The Bullitt Mustang is the coolest Pony Car | Axon’s Automotive Anorak

10th May 2024
Gary Axon

Among the many planned 60th anniversary celebrations this year to mark the hugely successful introduction of the first Ford Mustang in April 1964, Goodwood added its memorable contribution to the birthday festivities a few weeks ago at the 81st Members’ Meeting by devoting an entire race to the notchback version of the cult Pony car.


A grid full of booted Mustangs of a type that raced up to 1966 with the entertaining Ken Miles Cup. The 45-minute, two-driver race, was named to honour the Sutton Coldfield-born driver and mechanic most famous for helping to turn the Ford GT40 into a three-time Le Mans winner, as well as making the Mustang an effective race car. Numerous Shelby Mustang GT350 fastbacks also competed in the Graham Hill Trophy race at the Members’ Meeting.

After the excitement of Goodwood, I attended a smaller but calmer local classic car meeting, which also featured a healthy stable of Mustangs to mark the American Ford’s 60th birthday. One of the undoubted stars of this strong gathering was a recently recreated 1968 Mustang GT350 fastback. Painted in metallic Highland Green, it was a very convincing ‘homage’ to the famous Mustang driven by Steve McQueen’s gritty Californian detective Frank Bullitt in the 1968 movie Bullitt, in arguably one of the most celebrated cinematic car chases of all time.

The winning combination of an unfazed actor such as McQueen, in an equally cool coupé helped to give the Mustang instant appeal and added to its enviable longer-term legacy.  The famous Bullitt car chase sequence inevitably gave the Mustang cult status. Already a run-away success from the moment it was first unveiled in 1964 – the fastest-selling new car model in American history no less – the Mustang was a proven winner by the time it appeared in Bullitt in fastback GT form four years later, chasing a couple of baddies in a black Dodge Charger around the undulating streets of San Francisco.


This remarkable chase sequence sealed the Mustang’s cult status and lead to numerous accurate Bullitt-inspired lookalikes being built, such as the immaculate example I spotted last weekend. The popularity and fame that the Mustang achieved in ‘that’ car chase even prompted Ford itself to mark the importance and impact of the car.

Firstly, for the European launch of its new Fiesta-based Ford Puma coupé, where an attention-grabbing 1997 TV advert used cleverly edited vintage film footage of the now late McQueen driving the new Puma coupé around the familiar streets around the familiar streets of San Francisco.

The TV ad even saw McQueen reversing the new Puma into a garage with his Highland Green Mustang GT parked up in the background, plus a matt khaki Triumph Trophy motorcycle (like the one rode in the Great Escape), all set to the laidback jazzy soundtrack of the familiar Bullitt musical theme.


Spurred on by the incredibly popular reaction to its multiple award-winning Puma/Bullitt television commercial, in 2001 Ford resurrected the Bullitt theme again with the launch of a special edition Model Year 2002 Mustang Bullitt.

Based around a standard Mustang GT, this model sported the same Highland Green metallic paint, but had a torquier top-end performance delivery, thanks to a new aluminium intake, twin 57mm throttle bodies, and a free-flow exhaust to give much sharper acceleration. Lowered suspension and a sympathetic smattering of new cosmetic and trim pieces were all aimed at evoking the late ‘60s feel of the movie’s original 427 Mustang GT 390 fastback.

Ford also created a Bullitt-inspired ad for the new special edition 2002 Mustang Bullitt, with Steve McQueen’s son (Chad) taking to the wheel of the latest model to drive the same San Francisco route as his father had used in the 1968 film for that infamous car chase.


Steve McQueen famously did all of the driving in the film, as did the actor playing the bad guy in the menacing black Dodge Charger. Ahead of shooting the carefully choreographed chase scene, the pair trained locally at the SCCA’s Golden Gate Race Circuit in the San Francisco region. It would eventually set the benchmark for edge-of-the-seat movie car chases.

Overall the car chase runs for approximately 9:40, without any dialogue, just the sound of the duo’s throaty Detroit V8s providing the intoxicating soundtrack. The sound of McQueen’s 427 Mustang was allegedly recorded from a Ford GT40 with open exhausts. McQueen appears to shift though too many gears during the chase, as the Mustang he was driving had a manual ‘four-on-the-floor’ gear shift, while the GT40 had a five-speed gearbox.


By sheer coincidence, part way through last weekend’s local Port Solent classic car meeting, a late 1960s dark green Volkswagen Beetle arrived and parked up within a stone’s throw of the fake Bullitt Mustang replica. For those present and ‘in the know’, this was particularly amusing as it brought to mind the dawdling green Beetle that repeatedly appears during the Bullitt car chase. Its constant appearance as a slow-moving prop in the film is rather ironic, as Bullitt received the 1968 Academy Awards Oscar for Best Editing.

The whereabouts of the actual Highland Green Mustang GT350 used in the movie were unknown for many years, but once found, the car was briefly placed on display at America’s Car Museum, before it was subsequently sold at the Mecum Kissimmee auction in January 2020 for $3,740,000; a world record for a Ford Mustang at the time.

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