In the Autoblog Garage: 2008 Ford Mustang Bullitt

Click above for high-res gallery of the Mustang Bullitt
My earliest memory of falling in love with a car was a Mustang. As a kid, a friend of our family had a blue 1969 Mach 1 with the Shaker hood scoop, louvers on the rear window and the little wing at the end of the rear deck lid. From that time forward I've always had a thing for Mustangs. One of the most famous car-related movies (OK, it wasn't really car related, but it had Steve McQueen, cars and a chase scene) has to be Bullitt. Having grown up in the '70s and '80s, I somehow never actually got around to watching Bullitt until about three years ago when it arrived in the mailbox courtesy of NetFlix. I can't say I loved the movie, but Det. Frank Bullitt had the hottest ride in San Francisco, bar none.

Ever since the current S197 Mustang debuted in late 2004, Ford has been putting out a steady stream of limited volume special editions in order to keep sales boiling. The latest is the 2008 Mustang Bullitt, and it is to my eyes the best Mustang yet. It carries the classic proportions and cues of the late sixties 'Stangs without any of the tacked on froufrou found on some other specials or even the current standard Mustangs. Read on after the jump for more on why this Bullitt is special.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

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Ever since the very first Mustangs in 1964, each generation has started off with a relatively clean design, and gradually over time Ford has tacked on more and more non-functional scoops, wings and louvers. When the next generation comes along, the company starts the process all over again. When the S197 Mustang debuted in 2004, aside from the deletable wing on the GT, the body was fairly clean. Now in 2008, the Mustang is again adorned (at least optionally) with fake scoops on the hood and sides.

Fortunately, the Bullitt has resisted this trend. Unlike the last Bullitt edition in 2001, the shape of the current car much more closely mimics that of the original, including the sculpted side panels. That means Ford didn't have to mess with any plastic filler panels to plug the gap left by the fake scoops on that model. The grille of the new model is shorn of ponies, snakes or any other badging. There is just a thin chrome trim ring surrounding a plain black grille.

The 18-inch aluminum wheels have the classic five spoke pattern that is perhaps one of the coolest looking wheel designs of all time. The wheel center caps are the only place you'll find a pony on the outside of the car. Out back, the standard round badge has been replaced by one with the Bullitt name in the center of a gun-sight. Aside from one special color, the only other exterior change is a pair of 3.5-inch tailpipes, which we'll get back to later. Of course, a Bullitt should be green, dark Highland Green to be specific, and our tester came in the right color. This time around Ford is also building these special 'Stangs in black, but they really should only be in green.

Changes are again relatively limited on the inside of the Bullitt. The standard steering wheel gets the thick padded leather wrapping from the GT500, while the airbag cover also gets Bullitt badging. The surface of the dash board has a machined aluminum panel stretching from door to door. The gun-sight motif also appears again on the tach and speedo, while the seats are standard Mustang GT fare trimmed in black leather. The lever sticking up out of the Tremec 3650 five speed box is topped off with an aluminum shift knob that looks really cool and feels even cooler on a cold morning. We can imagine that knob also getting pretty toasty on a hot summer day.

As straightforward as the Mustang is, it's not completely free of fluff. To the right of the shift lever is a button that allows you to toggle between a half dozen different colors of ambient light for the foot-wells, a pretty unnecessary and not particularly useful feature. All Mustangs also have a pair of cupholders in the center console aft of the shift lever. These might seem ill-placed at first glance, particularly if you put a tall cup of coffee or bottle of water there, as they can interfere with your forearm when shifting. Closer inspection reveals that the rear most cavity actually has a removable spacer that allows taller items to fit deeper and stay out of the way. Those relegated to the rear "passenger" cavity will have to hold their own drinks.

Underhood the strut towers are held firmly apart by a fabricated dual tube brace with a plate in the middle carrying the serial number that denotes that particular car's sequence in the 7,000 unit production run. The 1PP06 on this car denotes pre-production unit number 6. The 4.6L V8 gets an open element air filter and some new calibrations that yield an appreciable 15-hp bump compared to the GT along with an extra 250 rpm at the top of the rev range.

On a sunny early Spring day, the unadorned look of the Bullitt brings out all the best elements of the current Mustang design. The long hood, short deck proportions are classic and yet look totally contemporary. If Steve McQueen were still with us today, he would look perfectly at home in this car.

Mechanically, the Mustang isn't particularly sophisticated but the hardware that's here works remarkably well. A lot of people have whined about the lack of an independent rear suspension, for instance. But this may well be one of the most well-sorted live axles ever put on the road. Anyone who lives in Michigan knows that we don't really have roads around here, we just have patches on top of patches interspersed with craters. Somehow Ford's engineers have tuned a straightforward strut front and live axle rear with the ability to keep the 235/50ZR18 GeForce T/As in contact with the pavement over even these rough surfaces.

The Bullitt remains remarkably parallel to the ground while cornering, but it also doesn't beat you up. The suspension isn't exactly supple, but it's easy to live with on a daily basis. That's a good thing because once you hear the exhaust note you'll want to take the Bullitt out and play on a regular basis. This is without a doubt the best sounding Mustang I've ever heard. Blip the throttle and a beautiful V8 rumble emanates from those twin 3.5-inch pumps. The auditory emissions produced by this coupe are just the thing to give Prius fans a fit, but it's worth it.

On the inside, the front seats keep you planted in the appropriate position relative to the steering wheel. The driver's throne has power fore-aft and bottom cushion angle adjustment along with inflatable lumbar support. The seat-back angle, meanwhile, gets a manual adjuster. In spite of its ability to draw heat away from your hand on cold mornings, the shifter's throws are precise and relatively short. The back seat is short on leg and head room, as is always the case with this type of car, but some compromise from the front seat occupants will yield a space that's tolerable for short trips.

The 325 pound-feet of torque going through the 3.73:1 final drive ratio absolutely flings the Bullitt forward when you squeeze the throttle. Compared to the new Dodge Challenger, the Mustang has relatively trim dimensions, although the view over that long hood won't be mistaken for any pedestrian sedan. The aluminum block 4.6L V8 doesn't come close to the output of the mighty GT500, but it's also a couple of hundred pounds lighter. That gives the Bullitt much better balance and far less tendency to understeer.

The Mustang won't be getting electronic stability control until the refreshed model arrives sometime next year. In the meantime, all V8 models get ABS/TCS standard (optional on the V6). Thankfully, the traction control on the Mustang has been calibrated to allow some slip on dry pavement before it kicks in, and when it does activate, it comes on smoothly rather than jerking the car around. Jab the throttle while going around a corner and the back end will step out nicely before things settle down. If you want to let things get a little looser, just press the TC disable button at the top right of the center stack.

On a lightly travelled back road with the windows lowered so as not to impede the song of the V8, this is a car that can cover a lot of ground in short time and put a huge grin on your face. At a list price of $31,000, the Bullitt is also a relative bargain. Ford's even included some incentives on the Bullitt for the month of April, making its overall price less than $1,000 more than a Mustang GT. It won't draw the visual attention of a GT500 or even a Shelby GT, but that's OK. This also means you're less likely to draw undesired attention from revenue officers. Just take it out to play, and when you're done, sit back and admire this most handsome of Mustangs.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

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