The original Ford Mustang from the movie Bullitt – one of the most iconic car chase films of all time, starring Steve McQueen – has sold for a record $3.4 million at auction in the US after one of the members of the family that had owned it for 46 years finally let it go.
The beaten-up 1968 Ford Mustang – effectively in the same condition as it finished the movie, with the original Warner Bros gate pass on the windshield and left-over camera mounting points welded into the cabin – had initially been used as a daily driver for years and then largely remained out of the spotlight for decades until it reappeared on stage during the 2018 Detroit auto show.
The car was originally bought by Warner Bros employee Robert Ross after the film wrapped, who then sold it to a detective in New Jersey, Frank Marranca, in 1970.
Robert Kiernan of Madison, New Jersey, then bought the vehicle in 1974 and it remained in the Kiernan family for the next 46 years.
After decades out of the spotlight, the car was driven onto Ford’s centre stage at the 2018 Detroit auto show during the unveiling of the latest limited edition Mustang Bullitt, presented by McQueen’s grand-daughter Molly McQueen (pictured below).
The actress told the audience at the time: “We all know he loves cars, and truthfully he could have picked any car in the world to be in that movie”.
However, she said Steve McQueen selected the Mustang for his character Lieutenant Frank Bullitt because: “Firstly, it was incredibly important to him to pick a car the average American could afford, especially on a detective’s salary. And second, it’s bad ass”.
In a mini documentary produced by Ford for the 2018 Detroit auto show, the car’s then owner Sean Kiernan – who inherited the movie car in 2014 after his father Robert Kiernan died – reunited Molly McQueen with the 1968 Bullitt as a surprise arranged by Ford.
Molly McQueen had been invited to the Ford design centre on the premise of seeing the 2019 limited edition Mustang Bullitt. However, the original Bullitt was hidden under one of the covers.
“As you know there were two original movie cars,” Kiernan told Molly McQueen. “One was recently found in Mexico, that was a stunt car. The other one was actually the one your grandfather drove.”
An emotional McQueen was at first speechless as she realises what is under the cover.
As Kiernan invited McQueen to sit behind the wheel, he told her: “There’s been about eight people since your grandfather that’s sat in the car.”
He also pointed to the red line painted by hand on the car’s instruments, so Steve McQueen wouldn’t over-rev the V8 during filming.
“For two years it was my mum’s daily driver, she was a third grade school teacher,” Kiernan told Molly McQueen.
According to Road & Track the car was purchased by Robert Kiernan for $3500, having been advertised for sale in the October 1974 issue of the magazine.
Steve McQueen reportedly tried to buy back the Mustang several times – the last attempt via a letter written in 1977, and which came with the car.
According to US media, the $3.4 million paid for the original Bullitt movie car (about $4.9 million in Australian currency) eclipses the previous record price for a Mustang – $2.2 million for the only 1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake in existence – sold during a US auction last year.
Meanwhile, during the Detroit presentation in 2018, Molly McQueen gave some behind-the-scenes insight into the movie.
“Now maybe I’m a little bit biased … but it’s crazy you talk to people about great car chase movies and it still remains the gold standard,” she told the audience.
“When I was younger I remember coming across one of the Bullitt scripts in a box in our house. And what really caught my eye … is he’d cross out line after line of his own dialogue,” she said.
“As an actor myself I can tell you that we don’t typically … give ourselves less to say. But he was smart enough and confident enough to strip away everything that was unnecessary, and what was left was thrilling.”