For the filming of Bullitt, two 1968 Mustang
Fastbacks were used from the Warner Brothers fleet for actor Steve McQueen's
movie character. Once the Mustangs were selected, veteran race driver and
builder Max Balchowski was enlisted to modify the cars for the rigors of the
high-speed pursuit scenes. Balchowski added stronger springs and Koni
shocks, and he fabricated braces for the inner fenders. He also did some
minor tuning to the 390-cubic-inch engine for a little more top-end power.
After filming was completed, the primary car was in
sad shape. Two weeks of stunt driving had taken its toll on the Mustang, so
it was sent to the crusher due to liability concerns. The remaining car, the
less-damaged backup, was sold to an employee of Warner Brothers' editing
In the early 1970s, the car was advertised in a
classified ad in The Los Angeles Times for the then princely sum of $6000. A
buyer was found and the car eventually made its way to the East Coast. The
Mustang went up for sale again in 1974, this time in an ad in Road & Track.
It is reported that Steve McQueen himself called the New Jersey number in
the ad with a desire to purchase the car for his own collection. He was told
the car had been sold, but was given the name and number of the buyer.
McQueen tried to persuade the new owner to resell
it, but to no avail. The new owner did promise to contact him if he ever did
decide to sell. McQueen died in 1980 with no contact from the owner.
Whenever contacted by prospective buyers or media, the owner has refused
offers of purchase or publicity. The car has been in non-running condition
for some time.
The car remained in New Jersey until the mid-1990s,
when it was moved to a farm in the Ohio River Valley. Parked in a hay barn,
the Mustang remained inoperable, still wearing New Jersey tags. A film
company recently made an offer to the owner for its use in a motion picture.
The owner declined.
The Bullitt Page:
"The fellow who spotted it sent me some photos, but I
swore they would not be published anywhere. He does not know the owner of
the car, but rather the man whose barn the car is stored in.
I know it's really *the* car, as the VIN matches
that on a letter from Warner Brothers confirming that the surviving car was
sold to an employee of the studio. The letter is dated 1970, and is on
As the car sat when the photos were taken, it was
in about #4 condition. Though there was a lot of surface rust on things like
fasteners and suspension parts, the body seems to be fairly rust-free. It
has spent most of its life in the state of New Jersey, near New York. In the
photos, the car still wore its New Jersey license plates.
Here's a quick rundown of the condition: 66,000
miles on odometer; car seems to have been in a minor front collision --
bumper, valance and grill are all missing, radiator support is bent; engine
is in place but does not look like it has run in some time; carburetor
missing; upper shock absorber mounts missing; many holes in inner fenders
where extra bracing had been installed; the interior (Deluxe) is mostly
intact, but quite dirty with trash all about the floor; 4-speed transmission
still there, but stock shifter has been replaced with a Hurst unit (in the
film, the car had a stock Ford shifter); clutch pedal sits on floor -- as if
the clutch or linkage are damaged; original American Racing wheels still on
car, with rusted lug nuts; a non-sock (cheapie) steering wheel resides where
McQueen's favored Nardi unit once served steering duty; Max Balchowski's
numerous welded-on camera supports and modified exhaust (with glasspack
mufflers) are still in place but badly rusted; extra bracing on rear leaf
spring mounts; there is a factory "fog lamp" switch below the ashtray (car
in movie had them removed, obviously).
And there are two items which really point to this
being the "real deal", besides the VIN. One is a fist-sized hole in the left
inner fender inside the trunk. I have surmised that this was used to route
exhaust from a trunk-mounted generator (to run lights and camera equipment).
Nobody making a replica would likely do this, as water and mud would easily
be thrown up into the luggage compartment. The second is the door tag, still
in place. Everything fits the circumstances of a car intended for use by
Warner Brothers. The build date (late '67), DSO (Los Angeles), and other
things confirm that this is, in fact, the car.
As far as what it would take to restore the car, I
imagine it would need to be a "ground-up" resto. On the other hand, one
would not want to disturb the modifications too much, for fear of harming
the value. I imagine that if it were mine, I would do my best to get it
mechanically sound, including a rebuild of the engine and trans. You'd also
need to go through the brakes, and probably replace some of the suspension
components that were subject to rotting. Any car that has sat for so long
(I'll estimate 10-15 years) tends to deteriorate from lack of use.
Some minor body repair on the front to make it look
decent, and a refinishing of the wheels would be in order too. I imagine
that not touching the body too much, it would need about $10,000 in