[PHOTOS] The Original “Bullitt” Ford Mustang GT Driven by Steve McQueen Races Out from the Dust of History
A piece of cinema history once thought lost to time, the 1968 Ford Mustang GT driven by Steve McQueen in "Bullitt" looks as great now as it did 50 years ago
It may be called Vanity Fair, but thanks to a bogus headline that momentarily titillated the fancies of wealthy car enthusiasts, you’d be just as right to call it Vanity (Un)Fair today. Heh. Thanks, I’ll be here all week.
The reason for the absolutely atrocious joke you just read has to do with a faux pas committed by the website yesterday in an article about the original Bullitt Mustang. But more on that in a tick. First, about that wonderful car.
The 1968 Ford Mustang GT hero car from Bullitt, long considered lost to the ages, was unveiled alongside the 2019 Mustang Bullitt in Detroit on Sunday. Turns out, one Sean Kiernan inherited the car from his father, who purchased the Highland Green Mustang GT in 1974 for the once-princely sum of $6,000. Over the years, the very same Mustang driven by Steve McQueen during that iconic chase sequence accumulated an extra 30,000 miles — mostly from his mother, a third-grade teacher no less, who used it as her daily driver. It likely would have accumulated more had the clutch not gone out in 1980, which left it relegated to a barn where it remained in secret and silence — until Sunday.
“You know, it was never our intention to keep this car a secret from everybody,” Sean Kiernan told Ford. “It just kind of happened with life.”
Sean’s father, Robert, was cloak-and-dagger enough (be it willfully or not) to keep the Bullitt Mustang out of the public eye for more than 40 years, but he was unable to ward off the attention of a particularly interested party: Steve McQueen himself.
“Dad had owned the car for three years at that point. And he got a phone call from Steve asking about the car, how it was, if he’d changed anything on it. And McQueen said, ‘I would really like to buy it if there’s not too much involved with it. I’ll replace it with a similar, like kind of car. As long it’s not a crazy amount of money,’” Kiernan told Vanity Fair. “But dad declined. He said, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’”
How cool must Robert Kiernan have been to have turned down the man who was the very epitome of cool? And not just once, either: Kiernan told Vanity Fair that his father ignored a formal letter from McQueen a week later.
The letter, embossed with a Solar Productions, Inc. emblem and dated December 14th, 1977, reads as follows:
Dear Mr. Kiernan,
Again, I would like to appeal to you to get back my ’68 Mustang. I would like very much to keep it in the family in its original condition as it was used in the film, rather than have it restored; which is simply personal with me.
I would be happy to try to find you another Mustang similar to the one you have, if there is not too much monies involved in it. Otherwise, we had better forget it.
With kindest regards, I remain
Very truly, yours
The coolest man on the planet, even in letter form.
McQueen never got his Mustang back—he passed away less than three years later—but it’s somewhat fitting that his granddaughter, Molly McQueen, had the opportunity to drive the 2019 Mustang Bullitt in a short that accompanied its reveal on Sunday.
“I’ve always been an adrenaline junkie,” McQueen told Vanity Fair. “So I felt like they awoke a sleeping beast in me.”
Consistent with the idea of awaking a sleeping beast, McQueen—in the video up closer to the top—met with Kiernan to get a personal tour of the car her grandfather drove. There, she learned little tidbits like the fact that the ’68 Mustang used in the film wasn’t built with a redline, so a piece of tape was stuck over the tachometer to ensure that McQueen wouldn’t destroy the engine.
It all culminated with the actress climbing behind the wheel—just the ninth person to do so since her grandfather, Kiernan estimated—and turning over the engine. Its 390-cubic-inch V8 roared to life—not unlike the roar of a waking giant—and McQueen’s smile was instantaneous and natural, like one you’d wear when reconnecting with an old friend.
Sean’s father passed away in 2014, and the original Mustang Bullitt fell to him. He decided to use the 50th anniversary of the film to have the vehicle brought back to drivable form—with Ford’s help, no less. The original 1968 Ford Mustang GT was kept in otherwise impeccable condition, with only the mechanical systems seeing significant changes over the year and very little in the way of rust and dust.
But back to Vanity Fair. For as great as its piece on Kiernan and the 1968 Ford Mustang GT is, there was one fatal flaw: the title. Originally, the article was offered up with the title “Steve McQueen’s ‘Lost’ Bullitt Mustang Is Up for Auction,” a headline that probably got rare care enthusiasts’ mouths watering.
Fortunately, Kiernan appears to be doing everyone a service by keeping this piece of cinema and automotive history out of the hands of a vulture like Jay Leno. Temptation to change his mind will likely be pretty great: it’s valued somewhere between $3-5 million.
Where Vanity Fair may have gotten confused was the announcement that VIN 001 for the 2019 Mustang Bullitt is going up for auction this coming Friday, with all proceeds going to benefit Boys Republic—a Chino Hills school for troubled boys that Steve McQueen once called home.
But for the time being, the car that Steve McQueen raced through the streets of San Francisco in one of film’s greatest chase scenes will remain off the auction block and in safe hands. Vanity Fair, thankfully, changed the headline from “Up for Auction” to “Unveiled,” and offered this corrective note:
Correction (5:22 P.M.): Due to an editing error, when first published the headline of this story incorrectly stated that the car was up for auction. It is not.
Damage is already done, but it’s okay, Vanity Fair. I forgive you, even if Jay Leno doesn’t. He’s pretty awful, after all.
News Source: Vanity Fair