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.

Big Brakes

Here's a look at PPI's complete (front and rear) Mustang Bullitt brakekits prior to installation on our '02 Mustang GT.

Stopping is actually more important than going, and the upgrade tobigger brakes will complement what we've done with the wheels and tires.Performance Parts helped us carry on the Bullitt theme by sending us aset of front and rear Mustang Bullitt brakes. Performance Parts' Bullittbrake kits ($395.99) feature new, OEM Ford parts that are the same asthe standard equipment on the '01 Mustang Bullitt. Thirteen-inch Brembonondirectional front rotors and red, galloping-horse calipers are thehighlight of this setup. The rear rotors are upgraded to 12 inches indiameter. Performance brake pads are included with each kit, as are allmounting brackets, front hoses and banjo bolts, and washers. Nomodifications are required for this brake upgrade on '99-'04 Mustangs.

Installing the new rear brakes requires pulling the axles so the newcaliper brackets can be set in place. After swapping the old for thenew, Mase resealed the rearend and refilled the differential with RoyalPurple 75W140 synthetic gear oil. After an hour or so, the resealed diffcover was ready to rock.

Bolting on the bigger binders gives us a ton more stopping power than wehad with the stock equipment. And, the bright-red color of the calipersreally pops coming through the spokes of the black Bullitt wheels.

Performance Parts also offers complete Bullitt suspension kits ($399.99)that include 3/4-inch lowering springs and the same re-valved Tokicoshocks and struts that handled the bumps on the real-deal 'Stangs. Frontand rear Bullitt sway bars are also available ($39.99/pair whenpurchased with struts, shocks, and springs).






Wheel Alignment

We decided to use Maximum Motorsports' new four-bolt caster/camberplates (PN MMCC9994, black; $199.95] as part of our transformation. Forthose who want bling, the same plates are available in triple-platedChrome (PN MMCC9994-C; $249.95). When a car is lowered, the factorycamber adjustment slots usually can't provide enough range of motion forreducing negative camber to a point where the tires will wear evenly.These stronger plates provide the ability to set the camber to stockspecifications regardless of ride height...

Whenever you step up to wheels and tires that are considerably largerthan the factory equipment, it's critical that the new setup is properlyaligned. Marlon Mitchell, owner of Marlo's Frame and Alignment inChatsworth, California, is "The Man" when it comes to making all of thecritical adjustments necessary for perfect front-end geometry onMustangs of all years. Our car only needs to have the front wheels linedup, as it has a solid rear axle. However, Mustangs with IRS wouldrequire a four-wheel alignment. Keep this in mind when you make yourmove to the big-wheel setup.

Caster, camber, and toe are the three main ingredients of a good wheelalignment, and Marlon sets it all the old-school way, with spot-onaccuracy. Caster on our GT is the positioning of the front struts inrelationship to the front or rear of the car when looking down from thetop of the struts, and imagining a line straight down through the balljoints. A strut can be moved rearward to achieve a positive casteradjustment, or frontward for a negative adjustment. "Camber" is theangle of the tires in relationship to the ground, when viewed from thefront of the car. "Toe" is the point between the tips of the front ofthe tire and the tips of the rear of the tire, when looking at the car.Toe should be "in" 1/16 or 1/8 of an inch. The car will pull to theleft or right over bumps if the toe setting is too far out.

...They also provide a means ofadjusting caster in order to keep things straight on our 'Stang's frontend. Maximum's new plates carry a lifetime warranty against bearingfailure. We think they'll work great with our lowered GT and its newrubber. Mase starts the installation by using the OEM camber plate as atemplate for marking the spot where a 1/2-inch hole must be drilled inthe shock tower, for the new caster/camper plate's fourth bolt. Afterdrilling the holes, each of the new plates is carefully assembled andsecured in its position on the shock towers.

Marlon made a positive caster adjustment (the top of the struts weretilted as far as possible to the rear of the car) in order to achieveoptimum tracking and high-speed stability. Steering response alsoimproved, and front-end dive under hard braking was reduced. There is nofactory provision for adjusting caster on Mustangs, so installing theplates is almost mandatory if you upgrade to bigger rubber, as theyallow you to make adjustments that eliminate excessive tire wear. Sinceour new BFG hides will see a fair amount of time on the switchback,canyon roads, Marlon also dialed in additional negative camber (movedthe shocks closer to the engine) to help improve cornering, and set thetoe at 1/8 inch.














BRAKE CHECK

Before installing the big brakes, we took out the stock Mustang andmeasured the amount of braking distance needed to get from 60 mph to afull stop. Measurements were taken starting at the first transition linebetween the blacktop and concrete. Our 'Stang came to a halt inapproximately 132 feet in each of the three test runs we made. Weallowed the brakes to cool for 15 minutes between each test run, buthave to note the brake pads were original and worn, and the brake-fluidlevel was low.

We returned to our secret test location (the parking lot of an abandonedoffice complex) a few days after the installation and gave the new brakesystem three more test shots. Stepping up to the bigger brakesdefinitely makes a difference. The two-piston calipers and 13-inch rotordiameter create some serious front brakeforce, and a driver should bemindful of that when decelerating or coming to a stop. If you're notbuckled up, a face full of windshield will be your next stop if thebrakes are jammed on at low speed. Trust us--the Bullitt brakes grab welland, with the ABS our 'Stang is equipped with, the 60-to-zero stoppingwas quite smooth. The 13-inch front and 12-inch rear binders brought theGT to a halt in approximately 120 feet each time.