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Chance Conversation Solves 40 Year Bullitt Mystery

November 14, 2018

Chance Conversation Solves 40 Year Bullitt Mystery

Fifty years ago, Steve McQueen set the gold standard for movie car chases during a fast paced,10 minute 53 second race through the paved hills of San Francisco. McQueen’s ride was the now famous Hunter Green ’68 Ford Mustang GT Fastback with the big honking 390 cu. in V8. During the filming, there were two identical Mustangs used. The stunt car that did the” flying over hilltops” shots was completely trashed by the end of the movie and sold to a junk yard. The surviving Bullitt GT went through a number of owners over the next six years… and then disappeared. The fate of the original Bullitt Mustang has been a mystery and the inspiration for TV shows and countless forum discussions for nearly 40 years.

But now we know.

At this year’s Detroit Auto Show, a beat up, dented, and faded ’68 Ford Mustang GT Fastback took 30 seconds to creep across the stage at the Ford Pavilion where it was declared the original Bullitt Mustang. Standing next to it were McQueen’s granddaughter Molly McQueen and Nashville paint store manager, Sean Kiernan, the owner.

How the Mustang made it from a garage outside of Nashville to the stage in Detroit is a long story full of coincidences, nondisclosure agreements, and corporate finagling. We’ll offer up the short version.

$4 Million Mustang Covered in Bed Quilts

Bob Kiernan, Sean’s father, responded to an ad in Road and Track in 1974 and bought the Mustang to replace his MGB/GT. He loved the handling and was amazed by the power, not difficult to do when you’re accustomed to an MGB. The Kiernan family used the Bullitt Mustang as a daily driver. Sean remembers looking through the holes in the floorboard where the cameras were fitted to watch the pavement go by.

When the clutch went out, the GT became a “project” car that Bob and his son Sean tore apart with every intention of restoring. Unfortunately, Sean’s father became ill and passed away before they could do much more than freshen the engine. Bob’s death was a gut punch for Sean and he viewed the car as a special connection with his dad. He knew he could never part with it. So, he covered it in bed quilts and that’s where it stayed until 2015.

Luck is not a Lady, It’s a Regional Sales Manager

Sean pursued a career selling auto paint. He was on his way to a sales call with his Regional Manager when the manager asked what kind of cars Sean’s dad had left him. When Sean described the Mustang, the manage asked what color it was. When Sean said green and the manager asked him if it looked like the Bullitt GT, Sean feared the cat was out of the bag.

As it turned out, the sales manager was a screen writer on the side. He and a friend were looking for funding for an indie film that revolved around the Bullitt being found, then stolen, and the chase to get it back. Sean said he felt his father’s presence when he heard about the film. He told the manager “The car you’re talking about, the one that’s been lost forever? It’s sitting in my garage. I’ve got it.”

Sean met with the manager’s partner and together they made a pact to tell Sean’s story as a way to honor his father, to reveal the Bullitt to the world, and to make the movie.” And that unlikely meeting of like minds triggered a chain of events that resulted in the car being authenticated and registered in the Library of Congress by the HVA and Ford deciding to feature the Stang as part of its launch of a 2019 Hunter Green Bullitt Mustang GT Fastback at the Detroit show. The Bullitt Mustang is currently on a one-year tour around the world.

Ford’s amazing story has just added another chapter.

Tags: Ford Mustang

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