You can’t objectively review a car such as the Mustang Bullitt, so I won’t even try to. After all, it’s not really a car as such. It’s more of a replica movie prop, a recreation like those replica Star Trek phasers, or those plastic lightsabers that whirr and whoosh as you wave them around, pretending to be a farm-boy from a galaxy far, far away.

The Mustang Bullitt is like that, just from a lot closer to home. It’s a four-wheeled, V8-powered homage to a classic cop thriller, to the original Hollywood car chase, and to one of the coolest actors ever to strut across the silver screen.

Steve McQueen was already a megastar by 1968. He’d starred in such stone-cold classics as The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape by then, but Bullitt would be a departure for him. It was a film built almost entirely around McQueen, around his moody, mesmerising stillness. Not for Bullitt the fast-talking con-man stylings of The Great Escape’s Captain Hilts. No, Frank Bullitt (either the best or worst-named film cop of all time, depending on your perspective) was the strong, silent type. Indeed, so quietly spoken is McQueen during the film, and so little does he say, that surely no Hollywood megastar had so few lines in a film until Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator.

That’s the odd thing about Bullitt. It’s a very slow-moving, almost turgid at time, police procedural. Almost no-one remembers the plot (McQueen’s Bullitt must protect a high-ranking mafia wise guy, who’s turned state’s evidence, but the man is killed, and so a conspiracy begins to unravel) mostly because it’s byzantine and confusing, and all the characters mumble so much that it’s really hard to keep track of what’s going on. In fact, Bullitt seems to consist mostly of McQueen looking moodily at the camera, giving us all sorts of signals of tortured manliness, but not much about what’s actually happening in the story.

 

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We remember Bullitt, fifty years on from its original release, because of the car chase.

An outrageously-named police detective must have suitable transport, of course, and McQueen’s choice for Frank Bullitt’s wheels was a 1968 Ford Mustang GT390. That means it had a 6.3-litre, 325hp V8 engine, which was of course was further tweaked for filming. Two cars, both finished in the iconic Highland Green paint, were used — one was a stunt car, fitted with beefed-up suspension so that it could tackle the famous jumps and leaps over San Francisco’s hills. The other was a visually-pristine ‘hero’ car for McQueen to be filmed driving.

Together with director Peter Yates, stunt co-ordinator Carey Loftin and stunt drivers Bud Eakins, Bill Hickman and Carey Loftin (who did most of the doubling for McQueen) put together an unforgettable, kinetic and above all loud ten-minute chase sequence with which every action film since has been trying, and usually failing, to compete.

The legends of the chase are numerous — the continuity errors, the geographical impossibility of the route used, the fact that the Ford Galaxies originally provided for the bad guys’ car couldn’t cope with the jumps and had to be replaced by the now-iconic black Dodge Charger. And above all the fact that, however much or little of the actual driving he was doing, McQueen and the Mustang looked great together.

So it’s appropriate that, in 2018, fifty years on, Ford has found the original ‘hero’ Mustang from the movie, thought lost to a scrapyard, but actually owned by Sean Kiernan, who inherited the car in 2014 from his late father, Robert, who had purchased the vehicle in 1974. The original Bullitt car has been pressed into service this year to help publicise the new Bullitt, based on the just-revised Ford Mustang 5.0 V8 GT coupe.

 

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The new car looks the part, that’s for sure. The Highland Green paint is present and correct, and arguably suits the car better than any of the standard Mustang colour options. The grille has been de-badged for a more glowering effect, while almost all the Ford and Mustang badges have been replaced by white-on-black Bullitt crosshair logos. There’s a numbered plaque on the dash (it’s not strictly speaking a limited edition, but Ford won’t be making too many of these), green backgrounds for the digital instrument pack and a white, cue-ball shifter for the six-speed manual gearbox. No automatic option, no engine available other than the V8. Just as McQueen would (probably) have wanted it.

There’s more power, too. The Bullitt has new throttle bodies and some other engine mods to give it 460 horses compared to the standard Mustang V8’s 450. In fact, Ford’s people quietly say that 460 is a worst-case homologation figure, taken with low-octane fuel. Put some good stuff in the tank and it’s probably more like 475…

Fifty years on, McQueen is still making a star of the Ford Mustang.

You probably don’t care how it actually drives (would you care about the balance of a reproduction lightsaber?), but actually the news is mostly good on that front. The engine is fabulous — the noise is exactly as boisterous and loud as a car such as this should sound, the gearshift is heavy and meaty and if the chassis responses aren’t Porsche-precise (they’re really, really not) then you can sure have lots of fun. Just make sure to use a classical slow-in, fast-out technique and the Bullitt can make staggeringly quick progress across country.

The Mustang Bullitt doesn’t actually do anything that the regular Mustang can’t do equally well, but it looks and acts the part of the cinematic cop car, and that makes it undeniably, irretrievably, unquestionably, cool.

Fifty years on, McQueen is still making a star of the Ford Mustang.