The movie Bullitt came out in 1968 with Steve McQueen in the staring role, at least as far as the credits were concerned. In reality the lead was tied with a Highland green1968 Ford Mustang GT that had been modified for the role of Lt. Frank Bullitt’s daily driver. The car was stripped of the factory fog lights in the front grill, the white “C” stripes were removed from the sides, the rocker panels were painted a matching green and the Mustang letters were removed from the rear. The chassis also received a great deal of modification as the 390 V8 cars would be put through more that they would have seen on a typical race track.
Peter Yates and McQueen were a perfect match for this movie as director and actor. The synergy was there and even though the story was difficult to follow the movie never lost its audience and stayed on pace. The chase scene on the city streets of San Francisco was monumental as speeds often exceeded 100 mph. No under cranking of the cameras or employing the magic of CGI in this movie – reality was the name of the game here.
Since that time the fate of the surviving Mustang from that movie has achieved legend status and the chase scene has thrilled many generations. In 2001 Ford came out with its first attempt at a factory “Bullitt” Mustang. Nice try Ford. They couldn’t screw up the color, but the car just didn’t have the feel of the ’68 GT at all. In 2005 Ford came out with a Mustang that had the retro lines of the Mustangs of the late sixties and much improved the basic platform in terms of frame and suspension. In 2008 they gave the Bullitt Mustang another try. This time they hit it perfect. The body had all the right lines and the minimalist treatment worked exceedingly well.
A good friend and customer was looking for a Mustang with muscle and had been scouring eBay and Craig’s List for a turn-key performer. He sent me links to many that he was interested in. While they all were warmed over and some even track worthy I was concerned that after the first 45 minutes he would have to deal with the reality of modifications that provided power but left drive-ability in the parking lot. I encouraged him to look for a 2008-2009 Bullitt.
Within a day or two he had found a very low mileage example for a decent price. It had less than 3000 miles and had been kept garaged and well cared for. The price was right and he drove it to his home.
While he was off on a business trip he asked me to take the car out for some seat time and let him know my impressions. He liked the car very much. He felt it had good power, a really nice exhaust note, and all the comforts of a modern car.
I was quite anxious to take it for a drive. I loved its looks and had read reviews on the car. With great anticipation I opened his garage and took my first look at it.
It had a lot of fender gap at the top of the tires. This is typical of most cars, but seemed to be pronounced on the Mustang. I circled the outside of the car and grinned with admiration at how Ford had remained true to the minimalist treatment of the 1968 Mustang. Only the fuel cap on the rear said Ford. Everything else was clean and understated, with a hint of sinister.
I got inside ready to take my first drive. The interior was nice with its machined aluminum dash and black upholstery. I prefer a seat that hugs you such as the Recaro’s in my Evolution, but these seats still provided enough support that you felt comfortable and secure.
Turning the key produced a nice mellow exhaust sound. A little throaty when you jabbed the throttle. Nice. When oil is gone and electrics are the only option for a power plant I will dearly miss the sound of a V8.
I backed the car out and then sped down the driveway toward the open road. There are plenty of nice roads to choose from around Ted’s house and I tried to find ones that would allow the car to stretch its legs as well as challenge its suspension.
The first impression was a little disappointing. The front end would try to point skyward when you applied torque and the nose would try to burry itself in the tarmac when you applied the brakes. Taking turns it would understeer and roll around on the chassis. Mind you, it was still much better than previous iterations of the Mustang platform right out of the showroom, but as time has advanced so has expectations. This car deserved better handling. It had power that the suspension couldn’t, wouldn’t, let it apply in a smooth manner. I suspected that the tires were not good enough for the car, but the suspension, as it was, never let you find out for sure.
I sent Ted an email outlining my impressions and suggested that we consider a suspension upgrade based on springs that would lower the ride height, better shocks, and everything that Whiteline had to improve the suspension.
I am a real fan of Swift Springs and had hoped that they offered an application for the Bullitt Mustang. No such luck, but Ted found that Steeda had a set of Ultralite springs for his car that would lower the front an inch and the rear an inch and a quarter. Steeda’s Ultralite springs used a high quality, low weight wire that provides less unsprung weight and lower inertia resulting in a nice ride while providing stability and control. Ted also found a deal on Koni struts and shocks. He ordered the Steeda heavy duty upper strut mounts that would allow for precise camber settings.
Whiteline is an Australian company that has made its name developing and producing aftermarket suspension pieces that correct rollcenter issues, bumpsteer problems, and other handling challenges for people who modify their car’s suspensions. I have used their solutions on several cars with positive results and was impressed to find that they had a complete selection of upgrades to improve the Bullitt’s suspension.
We hooked up with Global Performance as the North American supplier of Whiteline products. They bent over backward to help us obtain the Whiteline products we needed for the Mustang working on our behalf directly with the folks in Australia.
Here is a list of the Whiteline products we chose:
- KCA305 – Anti-dive caster kit lower control arm
- KCA306 – Bump steer roll center kit
- KSB726 – Brace lower control arm to sway bar
- KSB728 – Brace lower control arm
- BFF24Z – Sway bar32mm heavy duty adjustable
- KSB727 – Brace chassis support
- KDT904 – Positive traction kit rear
- KTA130 – Trailing arm lower adjustable
- BFR65Z – Sway bar 27mm heavy duty blade adjustable
Global Performance was quick to get our order fulfilled with one exception. The KCA306 kit was backordered. It was hoped that Whiteline would be able to ship us the kit in just a couple of weeks behind the rest of their parts. Time went on and no KCA306. I kept in touch with the folks at Global and they kept communications going with Whiteline. We kept expecting shipment, but nothing seemed to happen.
Whiteline was not trying to stonewall us, it was just that they insist on producing the best quality products available and were not satisfied with the initial versions being produced. It took several iterations before they agreed that the quality warranted the production of the kits. In fact we had to wait just a little bit longer because we were the first customers to receive a kit and the first production set was needed for display at SEMA this year.
After the show the Global sales rep stuffed the kit into his luggage and brought it back to be shipped to our shop. Ted did not enjoy being held in suspense, but I assured him that the KCA306 kit was critical to the handling package to be effective.
Finally all the parts were here and we scheduled the first available weekend to install the upgrades.
During the waiting period Ted also added a short shifter kit from Roush and a sequential turn signal kit for the rear tail lights.
The first thing was to get the car up in the air and the wheels removed. While it was up in the air we took a look at the stock suspension setup. The front was a nice control arm/strut setup that works very well especially compared to previous generations of Mustangs. The rear was also simpler and more effective than the four link rear ends of the past. One area that was a bit screwy was the rear antisway bar. I wondered at how the stock design did much of anything related to controlling rear body roll. That would not be the case with the Whiteline replacement.
Next the car had to be lowered again in order to get access to the top of the rear shock mounts. Down it went so that the trunk could be opened and the subwoofer, amplifier, and trim panels could all be removed.
With everything out of the way it was easy to reach the top shock nuts and release them. I kept a floor jack under the rear axle to catch the axle as the shocks dropped. Then I unbolted the brake line brackets from the inner fender wells so that the lines would not be under tension as the axle was dropped.
With the tops loose the bottom bolts were undone. Ford uses a lot of captured nuts which makes assembly and disassembly easy. Ford also uses a lot of Loctite.
In order for the axle to come down far enough for the springs to be swapped out in the rear the factory anti-sway bar also had to be removed.
There was not a big difference in the static height of the stock vs. Steeda springs, but the diameter of the winding of the coils was completely different.
One side at a time the axle was tilted so that the Steeda springs could replace the stockers. The Koni shocks were bolted in from the trunk and then bolted at the bottom.
Next to be replaced was the stock, stamped, rear chassis support brace. The Whiteline version would provide so much more chassis stiffness and therefore handling predictability.
With the stock sway bar out of the way it went in quite easily using the stock fastening hardware.
Now it was time to install the new, much more effective, rear anti-sway bar. The sway bar links provided were excellent, but needed the top bushings swapped out for a larger diameter one in order to accommodate the new hardware. I used the shop press to push the larger bushing in and the old one out in one press.
I left the end links hanging while I worked on the upper control arm that locates the rear differential. The Whiteline kit allows you to adjust the pinion angle. This is critical since the ride height would be changed substantially in the rear as well as the front.
The Whiteline solution is to replace the bushing at the front of the arm with a poly bushing and install and offset metal center bushing that allows for rotation and adjustment of the angle.
With that installed it was time for replacing the stock stamped steel lower control arms with the adjustable Whiteline pieces.
In order to keep the length close to stock in the initial setup I popped the bolts through the stock arms and laid the new arms on top while I adjusted the center turn buckle.
Prior to that I had removed the center turn buckle threaded pieces and liberally coated the inside threads with anti-seize. Whiteline makes high quality pieces, but the anti-seize ensures that over time rust doesn’t ruin the adjustability. We would apply anti-seize on the front tie rod ends as well.
When installing the new control arms it is a good idea to leave the bolts a bit loose so that the suspension can unload itself on the alignment rack.
With the lower control arms installed it was time to complete the anti-sway bar installation. A liberal amount of Whiteline supplied grease was used on the poly bushings where they surrounded the bar. A lot squeezed out as the bushing clamps were tightened, but it was better to have plenty to prevent squeaks.
We left the bar’s setting on the next to softest setting. We would do the same on the front bar.
That wrapped things up for the rear suspension changes. The car was lowered and the trunk was put back together. If I had known better I would have installed the sequential turn signals before I put it all back because I had to take out the subs and amps all over again when I worked on the tail lights later.
While I was getting the rear suspension fixed up Andrew was working on the front.
He probably had some of the tougher parts to deal with.
The first task was to remove the front strut assemblies, the front anti-sway bar, and then the complete lower control arms. It also meant that the steering rack had to be loosened and the brake calipers hung safely out of the way.
The steering rack bolts were heavily coated with Loctite so they were tough to get loosened. Once they were out the rack could be positioned so that the front control arm bolts could be removed. The rear bushing bolts were also removed. Next the factory caster bushings had to be pressed off. Luckily the shop has a twenty ton press that made short work of the job, but the big surprise was that the stock bushing was filled with fluid that dumped out on the floor by the press.
Once that was cleaned up the inner sleeve that remained of the bushing had to be carefully cut off the control arm so as not to ruin the control arm.
The shaft that was left was cleaned up with some sanding cloth and then liberally coated with anti-seize to aid in driving on the new sleeve from the Whiteline kit. Initially we tried a large dead-blow hammer to drive it on, but eventually resorted to using the shop press. It took well over five tons of force to press it on. This was done for both control arms.
With the new sleeve on the control arm also needed the new ball joints from the KCA306 kit installed. This meant pressing out the stock ball joints and pressing in the Whiteline ball joints. The new ones came with a snap ring to keep them in place in addition to the friction fit of pressing them in. Finally a new boot was pressed in place to keep the lubrication in and the dirt out.
The new ball joint has three recesses for the locking bolt so that it can be adjusted for stock ride height, a one inch drop (25mm), or a 2 inch drop (50mm). The new tie rod ends have similar adjustability. Together they allow for the roll center to be kept above ground and bump steer to be eliminated from the front, even with the car lowered. Many cars have been lowered with no correction and the driver wonders why handling is so poor. Not so with this Mustang
The front struts were put in the spring compressor and disassembled.
The only pieces that were kept were the bump stop, the boot, and the rubber isolator for the top of the spring. The new Koni struts were fitted with the Steeda springs and the Steeda camber plates. The rubber isolator was added to the camber plates before they were bolted to the top of the struts.
The struts were bolted in place and then the control arms were added to the suspension and the front hubs were re-attached, then the calipers. The steering rack was bolted back into place. Prior to bolting it back the bolt threads were cleaned off and new Loctite was applied. The control arms’ front bolts were left loose so that they would not contribute to a pre-load condition prior to alignment.
The control arms had offset bushings so that the caster could be adjusted. We set them for the most positive setting.
The front sway bar mount had the dual function of mounting the sway bar and the KSB726 lower brace. It was a little tricky to get the threaded plate lined up so that all the pieces would fit, but once the alignment was right everything went together like a perfect puzzle. Loctite was used on the bolts to ensure they would stay in place.
Once again liberal amounts of grease were used to ensure that the bar would move without squeaking in the poly bushings. The front bar was adjusted to the second hole from the end using the factory Mustang end links.
Just between the back of the oil pan and the front of the transmission we installed the KSB727 brace. Its turnbuckle adjustment allowed Andrew to get the proper tension and support.
With everything in place it was time to visually check all the work that had been done as well as install the sequential turn signal wiring and the Roush short shifter.
The turn signal kit was pretty straight forward, but the shifter kit required taking things apart from the top and the bottom. The drive shaft had to be disconnected in order to access the mounting points for the shifter and a bushing and bracket had to be transferred from the stock shifter to the Rouch unit. The Roush shift kit came with two different length shift rods. One was a very tall aluminum piece that would have looked goofy and would have been difficult to operate gracefully. The shorter one kept the stock height and also worked fine with the stock shift knob. The Rouch kit had pieces so that a bushing could be slipped on the shaft and tucked into the stock shift boot. At least that was what was shown in the direction’s photos, but in reality it would not be accommodating. After much frustration we gave up and just used the stock Bullitt shift knob with the factory shift boot and everything was wonderful.
Now it was time to do the alignment. We took the car for a short run to settle the suspension and then drove it on the alignment rack. The control arm bolts at the front and rear were brought up to proper torque and then the adjustments began.
The adjustable rear control arms allowed the toe settings to be adjusted so it was even side to side. Many times when aligning a solid axle rear car there is no reasonable way to even out things so that there is not an offset thrust angle that constantly fights with the front alignment. With the control arms’ turnbuckles I was able to get both sides to 0.10 negative toe (toe out) and even on both sides. That meant a thrust angle of zero in the rear.
The top control arm was also adjusted so that the pinion angle matched the drive shaft angle. This was done on the alignment rack with the full weight of the car on the chassis.
Next the front end was aligned. The Steeda camber plates made it easy to dial in a negative 1.4 degrees of camber. The caster was already set with the offset bushing in the Whiteline kit and the tie rods were adjusted for a touch of toe-in. The front toe was set to a total of 0.10 degrees (toe in).
We took the car out for some test drives and then brought it back to make certain that nothing had loosened up. With everything checked and re-checked we took the forty minute drive to return the car to the customer.
On the drive to Ted’s house we had a chance to find out just how much this car was transformed. There was no more front end dive upon braking and when you stabbed the throttle the car just planted itself without the previous habbit of tilting toward the sky. The body roll was minimal, but the ride was one your girl friend could live with. There was no harshness here. If this car had come like this from the factory it would have recieved “Car of the Year”.
Ted was waiting at the entrance to his garage when we arrived and just loved the new ride height that the car had. The SUV fender gap was gone and a new confident stance was achieved. We left with Ted getting in to his “new” Bullitt to take it on a test drive. A day later he called and exclaimed that it was a thousand times better than it had been prior to the transformation.
The only thing I would like to see changed is a much better set of tires. I think Ted would now like to see what could be done to get a little more out of the engine. It never ends.