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 (1974),’ ‘The French Connection,’ ‘The Blues Brothers,’ ‘Vanishing Point’ and many more.
Two Highland Green Mustang fastbacks were used in the scene. This one was the hero car, used for the majority of the scene’s filming and driven by McQueen. Both examples featured the same GT package and 390 V8. As McQueen considered the car itself to be a character, he was particular about the look and feel of the car, having the emblems and backup lights removed and adding grey 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.
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 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 clock. 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 at the Detroit Motor Show in early 2018, alongside the third Bullitt edition release by Ford.
Mecum Auctions will be offering this truly iconic 1968 Ford Mustang GT driven by Steve McQueen in Bullitt at their upcoming Kissimmee auction held between the 2nd-12th January 2020. For more information on this and other vehicles at the sale, click on the link below.
Photos: © Courtesy of Mecum Auctions and © Warner Bros.