Bullit's Mustang vs Hickman's Charger -- who wins?

I am not a car person, so after repeated viewings of the wonderful car chase in Bullitt,, I’ve been wondering – would Steve McQueen’s 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 CID Fastback actually have a chance of catching Bill Hickman’s 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440 Magnum?

Short answer:
Based purely on the stats of the vehicles, the Charger should have been just barely faster than the Mustang in a straight line.
In a street race or police chase, it would be down to driver skill.

Slightly longer answer:
Someone else may know more details on the cars. My calculations are purely based on weight vs engine horsepower. Better tires, suspension setup, brakes, or even gear ratio selections could tip the balance of power in street races. I don’t have the inclination to research these factors.

Looks like the Mustang was making 325 horsepower [1].
We’re showing a range of weight from 2980 to 3910 pounds. [2]
I’m guessing at 3700 pounds, given that the engine size is substantial, but not the largest size possible.
Assuming the 325 horsepower was flywheel horsepower, I’m calculating a 13.8 second quarter mile [3].

I’m showing the '68 Charger with a 440 made 375 horsepower and a weight of 4035 lbs. [4].
The Charger should do the quarter mile in 13.6 seconds.

[1] http://www.theclassicmustang.com/1968_engines.htm
[2] http://www.theautochannel.com/vehicles/muscle/mustang/f68mcont.frame
[3] http://robrobinette.com/et.htm
[4] http://www.theautochannel.com/vehicles/muscle/chrysler/chry_68_chrg.frame

Both vehicles were very fast, but there were times during the chase that they covered several miles in an edit. Having traveled the mean streets of San Francisco my whole life, I conclude that the teleporters they used were even faster.

Plus the guys in the Charger had to keep stopping to retreive their hubcaps, apparently.

I recently rewatched that movie and couldn’t believe how slow the pacing was to get to that car chase.

The Musting would have been better on the streets. It was lighter and would have handled better. Mid sized Mopars of the time were dogs in the handling department. I spent a number of years proving this on the short oval tracks of Western Washington. I drove a 69 Satellite, 66 Charger and 69 Charger at different times. Setting up the front torsion bar suspension was always a challenge.

Here’s a detailed Sunday Times article on the subject. Their verdict?


I loved the lead-in into the chase, and the fact that once Hickman hit the gas, the music soundtrack stopped and the only sounds you heard were the sounds of the chase.

For some reason, I always assumed that the Charger had a hemi and could never figure out why they couldn’t just outrun that Ford. A 440 is a little closer match.

My $0.02 is somewhat less than scientific, but it is based upon quite a bit of personal experience. W/regard to handling, neither was anything to write home about. If the Mustang had an advantage it would only be its shorter wheelbase. Otherwise is was just as bad as the Charger. Back “in the day” it was all about straight line acceleration.

Performance, defined as how these cars were driven most of the time, which was mostly “street” with an occasional run at the dragstrip, the Charger was the winner hands down. The 390 engine had displacement and not much else. It was severely limited by restrictive cylinder heads. Nobody ever won anything with that Ford engine. The considerably smaller Boss 302 engine was a much stronger engine as was another engine available in '68…the 428 Cobra Jet. To this day, both of these are highly regarded/prized. Engine blocks are very hard to come by.

The MOPAR engines of the day, 440, 426 Wedge, 426 Hemi and even the smaller/later 340 were all strong performers and held much more performance potential than the Ford “FE” engines (352 & 390). Basically, both were developed for truck applications.

Hah! They did come off if you cornered too sharply. :smiley:

The 390 Ford was not a high performance engine. They would have problems getting out of the 15’s in the quarter: 390 auto. Granted, it was an auto, but notice the mph at the end of the quarter mile. Only 94 mph. There is no way that a car can run a 13.8 with that trap speed. The 4-speed would be a little faster, maybe a full .5 second, but it would still be a 15 second car. This was the reason why Ford went with the 428 Cobra Jets in the Mustangs.

Here is a slightly modified one on a dyno. Top Gear, only 250 RWHP. To put that in perspective, my 2000 GT with a 281 CID V-8 puts out that much stock. Anyone can modify an engine to get it to run a fast quarter, and for the most part all the old muscle cars around today have been modified. Most of them were just not all that fast stock.

The Mopar 440 was a high perfomance engine and even installed in a heavy Charger should be at least a full second faster than a 390 Mustang.

And going around to get back behind the VW.


I wonder, if they cared enough, if they couldn’t go in there today and digitally add a different car or two to resolve their continuity errors.

Thanks for the replies, everyone.