when I called the Ford PR guy and told him I wanted to buy one, he just laughed.
For the first time in my life I had the spare cash to buy a new car, but couldn’t get one for love or money. So, I did the only thing anyone could do in this unlikely predicament – I called a bunch of dealers and left my name with them in the unlikely event someone cancelled their order.
Worse still, the more I read about this new third-gen Bullitt, the more nervous I became. Devoid of all Ford and Mustang badging with a blacked-out grille, an intake manifold lifted straight from the Shelby GT350, a larger 87mm throttle body (up from 82), and an impressive open air box.
And if you thought the noise from the standard Mustang GT was decent, the Bullitt had an all-together different exhaust note thanks to a new active exhaust system acoustically designed to mirror that of the original GT 390 Fastback movie car – something which took the engineers over a year to get right, or so it was reported.
All-in-all, a unique Mustang experience and quite possibly the last of its kind given tightening emissions regulations and the global push towards electric vehicles – at least, that was my thinking at the time.
Weeks, if not months, went by before I finally got some good news from the mega Sydney dealership group, Peter Warren Automotive, who called to say that a customer had cancelled due to him not realising the Bullitt was only available with a manual transmission – meaning I could have his build slot, as long as I was prepared to put 1000 bucks down by close of business that same day.
It didn’t matter that I would also need to stump up another 3000 grand additional for the optional Recaro seats he chose as the only option available, either, as the car would be worth more for it in the long run. Done.
That was early 2018, and my Bullitt arrived a couple of weeks before Christmas that same year, just in time for an inaugural 1800-kilometre round trip from Sydney to the Gold Coast to see mum and the rest of the family. Well, that was the plan before I spoke with another well-informed colleague, Curt Dupriez, who threw another even larger spanner into the works.
Interestingly, a year later I was doing a trip from LA to Encinitas (near enough to San Diego), in the latest Wrangler Rubicon four-pot turbo (what a mistake not bringing that here), and called in to what is one of the oldest Ford Dealerships in California where they had the Bullitt on show next to the Shelby GT350 – and while I’m a massive Shelby fan and would love the extra grunt, I still reckon the Bullitt is more special.
Ford Australia’s list price for the Mustang Bullitt was $73,688 before on-road costs, then I had to add $3000 for the Recaro buckets, so that’s almost $77,000 plus on-roads, so call it 81-grand, give or take. At least, that’s what I thought I’d be paying.
But, when I got the call from Peter Warren Ford, the drive-away price was bang on $86,000 – but what can you do, I was lucky to get one, so I didn’t feel it was right or proper to haggle given the Bullitt’s limited availability in Australia – just 700 examples, and each one of them in Dark Highland Green, though US buyers could also get Shadow Black.
For those that missed out, who knows if there will ever be another Mustang Bullitt, given I’m just not sure if the movie lives on in the eyes of the young drivers these days. I hope I’m wrong and there’s an all-new fourth-generation model on the way – but I’m not sure an EV version would work.
Nevertheless, for Aussie Ford fans still keen on a genuine muscle car – the Mustang Mach 1 is simply outstanding in ability to thrill those behind the wheel. Dynamically, it’s noticeably superior to the Bullitt out of the box in every way, as well as being another fine nod to heritage from the same era and for around the same coin.
Overall, pretty good. I always had a single point of contact from the time I paid my $1000 deposit, after which I received various notification mails advising me of where the car was throughout the build and shipping process.
The moment I knew my car was on a boat and bound for Australia, I advised the dealer that I would not be collecting the car from the dealership, as it would be going on a truck down to Herrod Performance in Melbourne.
They were more than happy to help that process along before assisting with personalised plates, registration and the first year’s car insurance.
I also informed them that I wouldn’t be servicing the car at Warwick Farm as it was too far from where I lived, and again they understood that.
What I’ve added
From someone who had only ever modified their first car – a Ford Cortina with three on the tree – with those classic K-Mac orange sway bars and some fatter tyres (DIY) I was about to drop another $8k purely on a recommendation from my colleague, Curt Dupriez, who mentioned Melbourne-based Ford Performance guru, Rob Herrod of Herrod Performance, was modding Mustang GTs.
Originally, all I wanted to do was replace the cheap ‘Torq Thrust’ knock-off wheels for a set of modern-day originals from American Racing.
For all kinds of reasons, that just wasn’t possible, but Rob was importing Black multi-spoke forged alloys from another manufacturer in the US which meant I could also upgrade from 19- to 20-inch wheels, along with fatter 305s (up from 275s) down back and 275s up front, still using Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres on the new wheels.
Rob also mentioned his handling package – which he said they’ve had a lot of success with on the Mustang GT – that claims to transform the cornering ability, without compromising ride compliance.
It calls for the stock springs and sway bars to be swapped out for thicker Ford Performance parts, as well as a recalibration of the MagneRide adaptive damping, which I promptly agreed to. No discounts.
The plan was to get the car back a week before Christmas so I could make the trip up north, where my younger brother also had his genuine ’69 Mach 1 in his garage, complete with a Cobra engine and the loudest exhaust outside a Funny Car at the drag strip.
Thankfully, Rob, his son Chris, and the crew got the car completed.
After a quick chat and the all-important money transfer, I was on a flight to Melbourne knowing that I had to keep these magic enhancements to the car concealed from the good wife for a little while longer. Not proud of that, but along with the initial purchase of the Bullitt, it would have been too big of a pill to swallow at the time.
Feedback from others
Pretty much every time I take the Bullitt out, I get locals in my street coming out onto the road to stop me for a ride.
Only last week this happened. People are all smiles whenever I drive by – you don’t often get that kind of reaction even driving supercars – except maybe, a McLaren.
Others I’ve taken for a ride have been immediately motivated to order a Mustang GT – based on the noise and the manual shifter, if only they could get a Bullitt, because all are obsessed with the Highland Green Paint job.
How it drives
Here’s the thing – the Bullitt handled and rode well straight out of the box, but either way, I was expecting a noticeable improvement despite my car now riding one-inch lower than a regular Mustang Bullitt.
But, that test would come soon enough. First, I wanted to stand and stare at the physical transformation that had Herrod had created here.
The extra-fat rubber at the rear is a visual standout and the perfect accompaniment to the lower ride height on 20-inch wheels. This is definitely the ticket, I thought.
Time to get moving. Right from the get-go, it felt different to the press car I had driven previously. Tighter, more composed and thoroughly more planted when I gave it a moderate squirt to join the Hume. Oh yes, this was a different Mustang Bullitt to anything else I’d seen or driven.
Just the fact I didn’t have to look at those cheap Chinese knock-off wheels put a smile on my face. Moreover, this was a tougher stance all round. Menacing almost, especially in concert with the specially-honed exhaust wide open in Race Track mode to play its loudest rendition of the original movie car soundtrack.
All I wanted now was to chase a Hellcat up and down San Francisco’s hills now that I had the ultimate handling set up, which led me to another thought. It’s at that moment I truly wanted to turn around and head back to Rob’s workshop and get the 400mm cross-drilled brake package and supercharger kit he offered, but I kept going north for fear of my more fiscally-responsible half if word got out.
There’s nothing like driving a proper manual transmission with vintage-like cue-ball shifter that seems to fit perfectly in your left hand, while paired with a moderately-weighted clutch. However truth be told, I’d much prefer the Tremec box from the latest Mach 1 than the Getrag unit in the Bullitt, as it feels so much more robust and precise at the same time.
That said, the rev-match function is brilliant, and you’ll soon enable it in favour of heel-and-toe shifting (as I did) given its infallible throttle blips at precisely the right moment, regardless of how late you leave the gearchange.
The steering could be more communicative, though, (it surely is in the Mach 1), and that’s after the Herrod Performance treatment. You can really hustle the Mach 1 though challenging bends with a fine degree of communication you just don’t get in the Bullitt. That’s a real pity in my view.
I don’t drive it all that much these days given my job of reviewing new cars each week, but once or twice, prior to this current Sydney lockdown (will it ever end), I’ve had the opportunity to properly mix it up on some great roads behind an i30 N hatchback driven properly quick.
I’m pleased to say my Herrod-modded Bullitt was more than up to the task in the handling department. In fact, the harder you push, the more the car hunkers down and carves up the bends.
But, when the road opened up, it was ‘no contest’, thanks to the power and torque of the Mustang’s wonderfully sonorous 5.0-litre V8 at full cry.
Honestly, the grip this enhanced Mustang generates now, is uncanny, as is its ability to carry blistering pace through the more challenging corners. You can also get on the throttle much earlier for the exits. It feels as composed as the Mach 1 – perhaps even more so, but without the level of feedback on turn-in.
Nevertheless, even as a daily, the Bullitt is a dream, and that includes stop/start peak-hour driving or just pottering around in third all day. It’s the same story with long hauls like my 1800km round trip up north.
Once you’ve cleared Metropolitan Sydney, you just use set the adaptive cruise and pass the time away with CarPlay, because these Recaro seats offer superb long-range comfort even if they mean you lose the heating and cooling functions that come with the standard seats.
Cabin and tech thoughts
A mix of retro and modern – remembering this generation of Bullitt came out in 2018. Things have moved on quite a bit since then, particularly with screens and dash layouts.
It’s not luxurious in any way shape or form, while being a long way off Euro equivalents at this price point, but there is plenty of leather upholstery about the cabin as well as all the usual mod-cons which we all consider mandatory inclusions these days.
Mind, the leather is substandard compared to anything from Europe and Korea these days.
Standard kit includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen without the glass-backed clarity you get in Volkswagens costing less than half this price, but Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system is both reliable and responsive.
Apple CarPlay works well, particularly when you’re continuously switching between music, podcasts, messaging and phone apps as you tend to do during long stints behind the wheel.
The Mustang’s customisable 12-inch all-digital driver’s display is a decent feature, too, offering several instrument and gauge configurations, as well as a shift-light bar, which only goes live at around 4000rpm or above. Consider it as instant gratification for giving it a proper nudge.
There’s also ambient lighting, front and rear parking sensors, a 12-speaker, 1000-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system (must be low-end because the speaker grills are plastic), an auto-dimming rear-view mirror as well as auto LED headlights and wipers.
While the boot will swallow a full-size suitcase and then some, don’t try getting into those back seat bench seats unless you’re reasonably short and very flexible. It’s a hassle either way and only for short rides.
Apart from that, there’s just enough space inside the cabin for odd and ends, with a cooled centre console bin providing the only reasonable space to hold phones, wallets and keys, besides the glovebox.
Have any issues or faults cropped up?
No, not one. It’s only got 7400kms on the clock, but its due for a service despite the low kays.
The Bullitt is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
It had a complimentary service at 3000km, and another service at 4777kms in 2020 at a cost of $400.
But, given the car now has a total of 7400km on the clock I haven’t serviced the car since, but do give it a run at least twice a month for 20 minutes or so.
As much as I crave for a Shelby GT350R or even a Mach 1, I wouldn’t swap the Bullitt for either. Too much of my youth and heritage are tied up in this car.
I still love it every time I get behind the wheel and make some noise and watch the smiles as I go by.
I still want that Shelby, though, if they ever do a RHD version.
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