Dec 07 2019

Market Watch: Steve McQueen’s Bullitt Mustang


Mac's Motor City Garage previews next month's auction of a "star" Mustang.

The Bullitt Mustang is expected set auction records and sell for $3 to $5 million.

Two questions open for Comments:

  • What is your best guess of the final sales price at the January auction? It is being offered at no-reserve. 
  • Should the Bullitt Mustang be restored?

Enjoy,

Howard Kroplick


Market Watch: Steve McQueen’s Bullitt Mustang

All photos courtesy of Mecum Auctions.

Steve McQueen’s Highland Green ’68 Mustang from the movie Bullitt is expected to break auction records when it crosses the block at the Mecum Kissimmee sale in January.

We’ll say it: Steve McQueen’s 1968 cop drama, Bullitt, is not among the great movies of all time. But it is a memorable one, especially for car guys,  thanks to the jaw-dropping 10-minute chase scene between a black Dodge Charger and a Highland Green ’68 Mustang 2+2. McQueen, a serious car guy himself,  personally crafted the Mustang’s distinctive custom details, including the shaved emblems, gutted and blacked-out grille cavity, and the American Racing Torq Thrust wheels. McQueen regarded the Mustang as an important character in the movie, just like any of the actors, and he certainly created one.

Actually, McQueen and the film company had two Mustangs prepped for the movie production: a “hero car,” which was used for the closeup shots and most of the action scenes, and a “jump car,” which handled the spectacular high jumps through the San Francisco streets and other severe duties. The jump car was recently identified and rescued from a scrapyard in Mexico—in very sorry shape—and was sent off for restoration. The hero car, which has always been carefully preserved by enthusiast owners, is now headed for auction at the Mecum Kissimmee sale in January, where it will be offered with no reserve

At 50 years of age, the Mustang is in remarkably good condition, rock solid with charming patina, presenting the new owner with a weighty decision: Restore or conserve? In 2018, the Mustang was enrolled as the 21st entry in the National Historic Vehicle Registry, which might help to guide the decision. Like the rest of the car, the cockpit (above) is in original but well-used condition, with split seat covers and a missing clutch pedal pad, just as you would find in most any Mustang on a used car lot back in the day. At some point the carpet and steering wheel were replaced.

While McQueen was known for his Jaguar, Porsche, and Ferrari personal drivers, he had a great eye for the American hot-rodding idiom as well, choosing gray-spoke  American mags to complement the Mustang’s Highland Green factory paint. It’s an awesome look, and the Ford Motor Company has replicated it three times with Bullitt tribute editions of the Mustang in 2001, 2008, and 2019. There’s an old saying in hot rodding that any car suddenly looks more interesting when you bolt on a set of five-spoke Americans, and we’re inclined to agree.

McQueen selected the optional 390 CID Ford FE big-block V8 to power the two Mustangs, which provided plenty of low-end grunt but couldn’t do much for the nose-heavy pony car’s handling properties, we presume. Around 10 years ago the engine and clutch were overhauled, but the car’s original modifications remain, including the filled-in backup lamp openings and Arriflex camera mounts welded to the rockers.

Not even McQueen was immune to the Mustang’s powerful charm. In 1977, the actor tracked down the car and attempted to buy it back, but owner Bob Kiernan (father of current owner Sean Kiernan) politely declined. McQueen passed away in 1980 at age 50 from complications of lung disease, but now the whole world will have a shot at his famous Mustang when it crosses the block at Mecum Kissimme next January. Appraisers say the Bullitt Mustang could bring $3 million to $5 million—far and away a new world record price for Mustangs sold at auction. Photos courtesy and copyright of Mecum Auctions. 


Warning: "Greatest Hollywood Car Chase of All-Time" (1968) contains several brutal crash scenes. This 10-minute scene helped Frank Keller win the Oscar for Best Film Editing.





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