EXPERT REVIEW

The Detroit News's view

It’s a powerful pop-culture mix when you pair a movie with a great car. So it’s no wonder that lots of male baby boomers look back with nostalgia on the 1968 movie Bullitt, which starred Steve McQueen and a 1968 Mustang GT 390 fastback.

The movie is notable for its eight-minute chase scene through the streets of San Francisco. The bad guys are in a Dodge Charger. And, of course, McQueen and his Mustang triumph. To capitalize on those memories, Ford is offering the limited-edition 2001 Mustang Bullitt GT. Ford will build only 6,500 Bullitt GTs, at a base price of $26,230.

Anita got to retrace McQueen’s movie route in San Francisco in a Bullitt. Later, we both drove the retro coupe on our home turf in Detroit.

She: The Bullitt’s appeal seems to cross generations. The 18-year-old University of Dayton student we encountered at the local gas station pointed to his Jeep Wrangler and said, “I’m sick of SUVs. I want a car. My mother says if I get a 3.0 grade point, I can pick out whatever I want. I’m talking her into this.”

He: Yes, but when you asked him what Bullitt meant, he made no connection to the movie. He thought you said “bullet” and you just meant the car was “speedy.” But our friend Ken, a true baby boomer and car lover, had the biggest grin on his face after a ride in the Bullitt. He tried to test-drive one at his local Ford dealer and couldn’t even get in it because they seem to be that much in demand. Ken sure understood the movie connection.

She: I have to confess it’s lost on me. Say Steve McQueen and I think of Ali McGraw – what DID she ever see in him? Wasn’t he famous for not using utensils and eating with his hands during breaks on the movie set? I guess that just speaks to his macho appeal and the appeal of the Bullitt.

He: I’m sure if they tied in a specialty vehicle to Love Story, you’d rave about it. Something with paisley daisies all over it, right?

She: Yes, but it doesn’t take a guy to see that Ford did an authentic job on the Bullitt’s exterior. The suspension was lowered by nearly an inch and the car has a retro front end, with a hood scoop, blacked-out grille and no fog lamps. I’m glad they skipped a spoiler because that would have been overkill. But the side scoops and 17-inch aluminum wheels are nice touches.

He: They fooled you with the cosmetic packaging on the Bullitt. If you crave sheer power, you’d best check out the Mustang SVT Cobra. It’s got the twin-cam version of the Bullitt’s 4.6-liter V-8 with something like 60 more horsepower. What you get in the Bullitt is basically the Mustang GT’s single-overhead-cam engine with just a bit more horsepower and torque. The Bullitt makes 265 horsepower and 305 pounds-feet of torque. It’s got plenty of power, but it’s no Cobra.

She: We both agreed the Bullitt deserved only an average ranking. The ride is stiff and bouncy – which may be fun on a Friday night, but could get tiresome if you live in the Bullitt day in and day out. Ditto on the stiff clutch and the five-speed, which is somewhat of a challenge to shift into reverse. The sloppy trim fit in the black-plastic cabin was a disappointment. And there’s no room in the rear.

He: I didn’t understand the sense of paying an extra $550 for a premium Machaudio system with a six-disc CD changer, especially when the Bullitt’s exhaust system drowns out the music at most speeds and gets even louder once you hit about 70 miles an hour on the freeway. I found that exhaust note obnoxious when we just wanted to cruise peacefully.

She: It would have been cool if they’d have put an 8-track player in the Bullitt. That would have been more Sixties than a CD changer.

He: I’m surprised you’re not griping about the lack of lighted vanity mirrors and side air bags.

She: Even I’m willing to compromise on the lighted vanity mirrors. If Steve didn’t use a knife and fork, I’m sure he wasn’t checking to see if there was f n his teeth when he got behind the wheel. Ford could have done a better job on the gauges, especially if they are aiming this car at us aging baby boomers. That condensed typeface was difficult to read.

He: It’s tough to admit, but the Bullitt and bifocals don’t mix well.

2001 Ford Mustang Bullitt GT

Anita’s rating:Acceptable

Paul’s rating: Acceptable

Likes: Good acceleration. Decent handling. Highlights include lowered suspension, 17-inch aluminum wheels, aluminum pedals. Retro exterior, especially fierce front end with blacked-out grille, hood scoop. Perfect for anyone who’s ever fantasized about being Detective Frank Bullitt – or Steve McQueen. Distinct exhaust system tuned to match Bullitt movie (Anita). Standard anti-lock brakes.

Dislikes: Stiff and bouncy ride. Dull, monochromatic cabin with lots of cheap-looking black plastic. No room in rear. 5-speed is hard to shift into reverse. Exhaust note is obnoxious at freeway speeds (Paul). Sloppy trim fit in cabin. Wouldn’t an 8-track be more appropriate than a CD player? No side air bags.

Type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, four-passenger coupe.

Price: Base, $26,230; as tested; $27,380 (inc. $600 destination charge).

Engine: 4.6-liter V-8; 265 hp; 305 lb-ft torque.

Fuel economy: 17 city/25 highway.

12-month insurance cost, estimated by AAA Michigan: $1,439 (Rates may be higher or lower depending on coverage and driving record.)

Where built: Dearborn

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