Ford Mustang 2019 fastback bullitt

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I bought a 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt… and modified it

For as long as I can remember and that’s going back a few decades, I’ve only ever modified one car out of the twenty-or-so I’ve owned and that was my very first – a $500 Ford Cortina Mark II MY70 – flat white with a dirty great black stripe running from boot to bonnet.

That was 1976 and despite the fact it was ‘three on the tree’ and woefully underpowered by today’s standards – the unusually long school commute from Manly to Waverley College in Sydney’s east (my uncle was the headmaster and gave dozens of us nephews a discount that made the trek worthwhile), was more like a daily time trial except for a single stop to pick up another schoolmate from somewhere near Five-ways in Paddington. But as soon as the door closed, it was flat to the boards again, all the way to Birrell Street, Waverley.

Back then I had a lot of confidence in that Cortina due to some key modifications including genuine K-MAC anti-sway bars (in K-MAC orange of course) and wider tyres, fitted by yours truly and a mate down the road who was already on the tools by then. And that was where my passion for tuning started and ended for me.

But all that changed when I read our own story about the incoming Bullitt Mustang – sold out months before the first of 700 units even landed. It didn’t take much to convincing, to be honest. The original Dark Highland Green paint job mirrored the Bullitt movie car of 1968, transmission was manual only with the classic cue-ball shifter, and the fact this limited-edition Mustang was almost completely debadged (there are no Ford or Mustang badges anywhere on the car) for that ultimate tough guy look.

It’s the complete American muscle car package, and more, as far as I was concerned. The ‘more’ included a bit more power from the 5.0-litre V8 and a few performance parts from the Shelby GT350 and a larger throttle body to give this Mustang a character all of its own.

The only problem was you couldn’t get one for love or money. Even friends at Ford Australia’s HQ couldn’t help. It was truly ironic. For the first time in years, I actually had the cash to buy something special and the ship had already sailed. Long gone, as it turned out.

Advice from Ford was ‘call as many dealers as you can and get yourself on the waitlist, which is exactly what I did (probably 15 in total) and not long after I received a call from Peter Warren Ford at Warwick Farm in Sydney’s south-west – apparently one of their Bullitt customers decided the eighty-six grand (drive away) asking price was a little too rich for his situation, so after agreeing to a deposit, my slot was locked in for a late December handover in Australia.

Turns out this particular build slot was locked into the optional Recaro seats, which meant losing the heating and cooling features of the standard-fit leather versions – something I wasn’t too keen about, at least, initially.

But, climate control features aside, the Recaros are simply a much better seat in every other way, particularly as far as long-haul comfort goes as I discovered on trips from Melbourne to Sydney and on up to the Gold Coast and back. The leather upholstery is reasonably soft and there’s plenty of under-thigh cushioning with side bolstering that runs all the way up to the shoulder blades. And, let’s face it, if we’re talking about residual value, then give me the Recaros all day long, right?

But, even then I somehow felt I’d betrayed my ‘stock-standard’ age-old values, but at least it was a factory option – the only factory option as far as I could gauge, so I could wear that.

That said, the more I looked at pics and US videos of the car, the more I began to notice something was ‘off’ with the factory wheels. My colleague Trent Nikolic pointed me in the direction of American Racing Wheels and its Torq Thrust model that looked to be the wheel used on the original Bullitt movie car. And, from what I could gather, Ford had sourced some cheap knockoffs (‘Torq Thrust-style’) for the latest Bullitt version, that while bearing some similarity, were far from the real deal.

The other thing that I took issue with was the standard rear tyre width; 275/19s, which, to me, just didn’t look wide enough for the low-slung stance I was looking for in my very own Mustang Bullitt.

Another CarAdvice colleague Curt Dupriez told me about Rob Herrod – owner of Melbourne-based outfit Herrod Performance, who according to Curt was the Ford Performance guru when it came to tuning the latest Mustang GT. Now picture this, I was already had two legs in the doghouse after failing to divulge the Bullitt purchase in the first place – still a sore point with my wife, so spending more on aftermarket parts no matter how desirable was always going to be a tough sell.

But, when Rob mentioned he had a set of 20-inch forged alloys from the US in the same polished black finish as the standard Bullitt wheels, but shod with extra-wide Michelin Pilot Sport 4S 305/30s down back and 275/35s up front, I was sold.

He also mentioned his handling package for the Mustang which used Ford Performance springs and anti-sway bars – and added the fact that it lowers the car by 20-odd millimetres without affecting the MagnaRide adaptive suspension. I remember his words precisely, “Tony, it transforms the handling of the car and won’t affect the ride comfort.”

And all this for around eight grand. Again, sold, on the basis of a wider, lower and tougher stance with handling to boot. Are you kidding? Beg, borrow or steal, but if you’ve got a GT or Bullitt it may be the best money you’ve ever spent. And, no, this is not a sales pitch and there were no deals. It is what it is.

The work was done just prior to Christmas last year, so I flew to Melbourne with the added bonus of driving the car back home to run it in. Obviously, I kept those original wheels which were shipped back to Sydney for safe storage at home – if I ever decide to sell it – unlikely!

If I enjoyed my time behind the Bullitt press car – and I surely did, this Herrod-worked version took that joy to a whole other level. Everything just looked better without going overboard. I especially love the extra-wide rubber at the rear, as it now looks and feels like a proper US muscle car – at least, one I’ve always wanted.

If money is no object you can go the whole hog and get a hugely more powerful braking system as well as a supercharger that will give the stock 5.0-litre V8 more than 800hp. I’d be keen on the brake system but genuinely feel there’s sufficient grunt on tap with the standard Bullitt output.

Just to remind you folks, it makes 345kW and 556Nm – good enough for a 0-100km/h sprint in 4.6 seconds with its six-speed manual gearbox. And, it pulls with enthusiasm all the way to redline.

More than that, though, it has a different character to the standard GT version thanks to a suite of go-fast bits – some from the Shelby GT350 like the intake manifold and a larger 87mm throttle body (versus 82mm). There’s also a four-mode active exhaust which includes a quiet mode, which I’ve never had reason to use and hopefully never will, and the visually beautiful open-air box.

Despite what Rob had said about the various suspension mods not affecting the ride, I was more than prepared for a compromise, but not so. His recalibration of the MagaRide suspension system delivered the same ever-compliant ride comfort that impressed me in the press car tester we’d driven previously.

Even over poor road surfaces the ride remained good, and frankly, that was a big fat tick for me given the switch to a substantially bigger wheel and tyre package. Stoked. And, did it bother me that the new multi-spoked alloys didn’t match the classically-styled OEM versions?

I thought it would, but in all honesty, I haven’t given it a second thought because those that are on the car now look brilliant – though I have the originals wrapped and on a pallet in the garage should I ever need to sell the car.

Not surprising I’ve had more than a few compliments from both the public and work colleagues who are notoriously lacking when it comes to such praise. In fact, one such colleague was caught muttering that it’s the best-looking Mustang he’s seen and I’ve got to agree. It’s now as good to look at as it is to drive - important for a car with so much to live up to like the Bullitt.

And, it’s not just ride comfort that impresses, the handling and chassis control feels like next level stuff – compared with the stock version I drove a few weeks ago. Mind, I’ve got to be careful here, because there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with the standard Bullitt in this regard. You can really lay into it when conditions permit and even when grip is lost at the rear, it’s all very predictable and easy enough to manage.

But, my Herrod-enhanced version is better and by some margin. I know that because also drove the car from Sydney to Terranora (my mum’s place) near the Gold Coast including a beautiful twisty stretch from Tweed Heads up into the hills along Terranora Rd where conditions were right for a hardcore attack through these bends.

The harder I drove, the more the Bullitt hunkered down and simply carved these corners up like no tomorrow. I just wish there was more steering feedback, which would make this thing even more enjoyable to pedal.

Any body roll that might have developed on the standard car has vanished on mine, while turn-in grip from the wider 275s up front provides the driver with a tonne of confidence. So much so I’m going to need to track it to even get close to the newfound grip it now has.

The good thing is Herrod Performance is one of the largest Ford Performance dealers in the world which means he’s in the US more times than he would like, which means he’s across everything available in the US including superchargers which will give you more than 800hp, along with a hugely powerful brake system upgrade which I’m still thinking about doing.

That’s not a slight on the standard six-piston Brembo brakes, because everything about them; stopping power, pedal feel and progression is good, but that’s the thing about mods, once you opt in it’s clearly hard to stop the habit.

And while this article might seem like a damn good plug for Rob and Chris Herrod’s business, I paid the standard rates for the work and parts used on my own car and I couldn’t be more stoked with the result.

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