2001 Mustang Bullitt GT First Drive

2001 Ford Mustang Coupe

(4.6L V8 5-speed Manual)

Retro...But Not Too Retro

There are those cynics who will dismiss the Mustang Bullitt as little more than a gussied-up GT, a pure marketing ploy...and we'd be hard-pressed to dissent. But, to give credit to Ford Motor Company, this limited-edition Mustang beckons to potential buyers with more than just an appearance package. A few key performance and handling modifications set this pretty boy just slightly apart from his pedestrian brothers.

The Mustang Bullitt derives its name, obviously enough, from the notorious film Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen and featuring a 1968 Mustang GT Fastback. Considered by many to feature some of the best car chase sequences ever filmed, the popular 1968 flick seemed like a logical basis for a Mustang concept vehicle. Overwhelming response to the concept version of the car presented at the 2000 Los Angeles International Auto Show was encouragement enough for Ford to put the modified pony into production.

While the 2001 Mustang Bullitt GT is undeniably more alike in appearance to the modern GT than it is to the 1968 model immortalized on celluloid, unique exterior enhancements do tie it to its ancestor. And that's a good thing. Sleekness was key in the Bullitt's design, and as a result, the model offers a refreshing change from the rest of the busy, bespoilered GTs running all over town these days.

Designers intended the Bullitt to look ominous in the rearview mirror, so all attempts were made to give it a clean, purposeful and aggressive personality. The suspension has been dropped three-quarters of an inch so that it hunkers down a bit more than other GT coupes. Clean rocker-panel moldings add to the low-to-the-ground effect, and the C-pillars and quarter-panel molding have been modified to distinguish the Bullitt further. The visage of approaching menace was achieved with a blackened grille and the purposeful absence of foglights. A rear spoiler is not available on the Bullitt, so that nothing interferes with its svelte design. Except, that is, for the brushed aluminum fuel filler door so prominently displayed on the quarter-panel. Seventeen-inch Torq-Thrust-style wheels come standard with the Bullitt package. Finally, Bullitt badging and polished, rolled tailpipe tips ensure that no spectators confuse this vehicle with an ordinary GT.

But beauty is only sheet metal-deep, and even the most brilliant marketing campaign won't save a vehicle that can't back up its looks with suitable hardware. Powering the Bullitt GT is the same 4.6-liter SOHC V8 found in the regular GT, but it's been modified to improve airflow. As a result, the Bullitt coaxes out an additional 5 horsepower, bringing peak output to 265 horsepower at 5,000 rpm. Torque has likewise been upped a smidgen to 305 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm. Better throttle response was a number one goal for engineers, so Bullitt gets the same 57-mm twin bore throttle body found in the SVT Cobra, as opposed to the 65-mm single bore in the Mustang GT. A new cast aluminum intake manifold allows for more low-range torque than the GT, making for grin-inducing pull off the line. While go power was more than adequate -- after all, it would be near blasphemy to defame the V8 that powers the venerable GT, despite the fact that the Mustang has been trailing the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird in this department since the mid-90s -- we'd like to see output bumped to at least 300 horsepower, in keeping with the spirit and image of the Bullitt name.

The Bullitt package graces the Mustang GT with 13-inch Brembo front rotors (identical to those found on the SVT Mustang Cobra), and red-painted calipers peek through the Bullitt's five-spoke wheels. The exhaust note has been carefully tuned to echo that of the '68 fastback's in the film. This was achieved using high-flow mufflers. While the retro grunt and groan supplies an initial head rush, it becomes persistent and tiresome at highway speeds.

Bullitt's three-quarter-inch-lowered suspension allows for precise handling, as do re-valved Tokico struts and shocks, unique stabilizer bars front and rear and subframe connectors. Cornering action is exceptionally flat, and steering is typical Mustang -- quick and communicative. However, the stiffer suspension makes for a harsher ride over bumps than in the Mustang GT.

Mustang Chief Program Engineer Art Hyde claims the Bullitt to be the best performing GT Ford has ever produced. The stainless steel pedal covers have been rearranged to allow the driver easy access to heel-and-toe driving techniques, thus maximizing the Bullitt's performance potential. Unfortunately, Ford didn't modify the placement of the shifter while they were at it -- it still feels as if it is too far forward of the driver, which feels unnatural at first and requires some acclimation.

Inside, numerous styling cues associate the Bullitt with its famed progenitor. Dark charcoal leather-trimmed bucket seats, brushed aluminum accents and Bullitt nomenclature on the door sills keep with its performance-oriented theme, and the retro '60s gauge script distinguishes it as a derivative of the '68 GT Fastback. Those gauges light up in white, by the way, as opposed to the mundane green illumination in the ordinary GT.

The Bullitt package adds $3,695 to the MSRP for the base Mustang GT, bringing the total price tag up to about $27,000. Considering the notable drivetrain enhancements and additional hardware -- not to mention the seductively svelte design -- of the Bullitt, that's not a hard number to swallow. The Bullitt is available in True Blue, Black and, of course, Dark Highland Green -- the same color as the original and a hue only available with the Bullitt package. Only 6,500 serialized Mustang Bullitts will be produced, so smitten consumers are well advised to get on the horn to Ford ASAP.

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