By John L. Baeke
Stop! Before proceeding, in order to fully appreciate what you are about to read, I suggest putting on a black turtleneck and old jeans and then downloading “Bullitt,” the all-time quintessential car chase movie, starring Steve McQueen.
The streets of San Francisco were not safe in 1969 when McQueen went flying and drifting in his 1968 Mustang GT fastback, and today the streets of the Santa Ynez Valley too shall tremble. Another Bullitt has just been fired.
Over the years, all automakers have attempted to recapture the hearts (and pocketbooks) of car buyers by producing “retro” vehicles (note: auto manufacturers abhor that term) which, by design, resemble the look of popular past motoring icons.
Some of these attempts were only modestly successful, for example the 2002 Ford Thunderbird, the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Plymouth Prowler. Others were a dismal failure. The Chevrolet SSR and 2004 Pontiac GTO come to mind.
One of the most successful “retros” has to be the Ford Mustang. From 1974 to 2004, sales of the Mustang remained healthy, but it was a car suffering with an identity crisis. Some years, it was a compact car sporting a miserly 4-cylinder motor. Other times, its “performance package” was little more than showy decals.
Fortunately, this all changed in 2005 when Ford Motor Company unveiled the new Mustang which, without apology, returned to the classic shape of the first-generation Mustang fastback. Once again, Mustang had the look and power as originally intended.
Within the Mustang cognoscenti, you will quickly learn that few examples command more adoration than the fastbacks of 1965-1968. Understandably, when rogue detective Frank Bullitt (McQueen) made box office fame chasing a mob boss and his ’68 Dodge Charger, Bullitt’s highland green Mustang became instant legend.
In the filming of “Bullitt,” Warner Bros. Studios used two identical ’68 highland green Mustang fastbacks. One dubbed the “Hero” car has languished in the garage of a lucky New Jersey owner since 1974. Years later, even McQueen’s “name-your-price” offer to buy his baby back was unsuccessful.
More amazingly the other movie car, dubbed the “Chase” or stunt car, was thought to have been shredded, but in 2017 was actually found rusting away in a Mexican junkyard. For both original movie cars to survive is truly amazing, and this explains why they are the most valuable Mustangs on the planet.
Never to miss a marketing opportunity, in 2009 FoMoCo produced a limited run of 40th anniversary tribute Bullitt Mustangs, cars which collectors still covet.
In 2018, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the movie, Ford (and granddaughter Molly McQueen) announced again a very limited production run of 2019 Bullitt Mustangs. How limited? Some Ford dealership allotments were zero. The valley’s favorite Ford dealer, Jim Vreeland, was allotted only one.
Eric Denbrook of Orcutt is a long-time muscle car enthusiast; in fact, he once owned a ’67 Mustang fastback. In April 2018, he first learned of the planned limited-production run of 2019 Bullitts. He did not hesitate to contact Vreeland. There would be no waiting list; first man gets her. And Eric was just that man.
Staying true to the legend, options were few. Color choices: original highland green, or black (why?). All came from the Flat Rock, Mich., factory with custom Shelby speed tweaks and suspension modifications just perfect for chasing bad guys. The special attention given these cars meant that from order to delivery, new owners like Denbrook would patiently wait a full 12 months!
The Bullitt Mustang simply oozes cool. Obvious by its absence is any outside Ford or Mustang logo. No prancing pony on the grill nor phony decals on the fenders. The menacing look of the car says it all. The Bullitt rides on blacked-out 5-spoke wheels. The driver grips a cue-ball manual shifter … all just like McQueen’s original.
With a twist of the new owner’s wrist, the Bullitt came to life, loudly firing all its V-8 glory. For us motorheads, final specs on the car are: 5.0 liter displacement, 480 hp, 7,400 rpm redline, and 420 lb-ft torque, which all equals a 168 mph top speed.