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The '68 Mustang Bullitt Movie Car Just Became the Most Expensive Ford Mustang Ever Sold

A wonderfully crusty and original Steve McQueen legacy car is a record-setter.

It's been a long and winding road for one particular 1968 Ford Mustang GT. You first saw the car slam dancing through the streets of San Francisco as one of two Highland Green fastbacks purchased by Warner Bros for use in the detective movie Bullitt, starring car-obsessed actor Steve McQueen. After Bullitt ended filming, the famous Mustang was sold to Warner Bros employee Robert Ross, before it spent several years with an actual detective, then went into hiding by 1974 with its fourth owner, Robert Kiernan, in New Jersey. It resurfaced by surprise decades later, trotted out by Ford at the 2018 Detroit auto show—and its whirlwind celebrity didn't end there. The car just sold at Mecum auctions, bringing in the highest sale price of any Mustang ever at public auction.

What's nearly as awe-inspiring as the Bullitt Mustang's $3.74 million sale is that it was sold at all. Its longtime owner, Mr. Kiernan, had spent years deflecting offers to purchase the car, even from Steve McQueen himself. In the late 1970s, McQueen, who bonded with the car during his own driving scenes in the film, was eager to get the 390-ci V-8-powered pony car back but was powerless to do so. In a letter, McQueen all but begged Kiernan to sell him the Bullitt Mustang—even offering to replace it with another example. It was all to no avail. Kiernan wasn't selling, which meant McQueen wasn't buying. In 1980, the Mustang's clutch went out at 65,000 miles and the car was parked. Later that year, McQueen would succumb to a fatal bout with cancer.

The 1980s rolled by, then the '90s and '00s. All the while, Mustang, Bullitt, and McQueen fans knew that the car was stashed somewhere—but where? Kiernan moved his family to Cincinnati in 1984 and brought the Mustang with them. A decade later, the Kiernans moved again to Florida. The Mustang vacationed at a friend's home in Kentucky until Robert called for it the following year at his family's new Nashville, Tennessee, farm. But it wasn't until 2001 that Robert and his son, Sean, were inspired to get the Mustang running and driving again after seeing the release of the first Ford Mustang Bullitt edition production car.

Progress was made in fits and starts, but Robert contracted Parkinson's disease and keeping the family farm economically viable was a strong priority to restoring an old pony car. After Robert's passing in 2014, Sean finally got the Mustang roadworthy once again. In 2018, he shocked the car world when he allowed the film car to be displayed at the unveiling of the third-generation Ford Mustang Bullitt at the Detroit auto show. Over the following couple years, Sean showed the car at such venues as the LeMay Museum in Tacoma, Washington, the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, and other various car events. Though the car is in rough condition, many of the touches identifying it as a film car still remain, including the welded-on camera mounts, the custom exhaust system fabricated for the movie, and the Bondo-slathered door—an impromptu repair after an on-set accident. The engine, a 390-cubic-inch Ford V-8, was sympathetically rebuilt and the minimal repairs needed to have the car function reliably were carried out.

And now, a Mecum auction bidder with an ample checking account has done what Steve McQueen could not: buy one of two 1968 Ford Mustang GT fastbacks used for filming the movie Bullitt. The original Bullitt Mustang crossed the auction block January 10 at Mecum's Kissimmee, Florida, sale. The question on everyone's mind, "how much will the car bring?," has finally been answered. Millions.

It's no secret that Steve McQueen provenance has been as good as gold over the last decade. A 1963 Ferrari 250 GT/L "Lusso" once owned by the actor fetched a hefty $2.31 million at the 2007 Christie's Monterey Jet Center auction, at a time when a standard Lusso was worth perhaps $700,000. In 2014, the 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 purchased new by McQueen while filming Bullitt brought $10,175,000 at RM Sotheby's 2014 Monterey auction, or about double what a similar car would have fetched at the time without the provenance. Of course, neither of those Ferraris had the distinction of being the star car of an iconic movie, though the value of the base cars alone were far more than a standard 1968 Mustang.

While the Bullitt Mustang's twin film car has been discovered in Baja, Mexicali—it's currently being restored by its owner further north in California—that car was found in far less original condition, missing its engine and other smaller bits, and repainted white at some point in the past. Hagerty insurance places the value of a #4 (fair) condition 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 fastback with a four-speed manual transmission at about $43,000. The insurance and valuation experts at Hagerty don't appear to have a value category for #68 (McQueen-related), but they sure do have a huge value to assign to it if they ever decided to add one.