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It’s one of the most famous movie cars of all time – and now the original Bullitt Mustang is also one of the most expensive.
The Ford Mustang GT, which Steve McQueen raced around the streets of San Francisco in legendary 1968 cop thriller Bullitt, had never before been offered for sale at auction – and indeed had spent most of the past 40 years hidden away in a garage.
But when it crossed the block at Mecum’s sale in Kissimmee, Florida today (10 January) it sparked a frantic bidding war which ended a few minutes later with a record-breaking final bid of $3.4m (£2.6m).
The auction took place in front of a packed crowd at the Osceola Heritage Park, with the car driven slowly out towards the stage through hundreds of interested enthusiasts holding aloft cameras to record the moment for posterity.
“Holy smokes, look at all of you!” said owner Sean Kiernan as he introduced the Bullitt Mustang before the auction began.
When it did so, bidding was started at $3500 – a price chosen to match the amount it had been sold for the previous two times it had changed hands, but which was always going to be left far behind this time round, despite the fact that there was technically no reserve set.
Unsurprisingly, the bidding immediately jumped up to $500,000 and then $1million and $2m in quick succession. It looked for a while as if it wouldn’t go further than $2.55m, but a burst of bids saw it climb again past $2.9 and up beyond $3m.
Finally, with the total at $3.4m, the hammer fell and the Bullitt car became the most expensive Mustang ever.
And so the Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback is now ready for the next stage of what has already been a long and complicated life.
Its path to fame started back in the late 1960s. Two ’Stangs were used in the filming of Bullitt: a ‘hero’ car driven by McQueen throughout the movie, plus a ‘jump’ car used mainly for stunt sequences.
This car is the ‘hero’ car, which means it stars in one of the most memorable of all cinematic car chases, with McQueen tearing it up and down the hills of San Francisco for almost 10 minutes in pursuit of two mob hitmen.
Both vehicles were seemingly lost to history once filming ended, but the jump car was found in a Mexican junkyard in 2017. Then, in January 2018, the hero car also resurfaced.
So where had it been? Well, it was initially sold to a Hollywood studio executive and then to a New York detective. A few years later, in 1974, it was snapped up by New Jersey insurance executive Robert Kiernan for the princely sum of $6000.
Kiernan and his family used it as a daily driver for the next few years, racking up 30,000 miles in the process – and during that time even turned down two offers for the car from McQueen, who clearly thought it would make a nice addition to his own collection.
Then, in 1980, it developed mechanical problems and was put into storage – and there it stayed for nearly 40 years.
Kiernan’s son Sean inherited the car when his father passed away in 2014, and he finally decided to restore it – and reveal it to the world – in time for the film’s 50th anniversary in 2018.
The restoration has, thankfully, displayed a light touch: the car remains in its original condition, complete with the blemishes and dents it earned from its time as a film star.
After its reappearance, the Bullitt Mustang embarked on something of a world tour, appearing at the Detroit auto show, the Amelia Island concours d’elegance and the Goodwood Festival of Speed, among other prestigious events.
Then last year, after “a lot of conversation and prayer”, Sean decided the time was right to sell it on again.
In a post on Instagram, he continued: “Bullitt has been part of my family for 45 years and we have celebrated her in the grandest way possible, and now it will have a new role and new meaning to the future owner. I have accomplished what I set out to do with the car; tell my Dad’s story in the best way possible and share the car with the world.”
It’s not yet clear who the winning bidder was – or if they will go public with the news – but we’ll let you know if we find out.