Bullitt’s Suit and ’68 Mustang Fastback

Welcome to Car Week! The inaugural post will be a bit of an anomaly, as the outfit and the car featured are never seen in the same scenes together. Forgive this brief misstep and expect to see it rectified throughout the week. However, how could any blog like this start without featuring the legendary ’68 Mustang from Bullitt?

Steve McQueen as Bullitt.

Steve McQueen as Bullitt (1968).

Vitals

Steve McQueen as Lt. Frank Bullitt, maverick SFPD inspector

San Francisco, Spring 1968

Film: Bullitt
Release Date: October 17, 1968
Director: Peter Yates
Costume Designer: Theadora Van Runkle
Tailor: Douglas Hayward

Background

There is little dispute among both film and automobile fans that 1968’s Bullitt features the best car chase scene in movie history. Steve McQueen faces off in a fastback Mustang GT against two hitmen in a black Charger. By now, diehard fans of the film know that the Charger legendarily overtook and outpowered the Mustang during the actual filming, although it was still edited to have McQueen’s driving emerge victorious as the Charger ended up, sadly, in a ball of flame.

Although he actually wears his casual attire of a brown shooting jacket, dark blue rollneck, and charcoal slacks for the car chase, BAMF Style has yet to cover the first outfit McQueen wears as Bullitt, a relatively conservative navy blue suit… until today.

What’d He Wear?

Bullitt’s suit was tailored by Douglas Hayward, the legendary British designer who also suited Roger Moore, Sean Connery, and Michael Caine for various films.

The dark navy suit is traditional, strong, and would be as appropriate to wear in 2013 as it was in 1968. Although he is the younger, hipper character, Bullitt avoids the very fashion-forward (but now dated) look that Chalmers dons with his gray three-piece.

Bullitt’s jacket cut like the typical men’s business suit, with slim notch lapels, a single-breasted 2-button front, and a single vent in the rear. A breast pocket remains unadorned and two flapped pockets sit straight across each hip.

Vaughn's character may be more fashion-forward for 1968, but his waistcoat will very soon make the look dated. McQueen, on the other hand, looks just as right in 2013 as he would have then. (Also, Pete Campbell wore a gray suit nearly identical to the one worn by Vaughn here on last night's Mad Men so...)

Vaughn’s character may be more fashion-forward for 1968, but his waistcoat will very soon make the look dated. McQueen, on the other hand, looks just as right in 2013 as he would have then.
(Also, Pete Campbell wore a gray suit nearly identical to the one worn by Vaughn here on last night’s Mad Men so…)

The trousers of Bullitt’s suit are flat front with plain hems and are worn with a black leather belt, fastened in the front by a dull brass squared clasp. There is a pocket on each side of the pants and, given the traditional look, it can be assumed that there are two jetted pockets on the pant rear as well.

Under his suit, Bullitt wears a pale blue shirt with a moderate spread collar, white buttons down a front placket, and buttoned barrel cuffs.

2013-06-06 02.30.46 am

The tie has a dark olive green ground and a red-and-blue floral pattern over it. It is tied in a small and tight four-in-hand knot, loosely fastened around Bullitt’s neck. He is evidently not a man to wear ties and avoids them whenever possible. This is definitely a character trait rather than a McQueen trait, as he looks sharp in a necktie whenever he has to (if The Thomas Crown Affair is any indication).

Bullitt’s footwear is a simple pair of leather plain-toe oxford shoes with black socks.

His overcoat is the same raincoat worn in some of the later scenes at the airport, a beltless khaki raincoat with five buttons down the front and one button on each cuff. There is an open slash pocket on each hip and a deep single vent in the rear. Visible when Bullitt is talking to Cathy, the raincoat has a dark plaid lining on a tan ground.

BullittSuit-coat1

Bullitt completes his look with his everyday wristwatch, positively identified as a civilian Benrus Series #3061 with a round polished steel case and black dial, fastened around his right wrist with a well-worn brown leather strap. Save for the thin gold necklace worn under his shirt, this is his only accessory worn in the film.

McQueen was way ahead of time on identifying a common social issue.

McQueen was way ahead of time on identifying a common social issue.

The suit is Bullitt’s most conservative look. As we learn from his after-work activities, a late night date at a beatnik coffee shop with his artistic British girlfriend, Bullitt is not the typical cop.

How to Get the Look

BullittSuit-crop1Bullitt injects some flavor into the traditional suit he wears as a plainclothes detective.

  • Dark navy wool tailored suit, consisting of:
    • Single-breasted 2-button suit jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, and single rear vent
    • Flat front suit trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Pale blue dress shirt with a moderate spread collar, white buttons down a front placket, and button cuffs
  • Dark olive green necktie with a red and blue floral pattern
  • Black leather belt with square dulled brass single-claw buckle
  • Black leather plain-toe oxfords
  • Black dress socks
  • Khaki beltless knee-length raincoat with 5 front buttons, 1-button cuffs, 2 open slash hip pockets, and a long single vent
  • Benrus Series #3061 wristwatch with round polished steel case and black dial on dark brown worn leather strap
  • Thin gold necklace
  • Safariland Model #19 shoulder holster (brown leather, RHD, with tan strap) for snubnose Colt Diamondback

The Car

McQueen’s main rival as the film’s star was the 1968 Ford Mustang GT-390 2+2 fastback he drove throughout. Although not seen in any of these suit scenes, the Mustang made a mark on the screen with the excellently filmed and directed chase scene. McQueen, a talented driver of both cars and motorcycles, was careful to make sure he was seen doing as many of the stunt driving as possible. When McQueen is the one driving, the interior rear view mirror is up. When stunt driver Bud Ekins is behind the wheel, the rear view mirror is down. Ekins had previously been McQueen’s stunt man in The Great Escape.

The Mustang driven by McQueen in the film has attained legendary status, with Ford offering two later generations of the “Bullitt Mustang” in the same color, Highland Green. Two Mustang GT-390s were used in the film, both with the 390/325 V8 engine and 4-speed manual transmissions, provided by Ford through a well-placed promotional deal. Max Balchowsky, a race car driver, modified the engines, brakes, and suspensions so that the cars would adequately perform during the chase.

Of course,

Of course, “adequate performance” is a hell of an understatement.

The rival car in the chase is one of my personal favorites, a black 1968 Dodge Charger R/T with a 440 Magnum V8 engine making 375 bhp. The original car to be used in these scenes was a Ford Galaxie sedan, but the hills of San Francisco were too much for the Galaxie to handle at high speeds and the Charger (or two Chargers, to be exact) were brought in as replacements.

The power of the Charger led to the Charger actually “winning” many of the chase scenes, with Frank P. Keller’s editing skills managing to make the Mustang look triumphant. Indeed, Keller’s expert editing of the gripping chase likely led to his winning the 1968 Academy Award for Best Editing.

Director Peter Yates had called for top speeds during the chase of no more than 80 mph, but the Mustang and the Charger – both products of the age of American muscle – easily topped 110 mph during the filming.

1968 Ford Mustang GT-390

gt390aBody Style: 2+2 fastback

Engine: 390 cu. in. (6.4 L) Ford FE V8 with a 4-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust

Power: 325 bhp (242 kW; 330 PS) @ 4800 RPM

Torque: 427 lb·ft (579 N·m) @ 3200 RPM

Transmission: 4-speed manual

Wheelbase: 108 inches (2700 mm)

Length: 183.6 inches (4660 mm)

Width: 70.9 inches (1800 mm)

Height: 51.6 inches (1310 mm)

Bullitt’s Mustang is fitted with a set of California license plates, JJZ-109.

The chase itself begins at Fisherman’s Wharf, a touristy neighborhood in San Francisco. After driving through the town, the chase ends on the Guadalupe Canyon Parkway near Brisbane, California. The total running time of the chase is 10 minutes and 53 seconds.

Music to Drive By

Lalo Schifrin’s score for Bullitt has been lauded in the 45 years since the film’s release and the classic soundtrack is the perfect jazzy companion to cruising in a classic American muscle car. The appropriately-named track “Shifting Gears” will send your eyes darting to the rear view mirror, trying to spot the shotgun-toting hitmen in a black Charger.

Other notable tracks are the main title song, “On the Way to San Mateo”, and “Ice Pick Mike”.

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Buy the movie and, if you can, get your hands on a ’68 Mustang GT-390 fastback.

The Quote

During an argument with his police superiors, Bullitt offers his own narrative of the chase and its outcome.

Capt. Baker: You are sick. Smuggling a dead man out of a hospital, and now two men killed who may have had nothing to do with it?
Bullitt: The man I was chasing killed Ross.
Capt. Sam Bennett: How do you know? Did you see him?
Bullitt: Yes. He tried to nail me with a shotgun, a Winchester pump.

12 comments

  1. Max

    Bullitt is perhaps as near to the perfect BAMF Style film as movies come. Classic in everything: car, couture, music, actor, armament (well, the holster anyway — Diamondback never did much for me). And Jacqueline Bisset.

    Like

    • luckystrike721

      Max, you’re right about that. McQueen and Yates really nailed together an outstanding and stylish film that still manages to be a gritty and realistic crime drama. No denying Bisset’s beauty either.
      I wonder why they switched to a Diamondback. Bullitt was based on Dave Toschi and, from everything I’ve read, Toschi carried a 3rd-gen. Detective Special. Maybe they wanted something with a different look without sacrificing realism?

      Like

  2. Max

    No doubt the Diamondback has a more distinctive look than the Detective, which would be the most obvious Hollywood explanation. Practically speaking it was marginally more capable and refined than the Detective, but not by much in 2.5″ guise, and not in any meaningful way for usage by a SF inspector. I’d much rather have seen Bullitt with a Python. Now THAT would have been an upgrade, but still in the ZIP code of what an urban detective might carry.

    Like

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  4. WatchRat

    That watch is probably not a Tag Heuer – and Definitely not a chronograph. Rather, it is a military watch, most likely of Korean war vintage given McQueen/Bullitt’s age, or perhaps early Vietnam era. There are many threads on online watch community forums debating the exact brand – the watch style was dictated by the US Armed services and manufactured under contract by various American companies such as Bulova and Hamilton. Most sites I’ve seen say it is a Benrus. You can see the watch in a few scenes: when Bullitt is on the phone, when he first starts chasing the Charger, and when he and his partner are opening the confiscated trunks.

    The main point for this excellent site, however, is that even with the dressy suit shown on this page (in contrast to the more casual look we usually associate with McQueen in the film) the character of Frank Bullitt still wears a no-nonsense everyday watch, built simply but ruggedly. The watch would be a mechanical movement and manual wind, with only a second hand and a second set of 24-hour numbers painted inside the main 12 on the matte black dial. No Date, no extra frills, no bling. Plastic (hestalite) crystal, which would stick up above the stainless steel case. Medium size crown. The watches of this type from the Vietnam and later periods can be anywhere from 35-39 mm in diameter (32mm models are probably from WWII or the Korean War); my guess is Bullitt’s is a 36, which was standard men’s size in the 60s. And they are still produced and old ones are readily available for not too much money. If you are not a stickler for US- Made, Seiko makes many very nice battery powered models.

    Keep up the nice work with your site, I enjoy it very much.

    Like

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