Celebrating its 50th birthday this year, the Ford Mustang is one of the most iconic American cars of the 20th century. Its yearly incarnations have set the trends for sporty automobiles that exude cool. Let’s take a look at the car, its influence, and one of its most iconic screen moments – the car chase in Bullitt, starring one of our favourite cities, San Francisco.
San Francisco, with its hills and sharp turns, seems built for car chases, but nobody had seen it on screen before. Skidding cars, screeching tyres, smoke flying as they clatter around the streets, it was all a new concept to audiences, and Steve McQueen’s Bullitt was a revelation.
Car chases in today’s films are half computer-generated and the risk involved is minimal, but in the 1960s, the Mustang was a much looser machine and safety regulations were far more lax. The actors and stuntmen risked their lives performing such daredevil antics.
The sight of the Mustang flying off a hill with reckless abandon, only to come crashing down, its chassis screeching across the tarmac causing sparks to spray out was all the more exciting in the San Francisco setting.
Filbert Street is recognised as one of the steepest streets in the world, so to have the pursuit on its slopes was highly dramatic, with action continuing around other famous areas such as the Mission District and Brisbane. This was the first time the driver’s point of view was shown at such high speeds and the effect was jaw-dropping.
The Mustang’s appearance in Bullitt was so popular with film and car enthusiasts that to honour it, Ford created a limited edition Mustang called Bullitt in 2001, 2008 and 2009.
A natural screen star
Bullitt is by no means the only film the Mustang has appeared in. It’s been involved in plenty of fast car action in movies such as Gone in 60 Seconds, I am Legend, and even as an evil alien robot in Transformers. Our favourite incarnation of the car came about in Back to the Future II, which imagined the Mustang in 2015 as a hovercar – a bit far off still unfortunately!
The car has also influenced music culture too. Most famously, “Mustang Sally” was written a year after the car appeared and made a hit by Wilson Pickett. Since then, the tune has been recorded by many famous artists over the years, including BB King and Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Silver Apples and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Also during the 1960s, the inventor of rock & roll, Chuck Berry wrote another classic for cruising along: “My Mustang Ford”.
Over in France, infamous crooner Serge Gainsbourg recorded a very French hit in “Ford Mustang” with his partner at the time Jane Birkin, giving the car a new European allure that was most unexpected.
Kickin’ it much later in the early 90s, blonde bad boy Vanilla Ice made a poppin’ fresh track about the enjoyment he gets from rollin’ in his favourite ride, the 5.0L Fox Body Ford Mustang.
The electric atmosphere of the Mustangs careening around the screen in Bullitt inspired not only films and music, but also another medium decades later: video games. Games such as Driver pitched the player in the position of their own Mustang, hightailing around San Francisco trying to complete missions.
Giving players the chance to drive recklessly around Miami, New York and Los Angeles, as well as racer’s favourite San Francisco. Driver set much of the groundwork for the vehicular action in the 3D incarnations of the mega-selling Grand Theft Auto series.
Fifty years of fast and furious
The first Mustang appeared in April 1964 at the World’s Fair in New York where its racy look caught people’s eye as they were introduced to the first “pony” car.
With each year, Ford upped the car’s performance until the 1970s when new regulations dampened the abilities of large engines.
After chassis improvements in the 1980s, the car was again able to compete on a performance level. Since then, particularly in recent years, the Mustang has become a behemoth once again, this time with a terrifying 662-horsepower, something unthinkable in earlier days.
Who knows what the Mustangs of the next fifty years will be like? Either way, we’re willing to bet Mustangs will still be must ‘aves.
Feature image by Julien Chalendard