Rediscovering a Bullitt-sized piece of automotive history

January 16, 2018

This was a remarkable week for me and for car lovers everywhere.

In Detroit, Ford started the North American International Auto Show with a bang, revealing its new limited edition 2019 Mustang Bullitt, so named after the iconic 1968 movie starring Steve McQueen, the guy (as the saying goes) every woman wanted to be with and every guy wanted to be.

But that wasn’t all. Ford also introduced the original 1968 Mustang Fastback – the “Green Car,” as its owner code-named it – driven by McQueen in the movie, which has been missing for nearly 40 years, or so most thought.

But it wasn’t really missing at all. Its owner, Sean Kiernan, had it sitting in his garage after inheriting it from his dad, Bob, who bought it for a few thousand bucks after seeing an ad in Road & Track magazine in 1974, if you can imagine that.

Sean and his dad had always wanted the world to see it again, and the 50th anniversary of the movie seemed like the right time. So he called Ford to gauge their interest. And he called me for my thoughts on what else he should do. I told him, “This car belongs on the National Historic Vehicle Register.” To make sure that happened, I connected him with the estimable Mark Gessler, president of the Historic Vehicle Association, who readily agreed.

And that’s how the ultimate garage find went down.

For me, it was an incredible honor to be part of bringing THE Bullitt Mustang back into the light of day. It’s something I’ll never forget.

But far more important is what this means for car lovers everywhere. There are plenty of fancier collectible cars out there – the Bullitt Mustang was just a standard-issue assembly line model after all, although film-makers made some modifications to accommodate cameras and such. But there are very few cars that mean more to collectors and enthusiasts. There’s the McQueen allure, of course. McQueen was a genuine car and motorcycle buff. At one point, he asked Kiernan’s dad to sell it back to him. (The answer was no.) But there’s also the fact that the 7-minute chase scene in the “Bullitt” movie is widely considered  one of the greatest – if not THE greatest – chase scenes of all time. When they watch it, people who love to drive are almost behind the wheel themselves, jamming the gas pedal, smelling the burnt rubber, and veering in and out of traffic. It’s a vicarious celluloid (now digital) reminder about the thrill of driving and why we love cars so much.

Having this legend back among the living, so to speak, after so many assumed it was gone for good, is a wonderful thing for our shared automotive heritage.

Since the Ford announcement in Detroit, Sean has fielded a number of questions about what the car is worth. It’s a difficult question because iconic movie and TV cars are notoriously hard to value – and a car is ultimately worth what someone will pay for it. The James Bond Aston Martin DB5, sold for $4.1 million in 2010, and three years later the original Batmobile sold for $4.6 million. So my guess would be the Bullitt car could be in that range. But money isn’t everything. Cars have value beyond money.

And, besides, the monetary value of the car is moot. Sean isn’t selling.

“It means way too much to me,” he told the Free Press.

I can’t say I blame him one little bit.

Here’s a link to Hagerty the magazine’s epic retelling of the Bullitt car’s reappearance. I hope you enjoy it.