After weeks of rumors, Ford took the casing off its latest version of the Mustang Bullitt. Inspired by the iconic movie starring Steve McQueen, the 2019 version is the third iteration in the production car series that pays homage to the mechanical star of one of the greatest chase scenes in Hollywood history.
We have done it twice before, so we tried to stick to the same tried and true formula. — Hau Tai Tang, Ford
Based on the second-gen S550 Mustang, this car follows a familiar recipe of understated performance that began with the first iteration back in 2001 and the follow-up in 2008. With that track record in mind, Ford’s team felt quite comfortable applying the retro-themed package to the thoroughly modern Mustang.
As you know from our introductory story, the Bullitt is based on a Performance Pack Level 1 Mustang GT, but it adds some upgrades that move it ahead of that car in many ways. Here are the five most significant features that set the Bullitt apart…
5. Classic Style
“We have done it twice before, so we tried to stick to the same tried and true formula, which includes a lot of editing,” Hau Tai Tang, executive vice president of Product Development and Purchasing, said. “…How do you de-badge and strip the car down but still give it the aura, personality, and performance of Bullitt. Once you get to drive it, hopefully it is reminiscent of what Scott Hoag did with the first one and what we did with the second one.”
In fact, some of the nods to classic styling already in place on the current Mustang actually lend themselves a retro package like the Bullitt.
“When we started with the ’15 journey, everyone looked at the body style and, in the back of their minds, sort of knew that the Bullitt car would look fantastic in this body with the Fastback design,” Mark Schaller, Mustang Brand Manager, said. “We take those cues from the original car, but we have learned that it’s got to stay modern. You’ve got to push forward, but a lot of the key things that people recognize as Bullitt, we had to be sure to integrate — Dark Highland Green, a little bit of chrome accent, the Torq Thrust-style wheels, etc.”
Those facets are quite obvious, but we took the time to corral several members of the Ford team to look beyond the superficial changes to learn what makes the 2019 Mustang Bullitt a higher caliber steed than its GT cousins.
4. Street Heat
“It is a great time to be a Mustang fan. Your Mustang GT is no slouch, and you move up to the Performance Packs,” Mark enthused. “This would be ahead of the Performance Packs, but not to the level of the Shelbys.”
This car is not a track car. It is a fun-to-drive car. — Mark Schaller, Ford
When we spoke to the Ford team, the thing that ran true is that the Bullitt is designed as the ultimate street Mustang. It is not dialed in for the road course like the Performance Pack Level 2, nor is it dialed in for low e.t.’s at the drag strip like a Mustang GT with an automatic and Drag Strip mode engaged, as the new Bullitt is a driver’s car with a manual transmission as the only option.
“This car is not a track car. It is a fun-to-drive car when you are driving through the canyons. It’s got that look when you pull up to a stoplight that has people looking over at you, but it also handles well,” Mark said. “If you think about what the car did in the movie, it was all about racing through the streets of San Francisco. You’ve got to have a good-handling car to do that.”
3. Package Deal
As seems to be the modus operandi for Bullitt development, the latest version had to come together in a hurry. Likewise, the engine team has repeatedly been asked to squeeze more power out of the Coyote engine platform that they felt was pretty maxed out at 412 horsepower back when it debuted in 2011.
It’s such a big piece of the Bullitt to get the power and sound together, so getting the intake manifold, throttle body, and open air inlet was a win-win… — Carl Widmann, Ford
“We’ve got to get something out of the engine. We’ve got to make it sound different, kind of like what we did in 2008,” Mustang vehicle engineering manager Tom Barnes said. “So, to the engine team, we said, ‘What can we do? How can we get this power up?’ Every time we go back to them, just like the last time, they say, ‘We can’t do any more,’ but we say ‘No, you gotta do more.’”
“Steve McQueen is a legend. And Bullitt is a legend as well as the famous dark green Ford Mustang he drifted through San Francisco,” Martin C. Klein, head of Recaro Automotive Seating, said. “Recaro is a perfect fit and we are honored to deliver our equally legendary performance seats for the limited-edition Ford Mustang Bullitt.”
To tie these supportive seats into the theme, the company utilized the Bullitt color palette to tie the interior and exterior together.
“Perfectly matching the limited Mustang Bullitt’s exterior colors Shadow Black and the classic Dark Highland Green, the Recaro driver and passenger seats come with black leather trim and unique green accent stitching,” the company says. “Recaro enhances the overall seat design and performance with unique foam, cushion and side bolstering, achieving a seat contour that amplifies the riding experience and helps to eliminate body fatigue. The integrated headrest features the brand’s distinctive, racing-inspired pass-through harness bezels.”
To do more and do it in a hurry, the engineer reached for some hardware that was already proven. They tweaked the 2015-2018 Shelby GT350 intake manifold to fit the new dual-fuel Coyote and fed it with a new 87mm throttle body, and an open air box for both airflow and sound. The smaller throttle body, along with a fastidious calibration, also likely helps the engine retain the GT’s 420 lb-ft of torque while pushing the horsepower 15 higher to 475.
“It’s such a big piece of the Bullitt to get the power and sound together, so getting the intake manifold, throttle body, and open air inlet was a win-win from a technology standpoint to get the best that we can get out of the PFDI,” Carl Widmann, Mustang chief engineer, explained. “When you combine those and do all the tuning, so when someone gets the car they are getting a really custom job because it is integrated with an active exhaust.”
So, while the Shelby intake, cold air, and throttle body are available from Ford Performance Parts in a package with a calibration, this combo is tuned to work with the smaller throttle body and the factory Active Valve Performance Exhaust, the latter off which actually contributes to a bit more power on any Mustang optioned with it.
“If you look at the active exhaust, it offers a performance improvement over non-active, especially when you go wide-open throttle because you are basically going straight through back there, so the back pressure goes down. It is a measurable difference,” Tom said.
In the case of the Bullitt, the noise, vibration, and harshness engineers loosened up their ties and gave this version of the Mustang a more muscular sound than even the GT with the active system.
“They have given it a signature sound,” North America SUV Communications Manager Dan Jones, who was assigned to Mustang during the Bullitt’s development, said. “So, if you think the Mustang GT sounds good, they have given this one has got even more of this burble, a really deep throaty sound. It’s going to be epic.”
2. Stable Stallion
The car definitely sounds epic. While gushing about the high-speed stability of the new Bullitt, Mike Del Zio reminisced about a time that it truly helped keep him safe. You may remember that Mike is the aero specialist who helped improve the 2018 Mustang’s performance and efficiency with a piece of duct tape.
The under-car aerodynamics of the Bullitt are shared with the Performance Pack Level 1, but the true magic that helps the car hit a new speed target is in the grille opening.
Mike further enhanced the Bullitt’s stability with a new lower grille, and it definitely did the job. While testing the car’s high-speed prowess on the oval inside Ford’s Romeo Proving Grounds, four deer galloped toward the track in pairs. Mike was able to steer between them at high speed and live to engineer another day.
We definitely sense a delightful trend of customization coming the Mustang and other Fords courtesy of these new digital instrument clusters, which allow tweaking the look and feel of the dashboard through software.
“When you start the car, and it only comes with the 12-inch digital dash, it comes up with a Dark Highland car, and it’s a nice subtle touch to the car,” Tom said. “If you go into MyColor, it’s got Highland Green, so you can set it up that way. It just ensures that you know this is something special.”
In this case, the changes were driven by more than just style. The Bullitt is faster than the Mustang GT, which meant revamping more than the start-up screen and adding a color.
Since it is based on the Performance Pack Level 1, the Bullitt includes the Brembo brakes, Michelin summer tires, limited-slip differential, 3.73 gears and extra gauges as standard. Also standard is the uniquely tuned Active Valve Performance Exhaust, as well as the induction and tuning updates covered elsewhere in this story.
In keeping with its simple theme, the latest Bullitt is only available with three options: leather Recaro seats, MagneRide suspension, and the Bullitt Electronics Package. The latter bundles BLIS, Cross-Traffic Alert, memory mirrors, memory seats, and navigation.
The only other choice you have to make is between the de rigueur Highland Green and Shadow Black. Green will clearly be the most popular choice, but the black could be rarer and more valuable down the line.
“What we did, since we have a higher VMAX, we changed that around so you can get up to 160-plus, so we had to redo the gauges through the three different screens…” Carl said.
In fact, what’s most impressive about the 2019 Mustang Bullitt is its top speed of 163 mph. This is the fastest non- SVT or Shelby Mustang yet — not to be confused with the quickest — which is likely still the automatic-option 2018+ Mustang. When it comes to flat-out speed, however, the Bullitt blasts through rare air. Though it doesn’t approach the 202-mph standard set by the 2013-2014 Shelby GT500, it will outrun both the current Mustang GT and the vaunted 2012-2013 Boss 302, which tap out at 155 mph. It even narrowly edges the supercharged, 540-horsepower 2010 Shelby GT500 which reaches its limit at 162 mph.
So, now you know there is more to the latest Bullitt than Highland Green paint and a few badges. There is still more to learn before the pony car hits the streets, particularly how much it will cost, but we excited to get behind the wheel and see what it drives like for real as we already drove it virtually at the North American International Auto show…