There are Fords, then there are Mustangs.
There are Mustangs, then there is Steve McQueen’s “Bullitt” Mustang, the 1968 fastback that the King of Cool drove as he flew over the tops of San Francisco’s steepest hills in one of the most famous car chases in film history.
The famous green Mustang driven by Steve McQueen in the 1968 Warner Bros. film “Bullitt” is headed to auction in January, in Kissimmee, Fla., and if Mecum Auctions gets what they are expecting, the car could sell for more than $3.5 million— that’s the record price for an American muscle car. According to Hagerty, an insurer and valuator of classic vehicles, the “Bullitt” Mustang could end up the most expensive Mustang ever sold at auction, surpassing a 1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake that Mecum sold for $2.2 million at the 2019 Kissimmee auction.
Could it be yours? Well, you can dream. Here’s a look at Steve McQueen’s “Bullitt” Mustang.
Steve McQueen’s Bullitt Could Be the Most Expensive Mustang Ever Sold at Auction
The Hero Car driven by Steve McQueen in the 1968 Warner Bros film, "Bullitt" was featured in the majority of scenes from the legendary car chase through San Francisco.
To achieve a realistic chase scene for the film, Warner Bros. sourced two Highland Green 1968 Mustang GT 390 Fastbacks from Ford with back-to-back serial numbers, both with 390/325 HP big-block V-8s and 4-speed transmissions.
Following the film debut, this car was sold to Warner Bros employee Robert Ross, and subsequently acquired by a New Jersey detective in 1970, who sold it to Robert Kiernan.
It was once thought lost to the passage of time, and its reemergence has underscored its cultural significance as a piece of pop-culture art and an important remnant of movie and automotive history.
The car is the 21st vehicle entered into the National Historic Vehicle Register.
As the story goes, the late Robert Kiernan of Madison, N.J., had always wanted a 1968 Mustang fastback, and after seeing an ad, he picked up the hero car for $6,000, according to the Mecum auction house.
In its early years with the Kiernan family, the Mustang was used regularly, but when the clutch went out in 1980, it was moved into the garage with just 65,000 miles on the odometer.
McQueen himself made numerous attempts to reacquire the vehicle from Kiernan, even offering to help him find a similar Mustang, but Kiernan had already fallen in love with it and declined all offers.
In 2001, Kiernan and his son, Sean, started putting some work into the car to make it drivable once again. However, after work began on the Mustang, Robert Kiernan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and work stalled.
Rebuilt S-code 390 CI V-8 engine.
The Mustang GT has a 4-barrel carburetor and a 4-speed manual transmission. The engine was modified for speed and sound for the film.
After his father’s death in 2014, Sean Kiernan renewed the mission to bring the car back to roadworthy condition, unveiling it to the general public alongside Ford’s third Bullitt Edition Mustang at the Detroit Auto Show in early 2018.
For the film, the cars’ suspensions and pickup points were beefed up, Koni adjustable shocks were installed and numerous camera mounts were added.
According to Mecum, McQueen had all of the badging and backup lights removed, chrome elements painted black or Highland Green, and swapped the stock wheels for gray American Racing Torq Thrust wheels to make the car look a bit meaner.
Modifications were made to the trunk for camera gear.
The car still has the camera mounts welded into the rockers.
After the clutch went out in 1980, the car sat for years, and was moved several times by the Kiernan family.
"Bullitt" director Peter Yates and McQueen called for an “automotive action scene” that would be absolutely realistic in every way.
Race car driver and constructor Max Balchowsky—a close and trusted friend of McQueen, was requested by McQueen for the modification of the two Mustangs for the film.
The famous 10-minute car chase scene features McQueen as Lt. Frank Bullitt chasing a black Dodge Charger while behind the wheel of the 1968 Ford Mustang GT. It was the first to use cameras in a way that put the audience right inside the cars and alongside the actors, and set the bar for cinematic car chases that followed.
Along with "Bullitt," Steve McQueen is known for his roles in films such as "The Great Escape," "Papillon," and "The Magnificent Seven." He was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor in a leading role in the 1966 film "The Sand Pebbles." He died of mesothelioma in 1980.
A letter from Steve McQueen to Robert Kiernan attempting to purchase the "Bullitt" Mustang.
There were originally two fastbacks from Ford with back-to-back serial numbers.
McQueen did some of the driving in the chase scene, but Bud Ekins did most of the jump scenes and stunt driving.
The Kiernans’ goal was to keep the Mustang in as untouched condition as possible. The completed engine rebuild is factory-faithful, Mecum says, featuring as many original parts as Sean and his father could conceivably use. They replaced the carpet, front bumper and front valance.
Many, including McQueen, viewed the car as a key character itself in the movie.
The other Mustang stunt car from the film was deemed unrepairable and reportedly scrapped, Mecum says.
The Mustang has been touring the country since it was shown at the Detroit auto show in 2018.