In case you haven’t heard, the original Bullitt Mustang, from the film “Bullitt,” just sold for a staggering $3.74 million.
An anonymous bidder walked away with a piece of Hollywood history on wheels.
The car’s name comes from the classic 1968 film “Bullitt.” In the movie, Det. Frank Bullitt, played by the iconic actor Steve McQueen, drove the Mustang as he solves a murder mystery.
Described as a “Mona Lisa” car because it had long been thought of as lost to history, the Bullitt had sat hidden in a garage for four decades. It’s recent rediscovery made headlines and thrilled car enthusiasts.
McKeel Hagerty, CEO of the largest classic car insurer in the world and founder of the Historic Vehicle Association, said, “The Bullitt Mustang has it all – a great chase scene, the McQueen connection, and a fantastic backstory. The fact that it had disappeared for decades, only to reemerge as an unrestored, movie-car time capsule is something we’ll likely never see again in our lifetimes.”
Therein lies what to me is the real appeal of the car: the McQueen connection.
The movie icon chose the car himself for the film, figuring that is what a detective like Frank Bullitt with his pay-grade would have driven. What amazes audiences to this day is the Bullitt chase scene, which still is regarded by many as the greatest car chase scene in cinematic history. Steve McQueen did some of the driving himself, which makes it all the more impressive.
A few years after the film was completed, McQueen tried to purchase the Mustang but without luck.
I have a replica of the Bullitt car, a 1968 Highland green Ford Mustang 390 GT. I pull it out of the garage every now and then. Younger people tend to ignore it, but those who watched “Bullitt” in theaters get very excited when they see my car.
Believe it or not, I am often asked, “Is that the Bullitt car from the movie?”
The original car that just sold has the patina that comes with age, and if we are honest, there isn’t much that is extraordinary about it. It’s basically a stock 1967 Ford Mustang with some modifications which include aftermarket wheels and a blacked out grille minus the Mustang Pony emblem.
What makes the car appealing is who drove it.
Steve McQueen still captures the imagination of the public, and you still see his image pop up on ads for TAG HEUER watches and Persol sunglasses.
Coming from a broken family — his father abandoned him, and his mother was an alcoholic — Steve spent time bouncing from his mom, to his uncle, his maternal grandparents and ultimately to a reform school.
He served a three-year stint in the Marines and decided to try his hand at acting. As they say, the rest is history.
After the huge success of his TV show, “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” McQueen starred in the classic Western, “The Magnificent Seven.” It was followed by his breakout role in “The Great Escape” and, of course, the legendary “Bullitt,” which established him as the #1 actor in the world.
Steve McQueen was the whole package: global superstar, motorcycle rider, fashion icon, race car driver and more. But there was a hole in his life left by an absent father who Steve tried to find in his adult life. Steve descended into heavy drinking, drugs and womanizing on an epic scale.
Fed up with the misery of it all, he eventually left Hollywood and moved to Santa Paula, California, an agricultural community where he purchased a hanger for his ever-growing collection of classic cars and motorcycles. Though he was offered many of the prime roles of hugely successful movies of that era – “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Superman” and “Apocalypse Now” to name a few – Steve simply lost interest. He charged $50,000 to even read a script.
One thing Steve always wanted to do was to learn to fly.
He purchased a PT Stearman biplane for $35,000 but needed lessons. The only man who was qualified to teach him was a no-nonsense former test and acrobatic pilot named Sammy Mason, who was also a civilian trainer during World War II. Mason, a committed Christian, lived his faith in a way that intrigued Steve. They had many conversations during their flying lessons, and Steve actually asked Mason if he could attend church with him. Their relationship resulted in Steve becoming a Christian himself.
The No. 1 actor in the world became a follower of Jesus Christ.
I became so fascinated by this story that I wrote a book with McQueen biographer Marshall Terrill, titled, “Steve McQueen: The Salvation of An American Icon.” It was followed by a documentary film, “Steve McQueen: American Icon.” The film includes exclusive interviews with those that knew Steve best, including his widow, Barbara Minty McQueen, who personally told me the story of Steve’s conversion. The film also contains never heard before audio recordings of McQueen talking about his faith on his deathbed.
What Steve was looking for was not to be found on the soundstage of a Hollywood movie but rather on the balcony of a church in Ventura, California.
Steve was eager to learn the Bible and was there every Sunday with family and friends in tow. He even asked the pastor if he could serve as an usher in church.
Tragically, McQueen found out he had cancer about six months after his conversion and eventually died in a clinic in Juarez, Mexico after doctors in the U.S. gave him no hope for survival. But Steve McQueen died with faith in God and a Bible given to him by evangelist Billy Graham tightly clutched in his hand.
The lost boy finally found the father he was looking for — in God.
Toward the end of his life, Steve McQueen said, “My only regret in life is that I was not able to tell people about what Christ did for me.”
I’m glad that almost 40 years after his death — around the same time his Bullitt sat hidden in a garage — Steve McQueen was finally able to tell people what Christ did for him.