Bullitt hit movie screens in October of 1968 and changed the automobile world forever. For one, the movie’s opening sequence set a new standard for car chase scenes in movies. Additionally, Frank Bullitt’s Mustang was the first ‘Stang to hit screens. In fact, the movie came out more than a year before Ford released the iconic cars. As far as product placement in films goes, this is probably the most effective.
Bullitt starred Steve McQueen and two Highland Green Mustang GT 390 Fastbacks. That combination was all it took to make the ‘Stang the pinnacle of cool. Decades later, one car remained in drivable condition. Last year, that car became the most expensive Mustang ever sold. It fetched the jaw-dropping price of $3.74 million at a Mecum auction, according to Autoevolution.
The iconic green Mustang started out on the Bullitt set and became the most expensive ‘Stang ever. That, in and of itself, is a great story. However, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. This car has an interesting history.
The Beginnings of the ‘Bullitt’ Mustang
It started when Warner Bros got two Mustang Fastbacks for Bullitt. They’re great cars. However, they weren’t ready for all the abuse they’d get while filming the movie. So, the production company passed the cars off to Max Balchowsky. He was both a seasoned racecar mechanic and a close friend of Steve McQueen.
Balchowsky reinforced the cars’ suspension, adding beefed-up springs and adjustable shocks. Then, he modified the heads and carbs on the big-block V8s and added electronic ignition systems. They all wanted the Bullitt Mustang to make plenty of noise, so he added some straight pipes.
However, Steve McQueen didn’t just want a car for the film. He wanted his Mustang to be his co-star in Bullitt. As a result, he set about doing his own modifications. The King of Cool removed several badges from the cars. Additionally, he had most of the chrome painted either black or Highland Green and replaced the stock wheels with grey American Racing Torq Thrust wheels.
The Story Continued After the Credits Rolled
One of the cars took most of the abuse in the movie. So, they reportedly scrapped it. However, it turned up in Mexico a few years ago and was barely recognizable. The other ‘Stang only had minor scratches and dents and was still in perfect working order. After shooting Bullitt, Warner Bros sold the still-running Mustang to an employee who drove it every day for a couple of years.
Then, an actual detective purchased the car and drove it until 1974. He sold the Bullitt Mustang to Robert Kiernan for six grand. That’s only a little over $33k in today’s money. His wife drove it until the clutch gave out. Then, it gathered dust in several garages while the family moved around the country.
Finally, Robert and his son Sean started working to restore the Bullitt Mustang. Unfortunately, Robert died of Parkinson’s before they could get it back in showroom condition. In the end, Sean and his siblings finished restoring the car in 2018 and took it to auction last year.