In the Mustang Bullitt, Ruminations of the Past and Future Collide
A car that inspires can create moments that define.
I’m one of the luckiest people in the world: I have a beautiful and dear best friend who I’ve grown up hand in hand with for more than three decades.
She’s essentially a sister to me. We’ve shared so many of life’s ups and downs: childhood memories and high school dramas; boyfriends, marriages, and dissolutions; and a gorgeous daughter each who, through no encouragement (but an enormous amount of pride) on our parts are turning out to be a second generation of this beautiful connection we started all those years ago.
What she is not, however, is a car person. Never has been. I’d turn up at her house on a Sunday afternoon when we were kids, but only on the condition that the IndyCar race could be on in the background because I absolutely couldn’t miss it (and VCRs were not to be trusted). She’d sit slumped on the couch twirling a bored finger in the air and making unenthusiastic engine noises. No matter how hard I tried, it was the one thing I was passionate about that I couldn’t convince her to share with me.
I’ve always been able to make her double over with laughter on a moment’s notice, though, and I recently hit a new milestone in our friendship: in spite of her reticence, I managed to do it with a car.
It’s become an annual tradition for us to get together for a weekend to jointly celebrate our birthdays. The entire thing is bankrolled by her partner, bless his darling heart; my sole duty in the arrangement is to secure a set of wheels worthy of the occasion.
This year felt especially weighty: we both turned 40 a few months back and, to be frank, neither of us is handling it very well. Clocks seem to tick more loudly these days, and life is presenting each of us with the unique challenges that tend to crop up as middle age approaches. Finding the time to get away together to decompress and assess became long overdue.
Getting the details right on such an important event felt dreadfully important, including the wheels.
“Is there a car that’s celebrating an important anniversary, like we are?” she asked me a few weeks ago.
As soon as the words came out of her mouth, I knew the answer. I called to secure it the next day.
A week or so later, we were taking our kids to an amusement park when a shiny new Mustang GT roared by at full song. I stopped in my tracks and made a profanity-laced comment about how much I love the darned things.
“See, that’s one way that you and I are different,” she replied. “I think the people who drive those are complete douchebags.”
Imagine my delight, then, when I arrive to pick her up for our long-awaited sojourn and, as her garage door slowly winds up, there I am, grinning cheekily from ear to ear, gleefully revving the raucous 5.0-litre V8 on a 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt.
Cue the doubled-over laughter.
“What is THAT?” she shrieks.
I tell her the car’s entire back story – that it’s an homage to the 50th anniversary of the Steve McQueen movie Bullitt that featured a green 1968 Mustang GT Fastback in one of the most famous silver-screen car chase scenes of all time – making sure to emphasize that the whole thing is her fault for bringing up the anniversary factor in the first place.
“Besides,” I add, “this thing’s got 480 horsepower, it’s rear-wheel drive, and it’s currently 7 degrees out and pouring rain, so the summer tires on it are going to have pretty much zero grip. Good times ahead!”
“Okay! Terrifying! Let’s go!”
She’s such a good sport. It’s one of the many reasons I love her.
I dropped the cue ball shifter into first, and we set off on the hour-and-change drive toward wine country, singing along with songs from our youth at the top of our lungs: the jaunty harmonies and exaggerated Scottish accents of 500 Miles by the Proclaimers; Bohemian Rhapsody, which because of our age entered our lives not from hearing Queen on the radio but thanks to Mike Myers and the movie Wayne’s World; and Grade 9 by the Barenaked Ladies, a song that, depressingly, was released as a single while I was in grade 9 myself. (Sigh.)
We shared great food and wine, and plenty more laughs. We ruminated over how the challenges we’ve been thrown in life have shaped us to handle the ones yet to come. (Is it inevitable that, upon reaching a certain age, adult conversations resemble just repeating the lyrics to Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide over and over again?) Cautiously, together, we explored the good and the bad of what our futures might bring.
And although we may hold it at different levels of esteem, we’ll both always remember that all of this happened in that Mustang.
Could Steve McQueen ever have predicted that the car honouring the most iconic scenes of his career 50 years later would come with things like a full-colour digital instrument cluster, MagneRide dampers, and a touchscreen that can interact directly with these crazy little computer things we carry around in our pockets through something called an app?
On the other hand, maybe change isn’t always such a great thing. Back in McQueen’s day, people didn’t need to be told that perfectly hitting a rev match on a manual downshift, releasing the clutch, and making a car scream underneath you as you execute a perfect pass is one of the most raw, visceral, and exhilarating experiences that can be had behind the wheel. In the Mustang, the default setting is to let the car’s computers do the rev matching for you. It can be turned off, of course, but the mere thought that such a feature might help sell more cars with manual transmissions, as noble a mission as that may be, makes me sad deep down in my soul.
And then there’s the guy in the Tesla. I was stopped at a light next to another car, but I hadn’t paid much attention to what it was. When the light turned green, I advanced with a roar, and the next thing I saw was a Model S 75D shooting by and leaving the Mustang well and truly in its wake – and it still would have, even if I’d noticed that it was there. A respectful hat tip to you, Tesla driver, whoever you are; you made your point handily. Today, a fully electric driving future seems inevitable, and instant torque and zero emissions are among the clear benefits that will come with it.
But will there be a 100th anniversary Mustang Bullitt? If cars are universally near-silent by then, dare Ford even try to make the association? Almost certainly not.
With an eye to how quickly things change and how uncertain the future by nature must always be, these moments are timely reminders that life is best lived in the present, surrounded by the best people, enjoying the best food and wine, belly laughing, singing with abandon, tackling the deep questions, and embracing joy, wherever it may lie.
And always – in whatever way that may mean – driving the cars that move us most.
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