The scene is ten minutes and 53 seconds long and starts at the confluence of Columbus and Chestnut in the Fisherman’s Wharf district of San Francisco and the car chase which follows has become one of the most revered in movie history, earning itself a rightful place in the pantheon of automotive cinematographic highlights.
The scene features Lieutenant Frank Bullitt and his 1968 Dark Highland Green Ford Mustang 390 V8 GT (with 325 bhp) and a four speed manual ‘box, turning the tables on two Chicago mobsters and their 440 Magnum V8 Dodge Charger as the chasers become the chased and end up getting killed in a massive fireball.
Time magazine labelled the scene among the top 15 movie car chases of all time, describing it as “the one, the first, the granddaddy, the chase at the top of almost every list” while the movie appraisal website Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 97% approval rating and stated “Steve McQueen is cool as ice in this thrilling police procedural that also happens to contain arguably the greatest car chase ever”.
Auto-movie-istas might quibble that McQueen’s oft-panned and sadly mis-understood Le Mans movie was by far the better visual venture into the world of cars. The 1971 film produced some unbelievable ‘live’ footage and despite the almost complete absence of script and the maudlin love interest sub-plot, is thoroughly overwhelmed by the action on camera. Check it.
But back to 1968 and the massive popularity of Bullitt and its famous chase scene. Not alone did the movie do wonders for McQueen’s legend as an actor, but also hugely popularised the Mustang (despite the fact the stuntmen had to keep an easy foot on the throttle of the Dodge Charger throughout filming because it was so much quicker than the Ford) in ways the Blue Oval could hardly ever have envisioned.
Indeed, so successful was the film and its propagation of the myth of the Mustang that Ford built Bullitt versions of the car in 2001 and 2008, neither of which would have excited greatly unless you were into the hardcore Cobra or Roush examples.
But then Ford, late last year, unveiled a further commemorative version. Painting a 50th anniversary tag on the now three-year-old and hugely loved new Mustang, they’ve rustled-up this new Bullitt variant which comes as standard in Dark Highland Greed and adorned with no ‘Mustang’ badges whatsoever but rather a couple of tacky looking ‘bullseye target’ Bullitt badges.
That said, this car is meaner looking than a rabid dog and the combination of its colour scheme, black alloys, red brake calipers, black grille, and a front air-dam which looks like you could perform intricate surgery with it, so razor-sharp are its lines, give the car an air of menace that could give small children nightmares — or dreams.
The same applies to an interior characterised by the green back-lit digital instrumentation, the chunky enamelled control buttons, Recaro seats, white cue-ball gear knob, which add greatly to the car’s malicious intent.
You could quibble with the tawdry Bullitt icon on the steering wheel boss and the amount of scratchy plastics around the interior, but once you fire up the five-litre V8, those minor trivial details become irrelevant.
If the look of the car might frighten small children, then the sound and fury of it will have adults running for cover. Ford has given the standard car’s powerplant a bit of a makeover for this model and included stuff like more power, more torque, and a rev matching system on downshifts which automatically blips the throttle and which will startle anyone in you vicinity.
For sheer throaty appeal, this 460 bhp monster has few modern peers — for this sort of money, anyway — and while there may be those who will moan that the technology means that a little traditional heel-and-toeing is rendered redundant by the rev matching feature, the beguiling rasp on offer here will woo any petrolhead worth their salt.
Only offered with the six-speed manual ‘box, the Bullitt might seem a little underwhelming on the technology front (having to do without a ten-speed auto), but that is part of the intrinsic appeal. So too is that peak output is only achieved above the 7,000 rpm mark, so you really do have to be committed to extract the maximum from the car.
Unfortunately, such is the pulling power of the visual presence of the thing — not to mention the raucous soundtrack — this is not a car that’s going to fly under too many radars. It stands out like a gentile at a Bar Mitzvah. Thus, making it strut its stuff is more than difficult because of the ‘yikes’ nature of its looks.
Nevertheless, for those who need the opium of facts and figures, the Bullitt will do the 0-100km/h dash in 4.5 seconds and has a top speed of 264 kph, which is a tad over 160 mph in 1968 money.
Naturally as a five-litre, the V8 does have a guzzling problem and a support network of fuel tankers might be required because I can assure you that when it is under the hammer, it will return nothing like the claimed 12.4 l/100km (22.5 mpg). Which is, of course, as it should be.
While the car’s on-road manners might be necessarily firm, it is worth noting that the Bullitt will not put the fear of God into you because it is being driven by the rear wheels. Ford has equipped this car (as a three grand option) with its MagneRide suspension and damping system to help iron out lumpy surfaces and make the car a very hospitable companion.
Sure you will be able to burn rubber and get the tail out if you’re both brave and foolhardy at the same time, but, by and large, this is not a machine which is intent on killing you.
It is far from subtle, but it is not imbued with the sort of dark malevolence that will keep you awake at night.
As a limited-edition special, the Bullitt will not be for everyone and many will make a case for the ten-speed auto version of the 5.0 litre V8, but that is to miss the point of it.
Its future worth will be determined by its relative rarity and the fact that it pays homage to a machine that will live forever in the hearts of hardcore car fans.
With red-hot looks, an ice-cool character, and a level of street cred that is off the Richter scale, the Bullitt is certainly something to yearn for and Ford is to be praised to the high heavens for keeping alive an element of the spirit of motoring that we — in our all-too-PC and Nanny State world — are in danger of losing forever.
This car underscores the point that rock ‘n’ roll is nothing without the rock in it.
Certainly there are many quicker and more polished handlers around for the money, but none of them have the stage presence this thing has in spades. It has all the star quality and enduring appeal of a Hollywood A lister and that’s why it is so special.