2020 Bullitt Mustang ideal for the Steve McQueen in all of us

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A 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback and a 2004 Pontiac Aztek are as far apart on the automotive spectrum as possible — with one exception.

With a few dozen other vehicles — an Aston Martin DB5 to AMC Pacer and a Plymouth Fury to Pontiac Trans AM — the Mustang and Aztek are cultural icons.

The 2020 Bullitt Mustang represents the spirit of the iconic Ford driven by Steve McQueen in the 1968 movie Bullitt.
The 2020 Bullitt Mustang represents the spirit of the iconic Ford driven by Steve McQueen in the 1968 movie Bullitt. All images © Gretchen Gaither/2020

Younger automotive and movie enthusiasts may only know the Aztek from the “Breaking Bad” series on Netflix or a Toyota MK IV Supra from the movie “The Fast and the Furious.” But the Bullitt Mustang, released in three time frames in the past 20 years, dates to the 1968 movie “Bullitt.”

Bullitt Mustang: Relevant Then, Now

Actor Steve McQueen epitomized coolness as Police detective Frank Bullitt. With his black turtleneck sweater, open chocolate-brown blazer and gun in a shoulder holster, Bullitt chased criminals around San Francisco. The film’s seven-minute, high-speed, climactic chase scene showcases the Mustang chasing a 1968 Dodge Charger 440 Magnum.

More than 50 years later, the footage remains as relevant as any movie car chase scene. It’s also the impetus for Ford to sell more Mustangs of different variants as homages to the increasing legend of the original car.

Sometimes called the “Holy Grail” of muscle cars, it sold in January for $3.4 million at a Mecum Auction in Florida.

The 2019-2020 model debuted at the 2018 North American International Auto Show, with McQueen’s granddaughter Molly as the presenter. It’s still available and attracts plenty of attention, particularly with Dark Highland Green exterior paint as featured in the movie and of which only 3,041 of the original were made. Shadow Black is also available, but why bother?

Muscle car enthusiasts don’t always prioritize value. But the Bullitt Mustang qualifies. It features a 5.0-liter, 480 horsepower V8. It’s only available with the six-speed manual transmission operated with another ode to the original — a cueball shift knob. 

The Bullitt Mustang had a starring role in movie chase scenes in Bullitt filmed on the streets of San Francisco.
The Bullitt Mustang had a starring role in movie chase scenes in the 1968 movie Bullitt. It was filmed on the streets of San Francisco and also starred Steve McQueen.

There’s also further coolness with automatic rev-matching. Acceleration from 0-to-60 takes 4.6 seconds. Gas mileage averages are 14 miles per gallon in city driving, 23 mpg on the freeway.

The appropriately named Mustang Performance Pack 1 further feeds performance and engineering enthusiasts’ wonts. Six-piston brakes, a stiffer suspension, an uprated radiator, extra chassis bracing and thicker anti-roll bars add to the fun. 

Multiple choice ambient lighting is included but there’s also plenty of plastic. There’s a 12-inch digital instrument cluster with lots of gauge layouts, functions and toggles. There’s a healthy-sized trunk but its access is hampered by substantial liftover.

Despite its performance bravado, the Bullitt Mustang is understated. The exterior is complemented by a black leather interior and Recaro bucket seats. Technology and infotainment systems are more than adequate and the upgraded sound system plays its part well.

Further impressive, there’s little badging beyond the Bullitt insignias and Mustang icon on the wheels. The words Ford or Mustang are absent. Projection lights showcase the Mustang image at night below the driver and passenger doors.

Simultaneously a beast and stealth, the Bullitt Mustang weighs 3,705 pounds and has heavy, cumbersome doors. Still, the Mustang slices along the road with 420 lb-ft. of torque. It’s a lot of car for a starting MSRP of $46,705 and about $52,000 as driven with destination fee and gas-guzzler tax.

Channeling Steve McQueen isn’t required and nor is wearing a black turtleneck and brown blazer. But why not have some fun? The mothball smell will quickly fade while you’re chasing some imaginary bad guys or just driving along on a winding country road. 

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