February 27, 2006

Horse Sense: As with mostspecial-interest or limited-run performance cars, Ford's '01 MustangBullitt has a following today that rivals the nearly cult-like groups ofmovie buffs who can recite almost all the dialog from the '68 cop dramastarring Steve McQueen, from which the unique 'Stang gets its name. Youask, "Really--how 'into' Mustang Bullitts are these enthusiasts?" Thesefolks, many of them members of the International Mustang Bullitt OwnersClub [www.imboc.com], dig the cars to such an extent they held theirannual gathering, known as the Mustang Bullitt Nationals, in a locationso appropriate there's no way their loyalty can be disputed: BullittCounty, Kentucky. Seriously--you can't make up this stuff!

There's no doubt the limited-run '01 Bullitt--only 6,500 were made--was anextra-special edition of our favorite ride. The Bullitt was arenaissance of the Highland Green '68 fastback GT (with a 390cipowerplant and a four-speed Top Loader tranny) made famous by thehigh-speed antics and chase scenes in the movie of the same title. Itwas set apart from other Mustangs thanks to styling and performancefeatures that gave it a "this isn't just any old GT" persona.

While cloning certainly isn't a new form of customizing, it's definitelya popular method, and Mustang enthusiasts are known to take this routeto dress up their cars. Saleen and Cobra clones are among the morepopular GT conversions, but bogus Bullitts are out there. Changes caninclude swapping intake manifolds and throttle bodies, suspensioncomponents, seats, interior appointments, and--if taken to extremelevels--badging as well.

We didn't want the makeover of our black '02 GT to go that far. Wethought a simple upgrade featuring Mustang Tuning's new deep-dishBullitt wheels and g-Force T/A radial tires from BFGoodrich, along witha complete Bullitt big-brake package by Performance Parts, was enough toimprove the GT's look and stance. And, as you'll learn, the changes wemade had an impact on the car's handling and stopping performance aswell.

Big Wheels, Bigger Tires

With 37,000 miles on the clock, and original tires and brakes that haveseen better days, it was time to step things up on our '02 Mustang GT.One of the wheels was damaged when entry into a driveway was misjudged.Luckily for us, the bead seal wasn't compromised and the tire remainedleak-free for more than 20,000 miles.

It's obvious we weren't around when the wheel was invented--the Sumeriansgot it done back in 3500 B.C.--but many of us can say we've been herelong enough to have witnessed several iterations and styles of wheelsfor Mustangs from the '79s to the '05 models, and many of them are knownby the catchy, non-Ford-issued names enthusiasts bestowed upon them.Ten-Holes, Pizza Cutters (the hard-to-clean turbine wheels of '87-'88GTs), and the beloved Pony (the star-patterned wheel with running-horsecenter cap that quickly became the wheel to swap onto any-year Fox whenit was first introduced in 1991) are examples of popular Fox-bodywheels. Today, the Bullitt wheels, referred to simply as "Bullitts" andreplicas of the Torq-Thrust rims that adorned Lt. Frank Bullitt's '68,have helped give New Age and even '05 Mustangs a lot of cosmetic appeal.

For the heads-up we got on the latest hot wheel for '99-'04 Mustangs, wecredit our new practice of staying abreast of topics and trends'Stangbanger's are discussing on the Internet. Mustangtuning.com (asubsidiary of Xoxide Inc.) is a Malvern, Pennsylvania-based supplier ofseveral wicked wheel styles for '99-'04 'Stangs. But the radically cool"deep-dish" rear Bullitts (the 171/2-x10-inch and 181/2x10-inchdeep-dish wheels are available for the rear only) are the latest rageamong enthusiasts. The new rear wheels are popular because their101/2-inch width and 27mm offset (6.84-inch backspace) offer enough roomto use super-fat rear tires that tuck under the car, give an OEM factorylook from the side, and a "you've got to be kidding" look from the rear.

Pablo Rios of Flip's Tire Center in Van Nuys, California, helped us setup our new wheels and tires...

We chose a set of black, 17-inch wheels (rear: 17x101/2, PN 10004,$154.99 each; front: 17x9, PN 10002, $129.99) to replace the original17x8-inch, Anthracite-colored Bullitts on our GT. We also went with thewidest tires that would fit and hopefully not rub, so we choseBFGoodrich 315/35ZR17 g-Force T/As for the deep-dish rear wheels. Onlyminimal front-tire rub was experienced when the wheels were turnedfull-lock to the right or left. BFG's 275/40ZR17s were mounted up front.Not only are these tires wide, but they also have a serious grip on dryroad surfaces, which makes them perfect for the canyon carving we mayget into in the future. We took a test blast through Malibu Canyon afterthe brakes were installed and the project was complete. Wow--whencombined with the Eibach springs and antiroll bars already on ourMustang, the car shot through the canyon like a slot car, stuck to theroad, and seemed to want more throttle in the curves. But don't thinkyour 'Stang will also ride like a Town Car. The BFGoodrich g-Force T/Asare sensitive to the road and make for a firmer, F-1/performance-typeride than the original 17-inch rubber. As BFGoodrich suggests, thesetires will not be rain friendly [but KJ rolls in Southern California,where it reportedly never rains--Ed.].

A backup set of all-season rubber is recommended if your car is drivenduring bad-weather months, as the evolution of this stocker continues.The bottom line? The Mustang Tuning/BFGoodrich wheel-and-tire combo ishuge (and we only used the 17s), it looks good, and fits perfectly on a'99-'04 Mustang.