Steve McQueen’s iconic Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang GT which featured in the blockbusting movie “Bullitt” has sold for an eye-watering $3,740,000 including premium at Mecum Kissimmee 2020.
Cementing itself as one fo the best car chase scenes in history, the battered and bruised Mustang was invisible for decades until it was revealed to the public in 2018. It was the legendary ‘King of Cool,’ Steve McQueen who played tough-guy lieutenant Frank Bullitt chasing a tenacious black Dodge Charger whilst behind the wheel of his 1968 Ford Mustang GT.
The innovative 10-minute long car chase scene was instrumental in paving the way to implement cameras in such a way that gave the audience the thrill of their lives, alongside the driver himself. Many of the most intense scenes showed McQueen at the wheel, carrying out some of the most difficult action himself through the peaks and troughs of the streets of San Francisco.
There were two Highland Green 1968 Mustang fastbacks used in the action-packed scene, with this particular Mustang used for the majority of the scene’s filming and driven by McQueen. Paintwork was given the ‘patina’ look to match the character styling of Lt. Frank Bullitt with grille blacked out and some engine modifications providing the sound and grunt.
Tube-work was implemented to accommodate the cameras that were to capture the scene, and holes were cut into the trunk to allow cords to run from the generator to the cameras and lights.
“I live for myself and answer to nobody.” – on the set of The Cincinnati Kid
Meccum reports that the following its movie debut, the 1968 Mustang GT hero car was sold to Robert Ross, a Warner Bros. employee who used it as a daily, which is clearly 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 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.
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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 retired Robert and his son, Sean Kiernan, to start putting some work into the car, but with nothing to alter the history; 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.
The final hammer price of $3,400,000 (+10% premium) will, of course, be seen by some as scandalous, or well below face value, given the car’s provenance and integrity. One thing that can be said with a fair degree of certainty is that this iconic Mustang will be seen up for sale again in the not so distant future….
Images courtesy of Meccum Auctions.