Mustangs in Movies: Bullitt

Pictures and Videos | Where is the Original Bullitt Mustang? | Sheryl Crow's "Steve McQueen" | Bullitt Remake | 2001 Mustang Bullitt GT

Timeline: 1968 Mustang | Complete List of Mustangs in Movies

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The Movie

A Highland Green 1968 Mustang GT 390 Fastback was the car of choice for Steve McQueen's character in 1968's Bullitt. Lieutenant Frank Bullitt chased a black Dodge Charger R/T driven by suspected murderers through the streets of San Francisco in what is considered one of the greatest chases ever caught on film. Bullitt was the first movie to show close-up shots of the driver, adding more realism to the scene. Even now, Bullitt is the yard stick by which all movie chase scenes are measured. Thanks to The Ponysite, The First Steve McQueen Site, and for some pics and info.

2001 Bullitt GT
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Where is the Original Bullitt Mustang?

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 department.

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.

Report from 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 Warner stationary.

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 repairs."

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Sheryl Crow's "Steve McQueen"

Sheryl Crow's 2002 album "C'mon C'mon" included a song called "Steve McQueen". The video featured Sheryl recreating scenes from Steve McQueen movies. The prominently feature Bullitt section showed Sheryl driving David Kunz's Bullitt replica through the streets of San Francisco while being chased by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in a Camaro. The Le Mans part showed Sheryl driving a Ford GT40 while being chased by "Little E". Some Shelbys can be seen in the background of that scene.

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Bullitt Remake and CHUD (Cinematic Happenings Under Development) report that Brad Pitt will star in a Bullitt remake, but the Internet Movie Database doesn't show that Pitt has officially signed on. Check back for updates!