Famous Bullitt Mustang driven by Steve McQueen sells for $3.4 million

(January 12, 2020) KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The 1968 Ford Mustang GT that Steve McQueen drove in the classic car chase in the movie Bullitt, one of the most famed cars from American cinema, sold for $3.4 million at auction in Kissimmee, Fla., on Friday, according to Mecum Auctions.

It was the highest price ever paid for a Ford Mustang at auction, according to David Morton, marketing manager for Mecum. The buyer has not been publicly identified.

"The hammer dropped at $3.4 million, but with buyers' fees, the total cost is $3.74 million," he said, adding that it shattered the auction house's previous record set last year of $2.2 million. Mecum auctioneer Matt Moravec started the bidding on the fastback at $3,500, but the price jumped to $1 million almost instantly and then jumped to $2 million within a minute.

The unusually low starting price for such a well-known car was requested by the car’s owner, Sean Kiernan, who told the auction room before the bidding started that both times the car had sold previously, it was purchased for $3,500.

The unrestored muscle car, its "Highland Green" paint looking rusty and black upholstery splitting apart, starred in a 10-minute sequence in the 1968 film, getting airborne a few times as it sped through the hilly streets of San Francisco.

Having been entered into the National Historic Vehicle Register and presenting in highly original condition, the Bullitt Mustang retains many of the fingerprints from its time in front of the camera, including the camera mounts welded to the rockers, the welded patches covering what used to be the backup lights before McQueen had them removed, modifications for camera gear in the trunk, its custom exhaust, adhesive residue on the tachometer and even the Bondo used to repair the door after it was smashed in during the final moments of the chase scene.

The car was auctioned without a reserve, or minimum sale price, a risky decision that could have forced the owner to sell low. As the goal all along of the current owner Kiernan — and his late father, Robert — was to retain the Mustang in as untouched condition as possible, the completed engine rebuild is factory-faithful, featuring as many original parts as Sean and his father could conceivably use, and other work was done only by absolute necessity, including replacing the carpet, front bumper and front valance.

McQueen filmed with the window down so viewers could see that he was behind the wheel. Although credited as the driver, McQueen actually shared the wheel with Hollywood stunt driver Bud Ekins, according to the movie database IMDB.

Many movie buffs view the chase as groundbreaking for its duration and white-knuckle drama. The sequence forgoes a score in favor of roaring engines and screeching tires. McQueen, playing the no-nonsense police Lieutenant Frank Bullitt, was chasing bad guys who drove a black 1968 Dodge Charger.

After filming, the Mustang was sold to a Warner Brothers employee, and later to a New Jersey police detective. He in turn sold it for $6,000 in 1974 to Robert Kiernan of Madison, N.J., who held onto the car until he died in 2014.

Sources: Mecum Auctions, Automotive News