Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
October 4, 2011

It's hard to believe it has been 10 years since Ford surprised us--and maybe even surprised itself--with the '01 Bullitt GT. Scott Hoag was Team Mustang's customization engineer charged with producing a special "feature car" to bolster Mustang sales during the final years of the SN-97 body style. With support from Mustang chief engineer Art Hyde, Hoag successfully launched the '01 Bullitt in May 2001. Two years later, he was instrumental in the creation of the '03-'04 Mach 1 before departing Ford to start his own aftermarket business, Mustang Racing Technologies, better known as MRT.

When it arrived in showrooms, the '01 Bullitt GT was a sensation with enthusiasts, especially those old enough to remember 1968 movie, Bullitt, which featured actor Steve McQueen driving a '68 Mustang fastback through San Francisco in one of the most memorable movie car chases of all time. But, as Hoag is quick to point out, the car also resonated with younger people who appreciated the lean, clean looks and added performance, like the special cast-aluminum intake that was borrowed from the Ford Racing catalog to increase the 4.6-liter's horsepower to 270. Additional changes included high-flow mufflers, revalved struts and shocks, Brembo front brakes (with red rotors), and vintage-style instrument cluster. Available in Black, True Blue, or Dark Highland Green similar to McQueen's '68 Mustang, the Bullitt GT also looked different from the standard Mustang GT with a lowered suspension, 17-inch Bullitt-style wheels, different moldings, brushed aluminum fuel filler door, and unique sidescoops.

The popularity of the Bullitt GT and its successor, the '03-'04 Mach 1, led to future feature-car Mustangs, like the California Special and a reprise of the Bullitt for '08-'09. Today there are clubs, like the International Mustang Bullitt Owners Club (www.imboc.com), and a registry devoted to the Bullitt Mustangs. At events, Bullitt owners tend to park together in a sea of black, dark blue, and dark green.

We sat down with Scott during the Mid-America Ford and Team Shelby Nationals to get his reflections about his involvement with the Bullitt GT.

MM: Can you believe it has been 10 years since you were involved with the launch of the '01 Bullitt GT?

SH: I can't. That means I've been gone from Ford for almost 10 years. I left a year after I launched the Mach 1.

MM: How long were you with Team Mustang?

SH: I was there for a little over three years. They had a hard time trying to figure out what to call my position. It went from Nameplate Manager to Mustang Customization Manager to Specialty Vehicle Project Manager to whatever. They could never put a title on it because that job had never happened before. My job was quite simple--to keep the SN-95 Mustang exciting and selling until the new S197 came out for '05.

MM: How did you come up with the Bullitt concept?

SH: We were working on finding an appropriate feature car, but we didn't want to do a sticker and a paintjob and call it something cool. While we were figuring that out, the auto show efforts were kicking in. In December 1999, unbeknownst to me, Mustang design manager Sean Tant was chartered to come up with a Mustang for the LA Auto Show in January. He and a group of people worked over Ford's Christmas shut-down to deliver a Bullitt-themed Mustang to the show. Sean obviously knew Mustang history and realized that the Bullitt movie, which showcased a '68 Mustang, had been popular. And we had just released a Bullitt-style wheel.

I was sitting in Art Hyde's office when we got a call from someone at the show saying, "Alright, what's going on with this car?" Art and I looked at each other because we didn't know what he was talking about. The guy said, "This green Mustang, we can't keep people away from it." We told him we'd get back to him.

We called Sean Tant, who said, "I meant to tell you guys about that. We had to rush something out there." So he had started something. If there was that much excitement, then there was our feature car.

MM: So the Bullitt was the result of lucky marketing?

SH: Obviously it got the buzz going. Then the challenge was to deliver the essence of a Bullitt in an impossible time frame. Introducing it for the '01 model year was a stretch at best, unless we were going to do something like a stripe and wheel package. But we were very strong on the fact that the car needed to have substance or it wouldn't connect with enthusiasts. If they didn't connect with it, the car would be a failure.

We knew the Bullitt GT needed to touch on all of the functional elements--exterior and interior styling, performance, sound, corporate DNA, driving dynamic, and human interface. Of course, that grew into a new interior, chassis, powertrain actions, and color selection, which is not a minor program in the Ford system. The scope of what we said we were going to do within the short time frame was so absurd that people giggled, walked away, and left us alone. It was the perfect ground cover.

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MM: Did you have assistance from other departments at Ford?

SH: We solicited help from the functional areas I mentioned. I told them, "This is a program of passion. We've got no head count and no budget. I'm looking for guys who think this is a cool idea. You still have to do your full-time day job." Once they got permission from their managers, then that became the enabler for people to say, "Let's do this the right way." That brought a lot of creative juices to the team.

MM: The Bullitt had a special intake. Was that hard to pull off?

SH: Most of the people in powertrain had some car-person DNA in them. One of the keys was referencing the technologies we already had. We started with the Ford Racing catalog and figured out some of the things we'd have to change to integrate certain parts, which had to meet crash-worthiness and all the safety elements, fuel economy, etc. We were not going to do a new emissions certification for the car. We were not going to have a crash program. So we ended up revising a lot of the components, starting with something that existed so it was a refinement instead of an invention process. That's how the intake manifold came about.

MM: Were you able to include all of the components that you wanted?

SH: You can't always get everything you want. There were two things on the front of the car that we really wanted to pull off from the Bullitt show car--the front fascia and the functional hoodscoop. Because the show car grille opening required compromises to the front bumper beam, which is safety, it was taboo. To make the hood functional was a tooling expense that was out of our reach. Those two things on the front of the cars didn't happen the way we would have liked.

We actually spent a lot of time on the rear, which was more of a "wingless wing" decklid. We tried all sorts of spoilers. After near exhaustion, I said, "Let's just paint the decklid green, bring it to the next review, and see what they think about it." People gravitated toward what was different. Sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something if something is wrong.

The biggest thing people noticed inside was that the steering wheel from the prototype was missing. It had a button-style horn instead of the big airbag horn. But a new airbag would have affected safety. We fought hard for those things but in the scheme of things, the essence was maintained in the production car.

MM: How long did the Bullitt development take?

SH: About 13 months. We had the prototype at SEMA in November 2000 and the first car was delivered at a Fun Ford Weekend in May 2001. To go from a concept, through the whole program--product definition, program approval, engineering sign-off, and make it available in a dealership--in essentially a year was crazy-stupid. To some executives at Ford, it was also crazy-irresponsible.

MM: Did the car generate more response and enthusiasm than you expected?

SH: It did. Part of the surprise was seeing the type of people who were resonating with it. I figured people wearing "supporting whitewalls" would remember the Bullitt movie so it would be a sentimental journey for them. The surprise was that the young generation gravitated to the car as well. They thought it was very unique and cool. Not for historic reasons but under its own merit, which was a delightful surprise. There's luck in the formula as well as science.

MM: How many did you end up building?

SH: We had hoped to sell 6,500 units. And we actually had 6,500 orders in the system. But from a scheduling situation, they didn't get built. If we had built 6,500 cars, every one of them would have had a customer. Only 5,582 were able to make it through the scheduled production run before that model year closed.

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MM: We understand you had to work with the McQueen family because of the Bullitt name?

SH: Our office of general counsel had been in discussions with the McQueen Foundation and things were working quite nicely with using the name Bullitt. Then we discovered that Time-Warner thought they had more rights to the name than the McQueen family. I literally had to step out of the negotiations because my Scottish temperament was getting involved by saying, "Listen, these guys stand to profit more from this car than Ford and I find that wrong." Sorry, I didn't see them in any of the meetings at 10:30 at night.

I think if we hadn't negotiated the name into the deal, the car wouldn't have been the success that it was. I also don't think that the movie Bullitt would have had a resurgence in popularity either. It was good pro quo.

MM: We've heard that Steve McQueen's son, Chad, drove a Bullitt for the promotional photography in San Francisco. Is that true?

SH: Yes. It was neat to see all that come together. Chad had been on location during the filming of the Bullitt movie so it was a personal milestone in his life. Watching him launch the car time and again on the hills of San Francisco, I was thinking, "This is smoking cool!" I was also thinking, "He's destroying this car."

Afterwards, we had the engineers inspect the car. The engine crossmember was pretty clean from any paint that was originally on it. Other than that, the car was perfect. It went into the media fleet and never had any serviceability issues. I ended up finding that car later. It was for sale at a car show in Alabama. The owner had no idea about its history. I remembered the vehicle number and confirmed it by the scuffed up crossmember. I told the owner and he said, "Not for sale anymore."

MM: Did the McQueen family receive any of the Bullitts?

SH: Part of their contract was that they were to receive four vehicles serialized one, two, three, and four. After we'd produced around 400 cars, the legal guys clued us in that that was the deal. That was way too late because the early cars, all sequentially numbered, were sold and shipped. I said, "We can number them McQueen one, two, three, and four." And they thought that was even better. A car went to Chad, his sister, and his mom. The fourth one was auctioned for the McQueen Foundation. I think all have now been sold except Chad's.

MM: Did the success of the Bullitt help facilitate the Mach 1 for '03 and '04?

SH: Actually, it probably hurt the Mach 1 effort. At that time, we had no data that said the Bullitt was going to be successful. And I was saying, "Let's do another feature car. And we're going to go bigger and badder and we're going to put a hole through the hood." And the executives were going, "We need a drug test from this guy. He's not right." The car guys, like Art Hyde and VP Chris Theodore, felt good about it. But some of the other disciplines within Ford were afraid of making a mistake, of having product that we would have to dump on the dealers.

MM: Did working on the Bullitt and Mach 1 programs help you with MRT?

SH: Absolutely. Because we didn't have any formidable marketing available for the Bullitt and Mach 1, we had to get creative. We had to look toward internet help and grassroots events, such as Mid-America Shelby and MCA shows, etc. With the help of the media, I certainly got mentioned with both the Bullitt and Mach 1. So you guys validated that I conceivably knew what I was talking about.

I've always been a tinkerer. There's only been one car that I have not modified, and that's Bullitt number one sitting in my garage.