Hollywood's most famous pony car gets back in the saddle.

by Eric Peters

Smokey and the Bandit made the Trans-Am famous, but it was Steve McQueen's hellride through the streets of San Francisco in a big-block '68 Mustang fastback that forever set the high water mark for on-screen chase scenes.

In tribute to that car and its driver, Ford has announced it will offer a limited run of 2001 Bullitt GTs equipped with a hotter engine, tweaked suspension and body, all for $3695 over the base price of a regular Mustang GT.

Though Ford is not able to quietly slide a few 390 FE big blocks into these latter-day 'Stangs, the Bullitts - of which just 5000 examples will be made - do get enhancements to the 4.6 liter SOHC V-8 that powers all Mustang GTs.

Twin 57-mm throttle bodies, a revised cast aluminum intake manifold, high flow mufflers (with a nice street bark) and revised alternator and pump pulley ratios designed to cut parasitic drag pump the advertised horsepower of the Bullitt's engine from the stock GT's 260 to "at least" 270 hp, in the rather interesting language of Ford Motor Co. officials. Hmmm...

Chassis upgrades include 17-inch wheels unique to the Bullitt cars, plus revised Tokico struts and shocks, different rate stabilizer bars and subframe connectors that stiffen the body. The car also sits about an inch closer to the pavement than regular GTs.

The Bullitt's brakes are upgraded too, for those times when a '68 Charger is on your tail and a well-executed J-turn is in order. Thirteen-inch Brembo front rotors and special calipers that are red powder coated and visible through the slots in the 17-inch mags let the competition know what you're packing.

The exterior of the car features aggressive side scoops, quarter panel moldings and modified C-pillars, topped off by a brushed aluminum, race-style fuel filler door. This car should be ordered in Highland Green only, but Ford offers two other colors as well, True Blue and plain old Black.

McQueen's '68, of course, was brooding dark green. The evil Charger driven by the two hit men was, of course, appropriately black.

Interior upgrades include special charcoal leather trim, brushed aluminum shift knob and machined pedal covers. White-lit gauges are sort of like the deal used on the '95 Cobra R competition Mustang: very business-oriented. Each Bullitt GT is serialized with a unique plaque and Bullitt badging.

These cars are going to move faster than McQueen did in the movie, so if you want one, scuttle on down to your Ford dealer and make inquiries... like now, man.

Where's the real Bullitt?

For the filming of Bullitt, two 1968 Mustang Fastbacks were used from the Warner Brothers fleet for actor Steve McQueen's movie character.

Once the Mustangs were selected, veteran race driver and builder Max Balchowski was enlisted to modify the cars for the rigors of the high-speed pursuit scenes. Balchowski added stronger springs and Koni shocks, and he fabricated braces for the inner fenders. He also did some minor tuning to the 390-cubic-inch engine for a little more top-end power.

After filming was completed, the primary car was in sad shape. Two weeks of stunt driving had taken its toll on the Mustang, so it was sent to the crusher due to liability concerns. The remaining car, the less-damaged backup, was sold to an employee of Warner Brothers' editing department.

In the early 1970s, the car was advertised in a classified ad in The Los Angeles Times for the then princely sum of $6000. A buyer was found and the car eventually made its way to the East Coast.

The Mustang went up for sale again in 1974, this time in an ad in Road & Track. It is reported that Steve McQueen himself called the New Jersey number in the ad with a desire to purchase the car for his own collection. He was told the car had been sold, but was given the name and number of the buyer.

McQueen tried to persuade the new owner to resell it, but to no avail. The new owner did promise to contact him if he ever did decide to sell. McQueen died in 1980 with no contact from the owner.

Whenever contacted by prospective buyers or media, the owner has refused offers of purchase or publicity. The car has been in non-running condition for some time.

The car remained in New Jersey until the mid-1990s, when it was moved to a farm in the Ohio River Valley. Parked in a hay barn, the Mustang remained inoperable, still wearing New Jersey tags. A film company recently made an offer to the owner for its use in a motion picture. The owner declined.

Some information for this piece was supplied by the Ford Motor Company.

© 2001 The Car Connection

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