Peter Yates, director of the movie Bullitt, and hence, the best car chase in the history of cinema, died today at the age of 82. Just in case you’ve never seen the movie, I’m including a decent resolution version of the famous chase scene below. Filmed in 1968, Bullitt tells the rather cliche story of a good cop in a corrupt department, fighting both politics and Mafia hit men. If you’re a car guy, it’s really the story of a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440 Magnum versus a 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390. In the end, the final score is Mustang 1, Charger, 0 (sorry, Mr Angry).
Two Mustangs (each with 325 horsepower and a heavily modified suspension) and two Chargers (packing 390 horsepower and heavy-duty suspensions) were used in the filming of the chase scene, which ultimately required three weeks of filming for just under ten minutes worth of film. Speeds were supposed to be kept to a “reasonable” 80 miles per hour, but often hit triple digits when the cameras were rolling. The Mustangs were loaned to Warner Brothers courtesy of the Ford Motor Company, who also was to have supplied Ford Galaxy sedans for the “hit man” cars. The Galaxies proved to be too heavy and too fragile for the damage incurred in the chase scenes, so the producers of the film opted to pay cash for a pair of Dodge Chargers. It was undoubtedly the right move, since I can’t imagine an epic car chase involving a Ford Galaxy.
Popular rumor says that Steve McQueen did all of his own stunts for the movie, but that’s not the case. McQueen did as much of the driving as producers allowed, but turned the keys over to his friend and long-time stunt double, Bud Elkins, for the dangerous stuff. The movie may seem dated now, but one constant remains: when it came to cool, few people carried it off quite as well as Steve McQueen.