Mustang stays No. 1 with a Bullitt
If ever there was an automobile that required a carton of unfilted Chesterfield Kings, a bad hangover and a police-issued shoulder holster as prerequisites to driving, it would be the 2008 Mustang Bullitt.
Raw, edgy, loud, chunky, gloriously unrefined and astoundingly muscular, it’s a modern take on the classic vehicle that seemed perfectly suited for the live-fast, die-relatively-young spirit of the late Steve McQueen and the memorable 1968 movie that now bedecks this special edition Mustang’s name.
Sadly, I did not get the chance to careen at 120 mph over the terraced streets of San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill as seen in what has become one of the most famous auto action movies of all time. But I did get to enjoy the Bullitt’s very loud and brutally fast nature. Brutal being the operative word.
The Bullitt starts life as a stock Mustang GT that, like Detective Frank Bullitt’s ’68 GT 390, has been stripped of bling (no pony on the plain black mesh grille, very few external markings).
And in the case of the ’08 model, it’s been reinforced with an upgraded, higher-revving 315-horsepower 4.6-liter V8 with a tuner-styled cold air box and a laundry list of chassis tweaks (new shocks and struts, a live rear axle and a 3.73:1 ratio) that turn it into a malevolent monster.
With a respectful attitude, the Bullitt can be driven like absolute hell, but one must realize the automobile’s limitations. All of that power (and 325 pound-feet of torque) is still a bucket-load for the approximately 3,500 pounds of boxy, upright sheet metal. And while the performance suspension is awesome on mountain curves and smooth streets, the Bullitt’s live axle and high-sprung shocks tends to make it hop like a boiled frog when taken over rutty pavement. Bury the throttle at an uneven intersection and you’ll get movie-styled air.
On more even pavement, the Bullitt’s distinctive handling dynamics come alive and can be cajoled into heroic motoring. My tester had the all-season version of the high-performance rubber standard on the machine and all of that kinetic energy frequently overtook the tires, especially when yanking the five-speed manual into second to prevent flying off of a cliff. Five-second 0-60 times and a 151-mph top speed are par for the course.
No matter what the driving surface, the Bullitt’s specially tuned exhaust note, blasted through a pair of mean-looking, glass-packed pipes, was wickedly nasty. In fact, it took a pretty legitimate effort to drive it at any point without fulsome cannonades of noise. Get into it a little too intensely, gripping that rigid, leather-covered wheel and heel-and-toeing the metal-covered pedals, and even you’ll have the brass to want to drag race the cops ” thinking perhaps they’ll appreciate your bravado. I won’t even mention the slip-and-slide-length strips of burned rubber you can deposit by merely feathering the clutch and disabling the stability control.
Bullitt’s special edition finery adds a healthy $5,000 to the GT’s tab but does seem worth it, especially for the collectors who appreciate the uniquely understated overstatement the car provides (just 7,700 will be produced). The car has lost its rear spoiler and much of its badging, save for a large crosshairs emblem on a faux fuel cap on the tail, but smoked grey metal wheels and that iconic Dark Highland Green color let fans know what they’re dealing with.
Inside, the Mustang’s plastic-heavy interior (which I’ve seen remain oddly plastic-heavy even on $90,000 custom jobs by Roush, Foose and Shelby) gets a bit of extra polish in aluminum plating on the dash, door sill plates and the heat-conducting aluminum shift knob ” wear gloves if you park the car in the sun.
There’s also a very silly lit cupholder which, with the touch of a button, changes color; the speedometer and tach (also featuring the crosshair logo) look like they’re straight out of a ’68.
An optional touchscreen navigation system seemed just a bit out of place but helped find new, lightly populated roads to travel, and the Shaker 500 stereo and satellite radio are available if you opt to listen to anything but exhaust. I never did.
I decided to crank the high-backed, black leather seats into performance driving position, ignore the shiny bits and motor away. The Bullitt seemed very fine to do just that.
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