The word ‘icon’ is banded about a lot in the auto industry. In my mind, there are a few categories that are defined by the cars which have been sold for generations. Think SUV and Defender or G Wagon will, more likely than not, be projected in your mind. Supermini? Mini. Hot Hatch? Golf GTi. This is quickly morphing to a scenario not too dissimilar to laying flat on a red sofa in a psychiatrists office and being probed for the first word a blot of ink conjures. One more: Muscle Car? Ford Mustang.
Unlike the other aforementioned icons, I have never driven a Mustang. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, it took 52 years for the Mustang to be sold in the UK, 2016 was a big year for the ‘Stang. Secondly, I didn’t fancy a Mustang for one of my fly-and-drive visits to the States as I feared losing my Mustang v plates to a 4-cylinder which, like my first time losing other v plates, would have been all to brief and underwhelming. I needed to wait for the right time, place and specification to captivate me enough to take the dive. The final drive of the year is always a special one for me. Most sane human beings would rather curl up next to the fire with their loved ones watching mushy Christmas movies than ever consider going for a drive for anything more than another bag of sprouts. I, on the other hand, can think of nothing worse that sitting on a sofa for days on end eating my weight in mince pies. Instead, I packed the, self made, mince pies into a plastic box and jumped into a car, one that I have been waiting decades to drive.
Why decades? Because of a movie titled ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’ that I watched as a 6-year-old at the turn of the millennium. The movie itself was nothing to write home about. There were two stand out scenes – one featured Angelina Jolie (I’m sure you can imagine why) and the other, more relevantly, focused on a 1967 Shelby Mustang called Elanor. It was the hero car of the movie and one that captivated six and 60-year-olds alike, I guess the same can be said for Angelina.
Bear with me, I’m not rambling aimlessly, movie cars really do capture the hearts and minds of viewers. For me it was Gone in 60 Seconds, for the generation of movie goers in 1968, it was Bullitt, the hero car was a Mustang. Much like Gone in 60 Seconds, the movie itself was never destined to win Oscars, but, there were a couple of scenes that have been viewed millions of times on YouTube (add to the tally by watching below).
Enough of the old, what’s the deal with the movie talk? Well, the Mustang I’m buckling into is a tribute to the Bullitt car you see above. The link is obvious – the wheels, Highland Green paint, distinct lack of pony badges and cue ball gear shifter have all be copied and pasted onto the 2019 Mustang. It is available with a Mustang ordered with the 5.0-litre V8 (no EcoBoost silliness here) with the manual box and not as a convertible – the good stuff then. This was the perfect opportunity to drive my first Mustang. Back to the mince pies, they were secured on the lap of my copilot, an equally deranged human that suggested we compliment the mince pies with a drive to feed a reindeer herd a few hours drive out of London.
The drive involved long flowing sections of well paved ‘highway’ where the V8 could sing, and twisty country roads where the chassis balance and gearbox could be put to the test. The Bullitt package is not just cosmetic. Adding to the appeal are a plethora of parts that you cannot configure on any other Mustang. Power is up to 453bhp, part due to the intake manifold from the GT350 which has the added benefit of making the Mustang sound like a V8 NASCAR. Furthermore, ticking the Bullitt box adds the Ford’s GT Performance Package which, apparently, improves chassis control significantly courtesy of suspension springs that have been lowered and stiffened by another few degrees, beefed-up anti-roll bars, recalibrated dampers and a Torsen limited-slip differential. Tasty. Magnetorheological adaptive dampers are fitted to the car I am driving and a noticeable difference can be felt through the modes.
How did it feel on the road to visiting Rudolph and co? Refreshing, if you’re a regular reader you’ll know I’m that guy raving about how sublime Porsches are and how the feel and feedback of a McLaren is so delightful. Jumping into a naturally aspirated, manually operated American muscle car is a far cry from the usual for me and it was an unforgettable experience. There is a raw, old school feel. There is immense character and a connection that comes with less sophisticated cars.
The Bullitt Mustang is one of the best examples of that. The traction control seems to be too busy to stop you from pulling massive angles out of every junction. The cold and salt paved streets at this time of year mean you can feel the chassis shuffling underneath you and there is so much confidence in its abilities. The gearbox is fabulous, the cue ball is gorgeous and the rev-matched downshift bring a smile to your face and the revs yelp. The digital dash is tremendous and there a host of layouts to pick from. The Recaros hug you tight and are immensely comfortable and are almost good enough to make up for the questionable build quality, poor plastics and terrible infotainment system. Then again, the Mustang is a unique offering and I am just pleased to be able to drive a manual V8 free of turbochargers – the infotainment could be running Windows ’95 and I would still be grinning from ear-to-ear. The noise from the exhaust is bewitching in race mode and eggs you on to chase the redline.
The car does feel massive on tight British country lanes but the car still feels reasonably nimble. Big open motorways are where it really can be set free. The engine isn’t the most responsive below 3,000, you need to wind it up and it really is explosive in the mid-range. The gearbox, though physically great to shift, needs to be handled with patience. The engine does not like to be rushed, this is not a Cayman GT4 that relishes a lightening quick shift.
The Bullitt Mustang really is a unique proposition and like nothing I have ever driven before. It brims with character and presents endless joy. You’ll want to find any excuse to drive it down your favourite road at any time of day. It is a very special car, one that will make you feel better than cars that cost two or three times the price. It feels even better than it looks.
P.S. Ford, please make an Elanor edition, I’ll be ready with my deposit.