Mustang Challenge | Recreating Bullit in San Fran


Anthony Bourdain on San Francisco: “Anyone who doesn’t have a great time in San Francisco is pretty much dead to me”. We tend to agree.

[You’re reading part of the Mustang Challenge series, a loosely bound concept that was created to inspire others to get out and explore the country in their cars. In this Mustang Challenge, two Canadians are touring the USA for the first time, traveling for 26 days through 13 different US cities while traversing over 8,000 miles behind the wheel of a 2016 Mustang GT. This is one post in a series of many. To read the previous articles and to follow the series, jump to the bottom of this page.]

Apart from one really, really close shave with an Audi A4 in Austin (I’m talking literal inches away from side swiping it at close to 60 – nice race car turn, Alex!), we’ve had 4000 incident free miles, until now. Yup, we finally damaged the Mustang. Somewhere on I5 north, roughly a couple hundred miles outside San Fran, sits our driver side quarter panel scoop – abandoned, cold and lonely.

‘Twas night time and I was at the wheel. Cruise control set at 77, the drive was going well. All of a sudden, a large “BANG” echoed through the cabin, startling a dozing Alex wide awake. The car did not shift, stutter or otherwise change one bit how it was driving, and the gauges too showed nothing abnormal. Thus, not particularly concerned, we pressed on. It was only the next morning, when in the daylight, did I finally take a look at the car and noticed the void behind the driver door. Ah, man down. If only we had stopped right away, perhaps we could have saved him. I guess that is something I will have to live with for the rest of my life, knowing that perhaps, just perhaps, had I been a little more caring that one fateful night, that side scoop could have been resuscitated, rehabilitated and re-installed back on our S550 – allowed to finish the journey it started. Rather, it is probably in a thousand pieces, etched into the very pavement it once used to blissfully float over, never to feel the air flow over it again. The passenger side scoop was just absolutely devastated when we broke the news to it, he took it pretty hard.  Truly, a heart wrenching moment for all involved. (To date, we still have no idea what that noise was, but we figure it was somehow related to the scoop forcefully separating from us.)

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RIP side scoop. You will never be forgotten.

Down a Man, We Press on and Make the Best of San Fran

San Francisco is a city rife with Mustang history. After all, the greatest car chase of all time was filmed there in 1968 – a 10 minute scene featuring Steve McQueen and the now infamous ’68 Bullitt Mustang fastback, playing cat and mouse with a ’68 Charger. The cars, piloted by Steve McQueen and Bill Hickman, respectively, allegedly reached speeds of up to 110 mph as they ripped through the sharp streets all those years ago. 110 mph seems absurdly fast, but having done a little reading about the particular car used in the film, it is likely it had even more in the tank.

Two highland green 1968 fastback Mustangs (supposedly sequential VINs) were purchased by Warner Bros and used for the production. Each was equipped with a 390 cubic inch V8 and a 4 speed manual transmission. Out of the factory, each car was to produce 335 horsepower. From there, the Mustangs  were further upgraded by the production studio to better endure the rigours that filming would bestow upon them. The ‘Stangs had their shock towers stiffened, heavy duty coil springs and Koni shocks replaced the stock units, and a thicker swaybar was installed to take care of the chassis and suspension. Engine wise, the ignition system received some improvements, the heads were milled and the carburetor upgraded and fine-tuned. No specific power numbers have ever been released (if they were ever even measured, which I doubt), but it would probably be safe to assume that these upgrades unleashed another 20-30 horses. Roughly 355 horsepower moving a 3000 pound car – it definitely would have been fast. It is interesting to note, however, that these Mustangs either did not have a limited slip differential, or it was non-functioning, as there are many single tire skid marks left throughout the chase. Circa 1968 traction control was a mechanical device, implementing two feet and two hands to keep the ‘Stang on the road.

Conversely, our own Mustang has a 302 cubic inch V8, produces 435 horsepower transferred through a 6-speed transmission and weighs in at a hefty 3800 lbs. Ours definitely has a limited slip diff and various electronic nannies to help us keep everything in check.

In all fairness, our modern S550 would likely smoke the 68 Bullit, hands down. Despite a weight advantage, the first-gen Pony car simply cannot measure up to all the latest engineering and tech packed into the current Mustang. Independent rear suspension, variable valve timing, fuel injection, traction control, launch control, hill assist, warp drive… the list goes on. But hey, that’s 48 years of improvement – it’s really not an apples to apples comparison; although, the ’68 may beat the S550 in terms of cabin noise – that is, provide a quieter ride. That side pipe exhaust system is really starting to grind our (g)ears.

Of course, driving in San Fran, being in our own Mustang (albeit a modern one), it would only make sense for us to cruise the very same path that Steve McQueen careened down some 48 years ago. Unfortunately, re-creating the chase route is not as straightforward as one would think. After doing much reading online, it turns out that the infamous car chase is actually composed of many smaller clips, recorded over several areas of San Francisco and then spliced back together to make one continuous stream. Here is a map of the supposed filming locations: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1EOstkvrN02kS2cMEmjejikz1mH8&hl=en, and for really in-depth information on the locations, check out this page written by Ray Smith: http://www.rjsmith.com/bullitt-locations.html.

Midtown Madness in a Mustang

We drove along a few of the streets that were in the chase scene, for nostalgia and being the Mustang aficionados that we are. I mean, again, that is the most famous chase scene out there, bar none. And it was in a Mustang, in San Francisco. We were in a Mustang, in San Francisco. Easy decision.

Having cruised the Bullit streets, it was now time to take the Mustang down the red cobblestone road of Lombard Street. As a child, I spent a lot of time playing the computer game Midtown Madness 2, a driving game which featured the accurately remodeled cities of San Fransisco and London. Having spent countless hours behind my Momo steering wheel, launching a New Edge SN95 Mustang up and down the steep street until the engine either started smoking or the in-game police caught me, I was confident I knew what to expect. In fact, I was a little nervous about taking a real Mustang down the hill, because I remembered it to be quite the challenge when trying to do it on my Windows 98 computer.

Either the game was inaccurate or I have improved as a driver since the MM2 days, because as it turns out, there wasn’t much to it. Sure, it is a steep hill with some tight turns, but nothing pressing that made me feel as if we’d need some touch up paint by the time we arrived at the bottom.

In fact, the most intriguing part of going down Lombard Street had nothing to do with the street or the car. Rather, it had to do with Alex. As we slowly ambled down the hill, I spotted a pair of oriental friends, just a few feet ahead of us, on our right, staging and taking many pictures of each other. We were just about to pull even with them, and right into their backdrop. The perfect opportunity for a Mustang Mounties photo bomb.

We pull up, Alex leans out the window, we hear their camera click. Ha, perfectly executed. And then the friend, who took the picture, frowns. Alex, somewhat frantically, repositions himself back inside the car and says “dude, I just messed up!”.

A Memorable Photo, For All the Wrong Reasons

This was a gimme opportunity to get the Mustang Mounties brand out there, to put us on the map and on our way to stardom (as mentioned, LA didn’t work out as planned). All Alex had to do was nonchalantly have his face in the background of the photo, throw up a peace sign and make this a photo that would then become a keepsake of this family’s American adventure. So easy. So simple.

What did Alex actually do? He gave them the finger. Yup, that’s right. He explained that he froze, he panicked. When the spot light was his for the taking, his brain freaked out and forgot how to contort his index and middle finger into the shape of a V, an internationally recognized “peace” symbol. Instead, he threw them another internationally recognized symbol. One that people give when the crappy Civic in the next lane over suddenly cuts in front and hits the brake. One that a person shares with their unruly neighbor who is always making loud noises at god awful hours. One directed toward the mischievous adolescents running away as you open the door to find a burning brown paper bag on your front porch. One that by no means is friendly. This is the symbol Alex gave to these newcomers.

roasted
Target: acquired. Mission: photobomb. Outcome: disastrous.

There we have it. Upon reviewing their Lombard Street picture, they will have Alex in the background, his fat head sticking out of the Mustang, undoubtedly with a stupid smile plastered across his face, and he’s tossing them the bird. Welcome to America, I guess.  I cracked up, in hysterics. What I would give to have a copy of that picture… I hope the GoPro we had mounted on the roof was able to capture that moment. (Unfortunately, it did not. But, if you pay close attention, you can hear us laughing hysterically afterward, a bit further down the road.)

Still smiling from the previous endeavor, we set off in the direction of the hostel to check-in for the night. As with most downtown accommodations, the hostel did not have its own parking lot. They did, however, have an agreement with a lot just two blocks over, and would only cost $20 for the night.

From Russia with Love

We made the trek down the street and arrived at an indoor parking garage, which looked as if it was probably a Russian mob front (turns out all the employees were from Georgia, which is just south of Russia – close enough). We checked the address the front desk wrote for us against the address written atop the building. Yup, we were in the right place. Expecting a “greetings, comrade” from the employee that approached us, he instead asked us for how long we would be staying and to leave him the key.

I know it is fairly common practice for private parking lots to keep the keys to the car, as that means they literally pack the lot like sardines and will occasionally need to move some cars around in order to get others out, but there was no way I was leaving the key with this guy; the car was likely to be in a shipping container, heading overseas within the hour. If not, for sure they would take it for a spin (I worked as a valet for a few years, I know exactly what happens to the fast cars). I argued to keep the key with us, not totally trusting these guys, but in the end I reluctantly handed it over, again praying insurance would take care of us should the car or anything inside it disappear. When we picked the ‘Stang up the next day everything was as it should, except for the 2 additional miles registered on the odometer. Yeah, their parking lot definitely isn’t that big…

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We handed over the keys with 23,731.1 miles on the odo…

With the Mustang put to bed for the remainder of the day, it was now time to attend to our grumbling stomachs. Right across the street from the Green Tortoise hostel was an Indian restaurant, and after examining the menu posted up on their window, we each feasted on a gargantuan plate of food there. Full and content, all the remained for us to do was see what kind of interesting souls the hostel was harboring this weekend. Knowing we’d be leaving early to make the drive to Portland the next morning, we opted to try and have a quiet night in. Perhaps have a few drinks, shoot some pool, chat with the other travelers – then hit the hay for a good night’s sleep. Nothing too fanatical, for once.

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