"Steve McQueen didn’t have many friends in Hollywood. According to the actor’s biographer, Marc Eliot, he’d burned just about every bridge with every director and co-star with whom he’d ever worked. McQueen seems to have been "
Up close and personal with the ultimate car chase hero – the Bullitt Mustang
The ultimate car chase car?
There is the standard run of the mill car chase, and there is the 1968 thriller Bullitt – the film that set a very high bar for on-screen car chase action some five decades ago.
The star of the show was, of course, the Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang GT, as driven by Steve McQueen’s character.
Apologies if you’re a fan of the Dodge Charger, but in true Highlander style, there can only be one.
A bit of Bullitt Mustang history
A pair of Mustang GT’s shared the starring role in the film – one a modified jump car for all of the stunt scenes and the other hero car that McQueen drove during close-up shots.
After production wrapped, the fate of both cars became something of a myth until late 2017, when the shell of the jump car showed up in a junkyard.
The hero car faired far better. Post-production it was purchased by its first owner before Robert Kiernan bought the car for only $6,000 in 1974. After this, it was used as a daily driver by Kiernan’s wife until the clutch failed in 1980. From then on it remained locked away at the family farm in Tennessee despite offers from McQueen himself to buy the car – its existence remaining a closely guarded secret for over 30 years.
Up close and personal with the Bullitt Mustang
Roll forward to 2018 and the existence of the original Bullitt Mustang was finally revealed. Now in the ownership of Kiernan’s son Sean – it’s been touring North America including a visit to the UK for the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and I was lucky enough to see it in all of its battered glory.
In true car chase style, the Bullitt Mustang arrived unannounced at Goodwood Circuit during a Ford event with a 2018 Bullitt model in tow – giving me full access to this legendary car once I’d calmed down from the realisation that I was in the presence of a true film icon.
Unrestored originality and all the better for it
During a brief conversation with Sean Kiernan, he told me that Ford had given the Bullitt Mustang a full mechanical restoration while leaving the bodywork exactly as it stood – decades of ageing and all.
The car’s interior is also exactly as when it rolled out of the barn – complete with the special cue-ball shifter showing only 65,055 miles on the clock.
On the outside, the paint is cracked and faded exposing the undercoat alongside a few rusted panels – and a number of dings and dents. But despite this, the Highland green paint is still present and instantly recognisable – even after all of the years that have passed since its starring role.
Despite its well-worn looks, there can be no denying the cool-factor of the Bullitt Mustang. All of that achingly cool original bodywork, the McQueen connection and that it was hidden for so many years making it the king of all car chase heroes.
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