Iconic Steve McQueen ‘Bullitt’ car may draw millions on NBCSN’s Mecum Auctions

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One of the most famous cars in American pop culture and film history – not to mention one of the coolest looking rides ever – will be on the auction block this weekend.

The original 1968 Ford Mustang GT, driven by actor Steve McQueen in the cult classic “Bullitt,” is expected to fetch upwards of $2-$5 million during this weekend’s Mecum Auction in Kissimmee, Florida.

To date, the highest price ever paid for a Mustang was at last year’s Mecum Auction in Kissimmee: a 1967 Shelby GT 500, which went for $2.2 million. The “Bullitt” Mustang not only may surpass that amount, it has has the potential of garnering the highest price ever paid for any muscle car at auction: a 1971 Plymouth Barracuda Hemi, which went for a whopping $3.5 million at the Mecum auction in Seattle in 2014.

When the auctioneer’s gavel comes down signifying the car has been sold, it will be a bittersweet moment for the car’s owner, Sean Kiernan. The Mustang has been in his family for 46 years, originally purchased via a simple classified ad by his late father, Robert.

“It’s something I’ve never felt before, it’s tough,” Kiernan told NBC Sports when asked his emotions of letting the car go. “I don’t know my garage without Bullitt in it. The emotion side of it is more I think of just missing the car and the time I’ve had with the car. That’s the only sad part of it. It is exciting but so much that’s just not known. It’s weird.”

Here’s a bit of trivia that may make serious car collectors cringe: once Robert Kiernan acquired the Highland Green colored car, his wife Robbie drove it regularly around their Madison, New Jersey home for things like taking the kids to school, Sean’s sister Kelly to Girl Scouts, runs to the local grocery store and of course to St. Vincent’s church on Sundays!

If you’ve never seen Bullitt, it contains arguably one of the greatest chase scenes ever filmed. McQueen plays San Francisco police detective Lt. Frank Bullitt, who goes after the bad guys up and down the city by the bay’s infamous bustling and steep hills.

Of course, the hero emerges unscathed, while the bad guys crash into a gas pump and meet a fiery demise.

The 10-minute chase scene was one of the first of its kind and served as the blueprint for many other movie chase scenes to follow, including 1971’s iconic “The French Connection,” as well as others such as “The Blues Brothers,” “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Vanishing Point” and “Gone in 60 Seconds.”

The car Kiernan inherited from his father was one of two originally used in the movie, both acquired from Ford Motor Company with back-to-back serial numbers and identical 390-cubic-inch/325 horsepower V8 motors and 4-speed transmissions.

One of the cars was so severely damaged in the chase scenes that it was eventually scrapped. The other car, before it landed in the Kiernan family’s garage, was first sold to Warner Bros. employee Robert Ross, who used it as a commuter ride.

Ross subsequently sold it in 1970 to real-life New Jersey police detective Frank Marranca. He kept it for four years before placing an ad in the October 1974 issue of Road & Track magazine.

The ad read simply, “1968 ‘Bullett’ MUSTANG driven by McQueen in the movie…Can be documented. Best offer.” (Note that “Bullett” was misspelled)

 

Robert Kiernan offered $6,000 and the car stayed with him and eventually was moved to Kentucky with his son and his family. McQueen, who died at the age of 50 of a heart attack in 1980, tried numerous times to buy the car back, even offering a similar Mustang to sweeten the deal, but the elder Kiernan would not budge.

Ironically, the car’s clutch broke the same year McQueen passed away and sat in several garages for more than 30 years. Robert and Sean made attempts to restore parts of the car, but Robert grew ill with Parkinson’s Disease and the project remained on hold.

Sean restarted the restoration after his father’s death and the once again road worthy car was unveiled in 2018. It is registered as the 21st car in the National Historic Vehicle Register.

Besides the new clutch, a rebuilt engine and new carpets, the car is in its original condition with one exception: a new front bumper due to Kiernan’s grandfather having accidentally backed into it.

And to the lucky individual who ends up with this treasure off the auction block, in addition to the keys, they’ll also receive paperwork for the car that includes a personal letter from McQueen to Robert Kiernan requesting to buy the car back.

When asked his thoughts about what kind of home he hopes “Bullitt” gets, Kiernan replied, “I think I care more about the car and the future of the car and kind of continuing the story. I think the only part of the money aspect is making it the most valuable Mustang and telling my dad’s story and it going down in history.

“Honestly, if you could buy time is what I’m yearning for the most. I want the car to have a great life going forward and being pampered. As long as she gets what she deserves is all that matters to me.”

When asked if he’ll request visitation rights to see the car in its new home, Kiernan quipped with a laugh, “As long as I don’t have to pay child support.”

 

But drawing serious again, Kiernan admits it will be a bittersweet feeling when he ultimately turns over the keys to the new owner.

“I’ve been preparing for it the same way I prepared to unveil the car,” Kiernan said. “I’ve played it over a million times in my head, but there’s no way how I can gauge how I will be feeling. It’s very much bittersweet. You want it to be well handled, well taken care of.

“There’ll be emotion tied to it, handing them off. Everybody (he and his family) will have that taillights driving away feeling.”

The car and its iconic legacy will come alive again this weekend when it is one of over 3,500 cars up for bid on Mecum Auctions on NBCSN. The “Bullitt” car is slated to be auctioned during the 1 p.m. ET hour on Friday, so make sure you tune in to this historic event.

Click here for more specs and details about this iconic ride.

Here’s the overall viewing schedule for the 30 total hours of the Mecum Auction (all times Eastern;  telecasts are live unless where noted), all televised on NBCSN:

Tues., January 7 Mecum Auctions – Kissimmee NBCSN 12 p.m.
Wed., January 8 Mecum Auctions – Kissimmee NBCSN 12 p.m.
Thurs., January 9 Mecum Auctions – Kissimmee NBCSN 12 p.m.
Fri., January 10 Mecum Auctions – Kissimmee NBCSN 12 p.m.
Fri., January 10 Mecum Auctions – Kissimmee# NBCSN 5 p.m.
Sat., January 11 Mecum Auctions – Kissimmee# NBCSN 4:30 p.m.
Sun., January 12 Mecum Auctions – Kissimmee^ NBCSN 7 p.m.

#Same-day delay
^Next-day delay

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Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”


Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”


Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).