Dec 07 2019

Market Watch: Steve McQueen’s Bullitt Mustang

Mac's Motor City Garage previews next month's auction of a "star" Mustang.

The Bullitt Mustang is expected set auction records and sell for $3 to $5 million.

Two questions open for Comments:

  • What is your best guess of the final sales price at the January auction? It is being offered at no-reserve. 
  • Should the Bullitt Mustang be restored?


Howard Kroplick

Market Watch: Steve McQueen’s Bullitt Mustang

All photos courtesy of Mecum Auctions.

Steve McQueen’s Highland Green ’68 Mustang from the movie Bullitt is expected to break auction records when it crosses the block at the Mecum Kissimmee sale in January.

We’ll say it: Steve McQueen’s 1968 cop drama, Bullitt, is not among the great movies of all time. But it is a memorable one, especially for car guys,  thanks to the jaw-dropping 10-minute chase scene between a black Dodge Charger and a Highland Green ’68 Mustang 2+2. McQueen, a serious car guy himself,  personally crafted the Mustang’s distinctive custom details, including the shaved emblems, gutted and blacked-out grille cavity, and the American Racing Torq Thrust wheels. McQueen regarded the Mustang as an important character in the movie, just like any of the actors, and he certainly created one.

Actually, McQueen and the film company had two Mustangs prepped for the movie production: a “hero car,” which was used for the closeup shots and most of the action scenes, and a “jump car,” which handled the spectacular high jumps through the San Francisco streets and other severe duties. The jump car was recently identified and rescued from a scrapyard in Mexico—in very sorry shape—and was sent off for restoration. The hero car, which has always been carefully preserved by enthusiast owners, is now headed for auction at the Mecum Kissimmee sale in January, where it will be offered with no reserve

At 50 years of age, the Mustang is in remarkably good condition, rock solid with charming patina, presenting the new owner with a weighty decision: Restore or conserve? In 2018, the Mustang was enrolled as the 21st entry in the National Historic Vehicle Registry, which might help to guide the decision. Like the rest of the car, the cockpit (above) is in original but well-used condition, with split seat covers and a missing clutch pedal pad, just as you would find in most any Mustang on a used car lot back in the day. At some point the carpet and steering wheel were replaced.

While McQueen was known for his Jaguar, Porsche, and Ferrari personal drivers, he had a great eye for the American hot-rodding idiom as well, choosing gray-spoke  American mags to complement the Mustang’s Highland Green factory paint. It’s an awesome look, and the Ford Motor Company has replicated it three times with Bullitt tribute editions of the Mustang in 2001, 2008, and 2019. There’s an old saying in hot rodding that any car suddenly looks more interesting when you bolt on a set of five-spoke Americans, and we’re inclined to agree.

McQueen selected the optional 390 CID Ford FE big-block V8 to power the two Mustangs, which provided plenty of low-end grunt but couldn’t do much for the nose-heavy pony car’s handling properties, we presume. Around 10 years ago the engine and clutch were overhauled, but the car’s original modifications remain, including the filled-in backup lamp openings and Arriflex camera mounts welded to the rockers.

Not even McQueen was immune to the Mustang’s powerful charm. In 1977, the actor tracked down the car and attempted to buy it back, but owner Bob Kiernan (father of current owner Sean Kiernan) politely declined. McQueen passed away in 1980 at age 50 from complications of lung disease, but now the whole world will have a shot at his famous Mustang when it crosses the block at Mecum Kissimme next January. Appraisers say the Bullitt Mustang could bring $3 million to $5 million—far and away a new world record price for Mustangs sold at auction. Photos courtesy and copyright of Mecum Auctions. 

Warning: "Greatest Hollywood Car Chase of All-Time" (1968) contains several brutal crash scenes. This 10-minute scene helped Frank Keller win the Oscar for Best Film Editing.


Dec 08 2019 NELSON MEDINA 5:44 AM

Howard beautiful job on this draft.
7.5 is what she will fetch.
What a piece of history… on many points ... for Ford on the Mustang & Steve McQueen for showing the world how things are done.

Dec 08 2019 Robert Luttgen 9:28 AM

Charming patina?  I saw a lot of rust that needs to be dealt with before it gets out of control.  Should this vehicle end up in Roslyn (best of luck Howard) I would vote for a restoration.

Dec 09 2019 Ted Reina 12:01 AM

Not another one and I know you’re thinking about it, it’s history and you want to keep it alive, don’t you? I think it will go for 3 million, but not more than 4. Yes it should be restored

Dec 09 2019 James Spina 8:18 AM

I would not be surprised at +7.5M.
That patina must be preserved and that preservation of it will likely cost more than an actual restoration.

Dec 09 2019 JeRita 9:25 PM

Howard we think it will sell close to 5 million 4.7 if I gotta pick a number We believe it should be stabilized and conserved but safety is the priority Happy Holiday to all PS Howard if you go for it Bouna Fortuna

Dec 09 2019 Daniel Timothy Dey 11:41 PM

Two years ago, I saw one in a driveway in the Grant City section of Staten Island. I knew this had to be an imitation, or just another dark green ‘68 Mustang Fastback, but even as that, it’s something that has to be worth a fortune. Maybe not the $3M, $5M, or $7.5M you people are talking about, but still worthy of some serious bank.

Dec 12 2019 frank femenias 12:41 AM

Don’t know what it’ll fetch but likely the highest $ being iconic, and somewhat depending on condition as well. Absolutely stop the rust and restore before it completely deteriorates, but only under McQueen’s specification of the time. That’s what this car is all about. That’s a hot car!

Dec 15 2019 Ian Robinson 2:51 AM

Hi Howard.  Thanks for another great topic.  The Bullitt Mustang holds continuing fascination for many people across the world.  I really hope that a museum such as The Henry Ford or The Petersen buys this car.  Ford has had decades of promotional benefit from its association with Bullitt.  Maybe they can now give something back.  I am in the UK and saw the car at Goodwood in 2018 but I totally support the prevailing view that this is a hugely important car that must be kept in the USA.  And, no, I don’t think that it should be restored.  Conservation and mild use is the way to go.

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