Before “Fast and Furious” thrilled audiences with wild car antics, the best car chase scene in movie history was shot for the 1968 Warner Brothers classic, “Bulllitt.” The chase took place on the hills and streets of San Francisco, with the original King of Cool, Steve McQueen, behind the wheel. Mecum Auctions recently acquired the original car used to shoot the majority of the scenes from that legendary car chase, with one lucky (and wealthy) owner picking up a piece of modern automotive and entertainment history. All for the grand old price of US$3.74 million including buyers fees.
According to reports, Mecum auctioneer Matt Moravec started the bidding on the Highland Green fastback at $3,500, but the price jumped to $1 million almost instantly before jumping to $2 million within a minute.
Why start the auction so low? Well, it was actually at the request of the car’s owner, Sean Kiernan, who told the auction room before the bidding started that both times the car had sold previously, it was purchased for $3,500. An absolute steal for the iconic piece of machinery, but when you take a look at the Bullitt’s history, it’s not hard to pinpoint the price-jump.
The History of the Bullitt Mustang
Two Highland Green 1968 Mustang fastbacks were used in filming the 10-minute-long chase. McQueen’s influence is readily apparent on the cars. He insisted that the car was a character itself, and demanded that the car have the right look and feel. He had emblems and the backup lights removed and added grey American Racing Torque Thrust wheels for a meaner look. The grille was also blacked out and the paint job was scuffed to make it look like a police detective’s car. The car featured the Gt package and 390 CI V8. The car on the block at Mecums has a rebuilt engine with a 4-barrel carburetor mated to a 4-speed manual transmission. The engine was modified to create a specific sound while also increasing its speed.
In order to shoot the car chase, three metal tubes were welded under the rockers perpendicular to the car’s centre line. Holes were also cut into the trunk to allow cords to run from the generator to the cameras and the lights.
After shooting the movie, the car was sold to an employee of Warner Brothers, Robert Ross, who then sold it to New Jersey Detective Frank Marranca in 1970. In order to support his growing family, Marranca had to sell the car in 1974 to Robert Kiernan. Kiernan kept the car until his passing, whereupon it was bequeathed to his son, Sean, in 2014. The car was sold with all the documentation, including a confirmation from Ford that the Mustang had been sold to McQueen’s Solar Productions for the movie as well as a letter from McQueen to Kiernan attempting to purchase the “Bullitt” Mustang.
With the US$3.7 million sale now finalised, the Bullitt is officially the most expensive American muscle car sold at public auction, but was just pipped at the post for most expensive American car ever auctioned. That title goes to a 1935 Duesenberg SSJ that sold for a cheeky $22 million back in 2018.
McKeel Hagerty, chief executive of classic car insurer Hagerty said the Bullitt Mustang was indeed a one-of-a-kind.
“The Bullitt Mustang has it all: a great chase scene, the McQueen connection, and a fantastic backstory. The fact that it had disappeared for decades, only to reemerge as an unrestored, movie-car time capsule is something we’ll likely never see again in our lifetimes.”