Undoubtedly the most successful piece of advertising came in October 1968 when the movie Bullitt was released. Starring Steve McQueen, one of Hollywood’s most beloved actors, the action-packed thriller kicked off with an epic car chase through the streets of San Francisco that you can watch below, thanks to YouTube user Kavallero.
For about seven minutes, with only growling V8s as background music, McQueen’s character detective Frank Bullitt in his green Mustang GT pursues a couple of hitmen that were driving a black 1968 440 Magnum-powered Dodge Charger. At the time, it was the most thrilling car chase movie scene ever filmed and to this day, it is recognized as a revolutionary sequence that set new Hollywood standards.
A close friend of McQueen’s and a well-known race car builder, Balchowsky started by reinforcing both cars’ suspension systems, which now featured beefed-up springs and Koni adjustable shocks.
Next up was the big-block V8s that received modified heads, carbs, and electronic ignition systems. To amplify the sound they produced, the stock transverse mufflers were replaced with straight pipes.
One of the Mustangs was used for the most hardcore parts of the chase scene which led to extensive damage. It was deemed too expensive to repair so it was reportedly scrapped. The one featured in this article saw a lot more action, but it survived in a roadworthy condition.
After its big-screen debut, it was sold to a Warner Bros. employee who used it as a daily driver for a couple of years. Then, it was purchased by a real police detective, New Jersey native Frank Marranca who owned it until 1974. That year, the iconic car switched owners again but remained in the state of New Jersey after Robert Kiernan acquired it from the detective for $6,000 ($33,384 today).
Until 1980, when its clutch finally broke down, the Bullitt was driven daily by Mrs. Kiernan who taught at a nearby school. It then sat in a garage for several years waiting to be repaired, but the family never had the necessary funds to bring it back to working condition. However, the Kiernans didn’t give up on their prized Mustang and took it with them when they moved to Cincinnati in 1984. A decade later, it was stored in a friend’s garage in Kentucky as the family moved again, this time to Florida. The legendary fastback was reunited with the Kiernans a year later when they brought a farm in Nashville.
Left to gather dust in a garage once more, it finally received some much-needed attention by Robert and his son, Sean in 2001, when Ford inspired them to bring it back to life with the introduction of the fourth-generation Mustang GT Bullitt special edition. Unfortunately, soon after they began working on the car, Robert was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, so their project came to an abrupt end.
Sadly, Robert passed away in 2014 and never got to see the car in working condition again. Sean managed to compete the project years later, a process that culminated with a public unveiling at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show, alongside Ford’s third Bullitt Mustang.
Retaining many of its original parts and movie set modifications, it was eventually sold by Sean at a Mecum auction last year. Its precarious yet mostly original condition combined with its legendary story made this amazing car the most expensive Mustang ever sold, as it fetched a whopping $3.74 million.
It turns out that the second car was never scrapped as it resurfaced in Mexico in 2017. However, it was in very poor condition, missing its engine, and seemed to have been repainted white at some point. It’s now undergoing a full restoration, but even if it’s successfully completed, the car will never be as authentic as its well-preserved, record-breaking sibling.