How a Childhood Love for Mustang Helped Create the 2001 Bullitt

Apr 18, 2024

Art Hyde was 9 years old when he attended the World’s Fair in New York City with his family.

The date was April 17, 1964.

It was then and there that the impressionable Hyde – an early car enthusiast – fell in love with the Ford Mustang, and the experience ignited a passion in him that would shape the course of his life. 

“It was beautiful and expressive, and it spoke to me,” he said. “I almost can’t explain it.” 

Hyde’s infatuation with Mustang grew stronger with each passing year, and once he earned an engineering degree from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, he embarked on a relentless letter-writing campaign to the head of product development at Ford to get a job.

“Ford eventually flew me out. We did an interview, and I got hired,” he said. “One of my first jobs was to support the 1979 Mustang launch and the 1979 Indy 500 pace car.”

So began a 40-year career built around Ford’s iconic pony car that earned Hyde the nickname “Mr. Mustang.”

In addition to the 1979 Mustang, Hyde worked on various model year programs including 1980, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1989, and 1994. He became Mustang chief program engineer in 1998 and worked on all Mustangs up to and including the 2005 model year. He is probably best known for spearheading the development of the 2001 Mustang Bullitt.

In addition to the 2003 Mach 1, Hyde led all aspects of the design and development of the 2005 Mustang. After leaving his role as chief program engineer for Mustang, he held management positions in Global Product Development until his retirement in 2017.

During his 40-year tenure at Ford, Hyde founded Mustang Alley at the Woodward Dream Cruise, wrote a monthly column for the Mustang Club of America magazine, was inducted into the Mustang Club of America Hall of Fame, co-hosted Ford’s 40th Mustang Anniversary celebration in Nashville and hosted the Mustang portion of the Ford Centennial. 

“In my heart of hearts, my goal in life is to make the world a better place than it was when I got here. My way of doing that – the canvas that I’ve used – is Mustang,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “So, when I see a Mustang, I almost feel like I’m looking at my child.” 

2001 Mustang Bullitt

When Hyde became chief program engineer for Mustang in 1998, Mustang sales were faltering.

“We had this fantastic brand. Everybody knew what a Mustang was, but we were losing money,” he said. “My goal was to find out, ‘What is wrong with this picture?’”

After a great deal of research, Hyde said the answer was clear.

“Ford thought they were selling a car, but actually we were selling a lifestyle as an experience,” he said. “Customers wanted a vehicle that took them back to 1969, the whole era of Steve McQueen.”

At the time, Hyde said there were two groups of people buying new Mustangs – women in their 30s and those he described as “young at heart.”

“Women would buy the volume vehicles because they weren’t as interested in the performance as they were the spirit and the lifestyle itself. The ‘young at heart’ group wanted a high-profit model like a Shelby or a convertible,” he explained. “So, we wanted to create another class that was a little more attainable that slotted into that crack between the two.” 

The decision to put the Bullitt into production came after Ford received an overwhelmingly positive response from consumers who first saw a concept version of the car at the 2000 Los Angeles Auto Show.

“It was a huge hit,” said Hyde. “Way more than we expected.”

Hyde said the team worked very quickly to get the vehicle built for the 2001 model year.

“This was a complete car. It had a unique suspension, engine, powertrain, brakes and interior,” he said. “People didn’t want something fake or insincere. They wanted something that looked like it was and did what it looked like.” 

The 2001 Bullitt featured exterior enhancements that visually and emotionally connected it to the 1968 Fastback from the Steve McQueen film, such as unique side scoops, 17-inch Bullitt-style aluminum wheels and a lowered suspension.

Achieving the right exhaust noise for the 2001 Bullitt was key, said Hyde.

“The vehicle in the Bullitt movie had a very pronounced exhaust noise, and so we decided that we were going to try and duplicate that as best we could,” he explained.  “We literally tuned it like you would tune a woodwind. I think it was the first time Ford had ever been engaged in making a specific sound, not just trying to make the vehicle quiet.”

After work on the exhaust was complete, the team discovered that the engine noise from the film Bullitt was a NASCAR stock sound.

“It was actually a Chrysler Hemi engine,” chuckled Hyde. “If we had known that we probably wouldn’t have done what we did, but in the end, it was great because what we achieved was probably the best exhaust noise anybody had ever heard up to that point that was street legal.” 

Ford planned for 5,500 vehicles, and Hyde said the vehicles were sold out before any of them were built.

“That line of 5,500 was more profitable than the rest of the Mustang vehicle line for that year, and the customer satisfaction was 10 points higher,” he said.