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.|