Bullitt Power No Match for Late-Winter Snowstorm

John Gilbert

Menacing nose of the 2019 Mustang Bullitt was not as menacing as the 50-plus mph wind blowing off Lake Superior. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Menacing nose of the 2019 Mustang Bullitt was not as menacing as the 50-plus mph wind blowing off Lake Superior. Photo credit: John Gilbert
 On the North Shore of Lake Superior, the high winds preceding a mid-April  snowstorm created harsh bug scenic background for the Mustang Bullitt.  Photo credit: John Gilbert
 On the North Shore of Lake Superior, the high winds preceding a mid-April snowstorm created harsh bug scenic background for the Mustang Bullitt. Photo credit: John Gilbert

When you review new cars, there’s never a good time to bid adieu to the really fun vehicles in which a week-long term goes by too fast. But for the sake of my personal insulation from folks who might be a bit superstitious while looking for someone to blame for the mid-April 8-inch snowfall that hit Duluth, Minnesota, it’s probably best that my week-long test drive of a 2019 Mustang Bullitt come to an end when it did.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s never a good time for a week-long test drive of a truly fun car to end. But this one arrived with the admonition that it was shod with Michelin Pilot Sport high-performance tires on those classy 19-inch alloy wheels, so if it snows — park it. It snowed, and I parked it, knowing full well those smooth, track-worthy tires are fantastic on a race track or some high-speed freeway, but they have pretty much no traction if anything slippery is between them and the pavement.

 It’s not unusual for snow to hit Minnesota in April, but we’d been teased by a couple of days that reached 50, so a nasty long-range forecast seemed to not merit much worry. Just to make sure, however, I tried to compress most of my driving into the first four days of the week, which was easily enough to fall in love with the Mustang Bullitt.

The sequential taillights frame the racy rear of the Bullitt. Photo credit:  John Gilbert
The sequential taillights frame the racy rear of the Bullitt. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Steering wheel has an assortment of switches, outlining the efficient Bullitt  instruments. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Steering wheel has an assortment of switches, outlining the efficient Bullitt instruments. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Giant shift ball and center console’s switchgear include toggles for various  features. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Giant shift ball and center console’s switchgear include toggles for various features. Photo credit: John Gilbert

For those old enough to remember the wonderful action-filled Steve McQueen movie from 50 years ago, it is a brilliant bit of strategy for Ford to bring out a replica bristling with modern technology as a reminder of the spectacular chase scenes filmed on the hilly streets of San Francisco, with McQueen, the late actor who thrived on hot cars and exciting chases. McQueen drove a hot, dark green 1968 Mustang with a tricked up V8 and bounded and bounced through wild scenes being chased by bad guys in a menacing Dodge Charger.

The 50th Anniversary Bullitt Mustang is the amalgamation of all that has been good about Mustangs through the ensuing decades, tempered by the latest engineering marvels such as a 5.0-liter dual-overhead-camshaft V8 juiced up to 480 horsepower and 420 foot-pounds of torque, regulated by a 6-speed stick shift that changes gears smoothly and keeps you in the power band, maxed between the torque peak of 4,000 RPMs and the power peak at 7,000 RPMs. 

The kick you get from 0-60 capabilities of 4.5 seconds, and — according to Car & Driver magazine — 0-150 in 23.1 seconds(!) is enough to cause you to remember those hot cars of the late 1960s and 1970s, or to recall a weekend at a drag strip watching the top racers compete. But that’s only half of it, or thereabouts.

The biggest thrill of the Bullitt comes when you climb into the bucket seat, hook up the safety belt, step on the clutch, and push the starter button. The explosion of finely tuned power rumbles out through four exhaust tubes and, unless you find it annoying, is worth the chill that runs up your spine and back down. Let the clutch out — gently now — and zap! You’re off.

The Mustang GT has similar power and features, but Ford added some power to the Bullitt and aims to build them for only two years, 2019 and 2020, in Dark Highland Green or black only. The base Bullitt, if there is such a thing, is just under $50,000, while the test car was just a tad over $52,000. Those crafty folks at Ford know that Mustang zealots won’t pay ridiculous prices for just any Mustang these days, so there are specialty versions like the GT, the Shelby 350 and the newer Shelby 500, which has even more power. But every Mustang zealot who knows a door from a steering while will pay a lot for something that conjures up the image of the most famous Mustang in cinematic history, 

The front end of the Bullitt has been pinched down for style and aerodynamics, with a narrowed horizontal grille and small slits to house the LED headlights, and there are a couple of active hood vents to eliminate some of the hot air that can build up in the engine compartment.
The wonders of modern auto technology mean that unlike the original, which could shake and rattle in short order, but was fast enough and handled well enough that you didn’t care, this one handles with near flawless race-car precision. Sure it’s a little stiff as you bounce across potholes, but it stays firm and flat around the tightest curves, with responsive steering and startlingly efficient braking from the big red Brembo brakes.

In the never-ending battle against Camaros and Challengers, Mustang has gone high tech with the DOHC engine. Having overhead cams instead of pushrods means the Mustang will rev easily to the 7,500 red line, but as fun as that is, the Bullitt is also an every day driver. The fantastic exhaust note might get tiresome to some, although I fall into that group who would find it only and always exhilarating. But with the DOHC, the 5.0 V8 cruises effortlessly at freeway speed. I noted at 70 mph it was registering only 2,000 RPMs on the big tachometer, which isn’t much higher than idle speed. A pushrod engine would be working harder for that speed, and not delivering as much efficiency.

I got 24 miles per gallon except in only city driving, where — and Duluth’s hills are a lot like San Francisco’s, now that I think of it — the mpg dropped down to 18.
The console has the shift lever, with a giant white ball for a hand grip, and on the center stack, below the navigation screen there is a row of horizontal toggle switches, which are a neat way to control various features. The Bullitt Electronics feature everything from cross-traffic alert to the premium audio system and all the connectivity. Suspension adds MagnaRide dampers for precise handling through the independent rear suspension, and the usual safety features, such as stability control and controllable modes for comfortable ride up to track stiffness are there.

As my week seemed to hurry by, the forecasted storm that was supposed to hit all of Minnesota and all of Wisconsin did hit, with southern reaches of Minnesota getting up to 15 inches of snow. It hit the whole state, but it was delayed in hitting Duluth. Located on the pointy westernmost tip of Lake Superior, we sometimes get hit hard and sometimes divert bad fronts. This time, the wind was coming in hard out of the east, blowing at an estimated 35-50 mph in a straight line, and the next day we learned that it hit a measured maximum of 71 mph.

I couldn’t resist driving down by the Aerial Bridge at Canal Park to shoot some photos of the giant waves rolling in, higher than the piers that reach out into the lake. Then I drove up the North Shore a ways, just to shoot the spectacle of the waves crashing off the shoreline rocks, just for background for the Mustang Bullitt. As Thursday reached into Thursday night, a few flakes of snow indicated that delayed or not, the storm was about to hit. So I drove up our rural highway, pulled into our driveway, and backed it up against the garage.

Sure enough, we got hammered by 8-plus inches of the wettest, heaviest snow of the entire winter. Shoveling was a weight-lifting project. I left the Bullitt under its snow blanket and drove other vehicles through the weekend. The fellows from the Chicago car-distribution site were arriving Monday morning, and my plan for the snow cover on our driveway to melt by then didn’t quite work out. It was still under several inches of hard-packed snow, which greatly resembles ice.

When the drivers arrived, I suggested that while they are expert drivers, I know the odd little rise in my driveway, and the delicacy with which a car with high-performance tires needed to attack it. I pulled out, and tried to maintain speed as I got to the last part of the driveway, then only spun. Three or four more times I tried, backing up and trying to build enough speed to make the little rise at the end. Finally I backed up to a bare asphalt patch for some rear traction, figuring that might work. But as soon as I tried to give it a tiny dose of gas, the Mustang’s rear end shot to the left. I counter-steered, but both left side tires were off the road, and the car itself was hung up on the hard-packed snow.

We tried shoveling, putting de-icer and gravel down, but any attempt to engage the clutch caused the tendency to go farther off the road. We gave up, and I called Triple-A. The young fellow showed up with a gigantic wrecker in a half-hour, and with his modern devices was able to quickly pull the Bullitt out of danger, and out to our road. When he unhooked it, he asked if we could wait a second while he shot a few photos of the car, and he called his grandpa to notify him of the prize he just rescued.

“It’s not every day we get to tow a Bullitt,” he said, grinning broadly.
We gave him a ride in the car, and it blew his mind. He is ordering a special Mustang with a gigantic crater engine, but now he’s thinking maybe the Bullitt’s 480 horsepower are enough. I assured him this was a better prospect, from the standpoint of all-around driving and handling. And you can’t duplicate the sound of the Bullitt engine.

So the car left town and heading toward Chicago, before anybody could think that when the weather got mild, I got a test-drive in a hot Bullitt Mustang with Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires on it. If you were superstitious, that would be enough to blame me for causing that nasty storm. I will accept full blame, but after needing a wrecker to get out of my own driveway, I paid in full. 

A moment of humbling reality hit when the slick Michelin high-perofrmance  tires refused to find any grip while still on the driveway. Photo credit:  John Gilbert
A moment of humbling reality hit when the slick Michelin high-perofrmance tires refused to find any grip while still on the driveway. Photo credit: John Gilbert