The car chase in Bullitt is the stuff of legend: the Highland Green Mustang Fastback, possibly the most revered movie car of all. Warner Bros bought two. Word was, one was lost in Mexico somewhere. The other? Who knew.
Well, I’m sitting in it right now, barely able to believe it. This is the car that enjoyed 90 per cent of the screen time, while the other “jump” car did the really hard yards. Gluey traces on the rev counter betray a sticker placed there advising the movie’s star not to over-rev the big-block V8. Can’t imagine he paid much attention.
There’s no head lining inside, the wood trim is faded and the bodywork even has patches of corrosion. In old car parlance, this Mustang is heavily “patinated”, but we’re practically inhaling Steve McQueen in here.
Its owner is Nashville-based Sean Kiernan. “For 40 years,” he says, “it was a total secret.” Kiernan’s father, who had been chasing a Mustang with the 390-cubic-inch “big block” engine, found one for sale in the classified section of Road & Track magazine. “October 1974 issue,” says Kiernan. ”It was incorrectly advertised as the ‘Bullet’ car. I think my dad paid about $4,000 for it.”
A full rebuild was only started in 2014 and the car has just sold for $3.4 million (around £2.6 million). It sounds spectacular and it’s as beautifully gnarly as only late-Sixties US muscle cars can be. But its imperfections are what make it so utterly extraordinary. “The camera mounts under it are ugly welded things. There’s another on the left front that’s welded over the fuel line and a weld on a bumper bracket. There’s a hole in the trunk for the smoke machine. The reason the car has a new bumper, coincidentally, is because my grandfather backed into it twice.”
One unexpected upgrade is imminent, however. “My daughter is at school with Jack White’s kids,” Kiernan says, of the trained upholsterer-turned-rock star. “I’ve asked him if he wants to fix up the driver’s seat…”