The 2001 Bullitt: A Short History
Team Mustang was a group of Ford employees tasked with everything Mustang. From future designs to limited editions, this team was responsible from concept to production. Ford assembled a very talented group to take on this task. This is a short history of one of those vehicles, the 2001 Mustang GT Bullitt.
The Feature vehicle
Ford had decided that every year Team Mustang would come up with a feature vehicle. It started with the 35th anniversary and Bullitt was the second in the series. The idea had come up that they were not just going to stick a bunch of appearance stuff on this car like the 35th anniversary. They wanted a complete package.
The first sketch came out of the need for a car for the Special Equipment Marketing Association or SEMA. Sean Tant, a talented concept designer for Ford, and others were kicking around various ideas. Sean’s first car was a 67 fastback and he had a picture of the 68 Bullitt replica on his wall, which was probably Dave Kunz’s 1968 Bullitt movie replica car. Dave had spent countless hours of research and had produced the most detailed movie replica to date.
Sean looked at the picture and realized, “that’s the car”. Using a 99 Mustang body as a template, he began sketching the concept. He lowered the car and put the torque thrust wheels on it, trying to get the feeling of Steve McQueen’s 68.
The Wheels Would Make All the Difference
Ford had been working with representatives from Superior wheels to create new optional wheels. At the time they only had three designs to choose from. Using some drawings that one of the team had made, they refined the design of the concept car wheels. The concept car wheels were made of billet aluminum and were a one off, or a one of a kind wheel.
The wheel was slated to be an optional wheel on the production car, so the team essentially took the optional 15” wheel design and made it into an 18" wheel. They tweaked the sections on it and then had the show car wheels manufactured from there. The wheel was already set to go into production because of its very strong “heritage”, which was very identifiable to hot rodders and gear heads.
It was something new, being different from the smooth flat look of recent wheels. This design had some depth, different textures and color, so it was very unique and special. That theme was essential to the wheels, the color of the vehicle, as well as to everything else in the overall vehicle design.
What ended up as the GT Premium, “Bullitt”, rims were not made specifically for the Bullitt, but the design came from the Bullitt show car. Tooling alone would have been prohibitive for producing only 5000 sets of wheels. In the end a part must pay for itself to be marketable.
What made the original 1968 “Bullitt” unique was its understated color/markings and its aftermarket wheels, which wasn't something that was done as much then as it is now given fewer wheel choices. But the biggest spotlight was, here's this car in this big time movie, in one of the first modern car chase scenes, and not only does it look good, but he really puts the spurs to this thing. (Whether it's Steve driving or not). You really got to see this car in action as compared to most other movies where you don't see that.
At some point something happened within Ford and the car was taken out of the SEMA show and put into the Los Angeles Auto Show as a ‘featured auto’ show car. Ford picked Roush to build the prototype. Sean was at Roush every day working on the car, even giving up his Christmas vacation to work on the Bullitt. After completing the Bullitt show car, it wouldn’t start and they had to push it into the trailer to transport to LA. Once in LA they figured out that the instrument cluster was car specific and had to do some programming to get it to run. Jack Roush has one of the prototypes they built in his museum.
The Ford Division President and others did not have a chance to see the show car before it left for Los Angeles. When they got to Los Angeles, a crowd of people were standing around the display. They never expected the car to be so well received as it was, and they came back resolved to “do this car.” The reception of the car at the Los Angeles Auto Show allowed the designers to do more than the appearance mods on the concept.
From Show Car to Production
The design team had to prioritize the additions to the vehicle, having to decide what had to be on the car and what could be cut while still maintaining the idea of the concept. The designers were elated to get the ¾ inch drop. Team Mustang had never been allowed to lower a production car before, and the Bullitt remains the lowest production Mustang built given later Federal standards preventing a repeat.
The side scoop delete was important to draw it back to the 68. They could not redesign the hood due to budget limitations, so the hood scoop was designed to be used on the existing GT hood. Sean’s design was reminisant of the late 60’s when all of the high performance Mustangs had hood scoops or other ornamentation on the hood.
The design objective was to make the car understated like the movie car. No spoiler, no fog lights and blacked out corral. The spoiler was deleted primarily because of the cost, and in part because it really was unnecessary. The original didn't have a spoiler/ wing so why did this car need it? In many cases, concepts have much more flair than the original. These teasers often are there as a result of nothing more than studio whimsy. Some members on the team thought it looked great, but given the business case, it didn't make sense.
Many of the show car items such as the rear fascia could not be reproduced in the time allotted and the tooling cost would have been prohibitive. The Bullitt prototype rear fascia was eventually used on the 03 Cobra. SVT “borrowed” it from the Bullitt show car. The seat design was taken from the 1968 Mustang seats which had vertical pleats.
The concept steering wheel did not make production as it would have required extensive testing due to air bag restrictions. The fuel filler cap and red calipers were added to make the car even more distinctive. The instrument cluster and the pedal design/placement were also important elements of the “retro” design.
Sean blacked out the corral to make the car appear understated and give it a “sinister” look. He sold the idea by taking two pictures, one with the corral, and one blacked out. Sean told the group, “Here is the normal pony in the corral, this other pony got out of the corral. You can’t keep this one tied up, and you can’t corral this Mustang”.
Sean wanted to get rid of the rocker panels from the GT. As Sean puts it “the base model rockers look like running boards”. Stone pecking was a problem that needed to be dealt with. Sean and the team dealt with the problem by utilizing front mud flaps. This is a warranty issue with Ford. They actually have people that study this at Ford. A stone peck checker. Go figure.
Sean wished that everything on the show car could have been on the production car but that was not realistic. Sean wanted to design an all new C-pillar but again cost sent them back. They used the 95/96 C pillar. The snap (or cut back towards the front) on the C pillar is much better than the regular GT and again relates back to the 68 fastback. The front fascia, rear fascia, the larger wheels and tires also would have made the car even better. The tire size was governed by having to turn full lock to lock without touching anything under full Johnson rebound. (The equivalent to the front wheels taking a head on hit into a curb). Ford standards also require designing sufficient room for tire chains.
One other item that took major negotiations was the side scoop delete. It took a really hard push from Team Mustang to convince Ford leadership that this item was one of the essential elements of the car. Thankfully they agreed and it was approved.
The marketing people had no idea what the big deal was with this car. The Bullitt Team found early on that they would have to educate them. Team Mustang began by showing them the chase scene from Bullitt. Marketing wanted to produce other colors, namely red and silver, while the design team had to explain that the vehicle was intended to be understated, it’s not supposed to scream at you. Ultimately everyone agreed to only three colors, green, black and blue. It was to take a bit of compromise to sell the business plan and get the car built. Dark Highland Green was the only color of choice for most of the team, but global marketing was not convinced they could sell 6500 green cars.
Ford did sell a nearly even amount of dark highland green and black, and a smaller amount of true blue. Given that nearly 4400 cars were pre-sold before a single car had been built, most of the team still believes Ford could have sold every car in dark highland green. The Bullitt team also championed "grass roots" marketing. Working closer than ever with the enthusiast press and message boards like Stang.net to stir up interest in the car, helped the team push the concept into production.
The Power Train
The design team wanted the naturally aspirated Cobra motor to power their Bullitt, but SVT had ownership of the 32 Valve engine, so it was not to be. Availability of a sufficient number of Cobra engines was another issue to be dealt with. But the main reason was that clear brand separation had to be maintained between the GT, Bullitt, and Cobra. In order to separate it from the GT, the cast aluminum, long runner FRP intake manifold was put on to increase the HP and add to the cars uniqueness. A larger alternator and under drive pulleys were also added to increase horsepower.
The larger diameter Cobra brakes were used, providing the best binders ever installed on a GT. Heavier sway bars, shocks and spring rates, along with sub frame connectors all worked with the lowered stance of the car to create the best handling Mustang GT to date.
Limited Edition Numbering
Numbering the cars was an issue. The laser etched serialized plates used now were not available in 2001. The plastic sticker was the most cost effective way of numbering the cars. The sticker was developed because Team Bullitt was told the R code was not available for use (as it was to be on the Mach 1). A very small number of the serial stickers were damaged as assembly was still a manual process and prone to human error from time to time. There were ample but closely controlled number of labels made. Each one, damaged or otherwise, was accounted for and is in safe keeping with the list of the vehicle numbers produced.
Thanks to: Sean Tant, Chris Ihara of Stangnet, Nick Terzes and IMBOC for assistance in putting this short history together.