Presented by Mecum Auctions – In 1968, “Bullitt” cemented itself as the pivotal moment in the history of car chase scenes, doing what none had ever done before and setting the standard for all that would follow, earning it the badge of honor that it carries today as the single greatest car chase scene in history. This Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang GT—the hero car driven by the “King of Cool,” Steve McQueen, in the iconic 1968 film “Bullitt”—is the one that started that enduring legacy. Hidden away for decades until its reveal to the public in 2018, this star of the silver screen is now slated to cross the auction block at the world’s largest collector car auction this January at Mecum Kissimmee 2020.
The iconic 1968 film “Bullitt” featured what most experts consider to be the first modern-day car chase scene, one that was executed with such innovation and finesse that it became the standard for all that followed. Longer, faster and more action packed than anything before it, the 10-minute car chase scene—featuring McQueen as Lt. Frank Bullitt chasing a black Dodge Charger while behind the wheel of this 1968 Ford Mustang GT—was the first to use cameras in a way that put the audience right inside the cars and alongside the actors. Throughout some of the most intense scenes of the famous car chase, McQueen could be seen right there, full screen, clutching the wheel of this very car as he expertly piloted it through the bustling and winding streets of San Francisco. This style of filming would become the formula for car chase scene success, serving as a blueprint for the films that followed, like “Gone in 60 Seconds,” “The French Connection,” “The Blues Brothers,” “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Vanishing Point” and plenty more.
The two Highland Green 1968 Mustang fastbacks used in the scene—this one, the hero car, being used for the majority of the scene’s filming and driven by McQueen—both featured the GT package and 390 CI V-8. As McQueen considered the car itself to be a character, not just another prop, he was particular about the look and feel of the car, having the emblems and backup lights removed and adding gray Torq Thrust wheels to make the car look a bit meaner, more befitting of his character, Lt. Frank Bullitt. The Mustang’s grille was blacked out, and the paint was scuffed to give it more of an authentic, road-tested look. Meanwhile, the engine was modified for speed and sound, creating the symphony in the background of the chase scene, which featured no music at all. To accommodate the cameras that captured the revolutionary chase scene, three metal tubes were welded beneath the rockers, perpendicular to the car’s center line for the camera mounts, and holes were cut into the trunk to allow cords to run from the generator to the cameras and lights.
Following its movie debut, the 1968 Mustang GT hero car was sold to Robert Ross, a Warner Bros. employee who used it as a commuter, documented by the Warner Bros. parking sticker on the bottom right corner of the windshield. It then found its way to New Jersey and into the hands of Detective Frank Marranca, who bought the car in 1970 with confirmation from Ford that certified the Mustang had indeed been purchased by McQueen’s Solar Productions for the movie. As Marranca’s family grew, he eventually put the hero car up for sale. The ad in the October 1974 issue of “Road & Track” simply read, “1968 ‘Bullett’ MUSTANG driven by McQueen in the movie…Can be documented. Best offer.”
The late Robert Kiernan of Madison, New Jersey, had always wanted a 1968 Mustang fastback, and after seeing the ad, he picked up the hero car for $6,000. While McQueen himself made numerous attempts to reacquire the vehicle from Robert, even offering to help him find a similar Mustang, Robert had already fallen in love with it and respectfully declined all offers. In its early years with the Kiernan family, the Mustang was used as a daily driver by Robert’s wife, who taught at a nearby school, but when the car’s clutch went out in 1980, it was moved into the garage with just 65,000 miles on the odometer. In the years that followed, the car would move several times, first to Cincinnati with the family in 1984, and then to a friend’s home in Kentucky when the family moved to Florida in 1994. A year later, the Mustang rejoined the family when the Kiernans moved to their new farm in Nashville.
And that’s where it sat up until 2001, when Ford’s introduction of a Bullitt Mustang GT inspired the then-retired Robert and his son, Sean Kiernan, to start putting some work into the car—not enough to alter the history, but just enough to make it drivable once again. However, after work began on the Mustang, Robert was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and work stalled. When Ford introduced a second Bullitt edition in 2008, the pair was once again inspired to have the engine rebuilt, but once again, life got in the way; as Robert’s Parkinson’s worsened, maintaining the farm and horses became a more important task for Sean.
Sadly, Robert would never see the Mustang reach completion, as he passed rather suddenly in 2014. With his father’s death, Sean found renewed purpose in the mission they had started years before, and he went on to complete the work and return the Bullitt Mustang to roadworthy condition, unveiling it to the general public alongside Ford’s third Bullitt Edition Mustang at the Detroit Auto Show in early 2018.
Having been entered into the National Historic Vehicle Register and presenting in highly original condition, this is the 1968 Ford Mustang GT hero car from the iconic 1968 film “Bullitt” starring Steve McQueen. In addition to its Highland Green paintwork, the Bullitt Mustang retains many of the fingerprints from its time in front of the camera, including the camera mounts welded to the rockers, the welded patches covering what used to be the backup lights before McQueen had them removed, modifications for camera gear in the trunk, its custom exhaust, adhesive residue on the tachometer and even the Bondo used to repair the door after it was smashed in during the final moments of the chase scene. As the Kiernans’ goal all along was to retain the Mustang in as untouched condition as possible, the completed engine rebuild is factory-faithful, featuring as many original parts as Sean and his father could conceivably use, and other work was done only by absolute necessity, including replacing the carpet, front bumper and front valance.
There are few cars that have reached a truly awe-inspiring level of rarity and collectability, but the list of cars that has transcended that level to reach near mythical status as fine art pieces and pop culture icons—artifacts of automotive history—is nearly non-existent. The Bullitt Mustang is a car that extends far beyond being just another top-notch collector car. It’s a car that was once thought lost to the passage of time, and with its reemergence, its unparalleled cultural significance has solidified it as a bona fide piece of pop-culture art and as an undeniable remnant of an incredible moment in movie and automotive history. With McQueen behind the wheel during the filming of 1968’s “Bullitt,” it redefined the way audiences would forever view car chases, creating a blueprint for the way those scenes should be shot, and that enduring legacy is something the car will forever carry with it. McQueen viewed the car as a key character in itself, and it couldn’t be any more apparent today that his view was correct, as the Bullitt Mustang has once again achieved complete and utter stardom on the public stage. With its public unveiling and renewed reputation for greatness, the Bullitt Mustang is now ready for its next starring role.
THIS CAR WILL BE AUCTIONED OFF AT THE MECUM KISSIMMEE 2020 EVENT (JANUARY 2-12) AS LOT F150.
Presented by Mecum Auction
Mecum Auctions is now headquartered in Walworth, Wisconsin, and since 2011 has been ranked No. 1 in the world with number of collector cars offered at auction, No. 1 in the world with number of collector cars sold at auction, No. 1 in the U.S. with number of auction venues, No. 1 in the U.S. in total dollar volume of sales, and is host to the world’s largest collector car auction held annually in Kissimmee, Florida.