As they discussed the Bullitt—both the movie car and the reissues—Rocha, Autry, and other Mustang aficionados were quick to describe the color, year, and model Mustangs they first owned and, in one person’s case, how “I wore out the springs in the back seat.” Part of the job of the Bullitt—and any special-edition Mustang—is to trigger memories of those earlier cars. Asked whether any new Bullitt sounded exactly like the movie car, Rocha said, “I don’t think you’re ever going to get anything modern day to sound like an old school V-8, but this definitely does remind me of it.”
Most agree that Carney and Ford got the sound right and that it successfully called to mind the chase scene in that 1968 movie. “I think of the original movie as a Rolling Stones song,” Carney says. “You’re never going to invent another Rolling Stones song, but some of the covers are pretty sweet.”
The Bullitt uses sound to trigger a series of reactions—first you hear the Bullitt’s distinctive exhaust note, then you start to notice everything that’s different about the whole car. You might notice the subtle lack of details and question for a second what model you’re looking at—there’s no pony logo on the grille, no chrome trim; visual white space sets the car apart that way too. If you got inside for a ride, you’d immediately feel a different kind of rumble. “One of the comments that you get is that you can actually feel the sound. People say, ‘I feel it, like, pounding in my chest, like you feel at a rock concert,’ ” Carney says. By design, it rumbles at a lower register than a typical Mustang. In fact, there’s a fine line Carney and his team walked between making the car sound muscular and making it so loud it was annoying to drive. You don’t need to hear the intense rumble constantly to realize you’re in a beast of a machine. It’s like hearing the Mister Softee truck song over and over outside of your apartment when you’ve had enough cheap ice cream.
Here are the key parts of the "boom moment" Carney helped Ford create with the 2008 Bullitt: First, he came up with a sound that would jump from the background to the foreground. It just reached out and grabbed your attention. If you care even a little bit about cars, you can’t help but soundscape this unusual exhaust note to the foreground of sounds competing for your attention. What’s that? You might think, and then you turn your head. You’re intrigued, and then all of the other stimuli start to fall into place—the lack of Ford or Mustang logos deepen your curiosity about this car until a whole set of other cues start to help you piece it together: the thick gas cap, the green paint, the wheels. That throaty, gurgly sound plays a vital role in assembling all of that visual evidence, a distinct power associated with a boom moment. Then it helps you recall an iconic car in a classic movie. From there, it’s a short leap to all of the ways that that film and its car made you feel. “I’m trying to elicit emotions,” Carney says, and since Ford couldn’t build an exact replica of the 1968 Bullitt, sound was the most efficient and effective tool to re-create the feel of the movie car. “I’m trying to give people a visceral experience. You’re making something new, and it’s okay to be a little bit different from that historical reference that everyone has in their memory. Blend them together and you have an experience.”
This post has been adapted from Joel Beckerman and Tyler Gray's new book, The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy.