Auction Classic: The Bullitt Mustangs



As a post script on my Scottsdale auction series, the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale had a small Bullitt theme running through it. Fans of the Highland Green Mustangs had three choices, all of them great. I thought I’d take the opportunity to show these cool cars and throw in a little history. Click through to see more, and watch out for black Chargers!



If you follow new Mustangs, you’ve probably seen that Ford is making a 2019 Bullitt-edition Mustang. It’s pretty sweet. The naturally aspirated 5.0L Coyote V8 puts out 475hp and 420 lb-ft of torque (15hp more than the GT), enhanced with the GT350 intake manifold, bigger throttle body, programming and active-valve exhaust. Bullitts come with a white cue ball handle on the standard six speed manual (now with rev matching), while a 10 speed automatic is available. Color is, of course, Dark Highland Green metallic but you can get it in black if you prefer. Either way comes with black painted wheels and unique ponyless grille. Interior in not substantively different, besides the digital instrument panel is standard and has a heated steering wheel, green stitching on the black leather seats and Bullitt badges. The interior is mostly what you’d get with with the $2,200 Premier option on the GT.

The Bullitt is about a $7,000 hike over the regular GT Premium. Not too bad for the panache and all the miscellaneous extra equipment…



Unless you want the very first production car made. Then you would have had to be a bidder at Barrett-Jackson in Scottsdale this year. They had a prototype cross the block, representing the yet-to-be-made first Bullitt car. That 2019 Mustang Bullitt cost the generous bidder an even $300,000. I say generous, because the entire purchase price goes to a charity so it’s all for a good cause. Some wealthy buyer gets a cool car and a good feeling!



So if you like Bullitt Mustangs, there were a couple other options at B-J this year, neither of which I showed in my Mustang articles. They had a 1968 Mustang Bullitt recreation that sold for $83,600. This car would fall in the category of restomod, because it’s fully restored and has some modern enhancements like A/C, 5 speed transmission, and digital instruments. I would totally drive this car, since it’s cool as hell and should be reliable and comfortable. It just needs the tires turned around to have blackwalls.

At Barrett-Jackson’s Las Vegas auction this year, there was a more accurate one that sold for $77,000.



The last Bullitt at Barrett-Jackson was a 2001 Mustang Bullitt. Ford made these for one year, building  5,582 of them. In addition to the cosmetic enhancements, they had a number of engine and chassis improvements that made them the fastest and best handling regular Fox chassis Mustangs up to that point (265hp 4.6L V8.  Cobras were another matter).  This one sold at Barrett-Jackson for $21,450 and according to their online database, it’s the first one they have offered in all their auctions. Not a bad price if the seller’s claim of 300 miles is true!

I really lusted after these when they were new. Unfortunately, it was not financially do-able for me then, but that’s OK because newer ‘Stangs have eclipsed this one in every metric and I got to buy one of the new 5.0 GT’s when they came out.



The only Bullitt not represented at Barrett-Jackson was the 2008 edition. A Bullitt on the S197 platform was a natural, since the retro styling is so reminiscent of the 67-68 fastbacks. They made 5,808 of them and as with the 2001 and 2019 versions, mechanical enhancements were modest but worthwhile. The 4.6L SOHC Modular V8 put out 315hp (15 over the GT), the highest power rating the 24 valve version of this engine was ever offered with (the 2010 GT had the same hp and torque and only the 32 valve Cobras surpassed it).



This might be a good place to come to a hard stop to remind ourselves why so many people care enough about the ’68 Bullitt Mustang to build and buy recreations and new special editions. The car chase from the movie “Bullitt” is the very definition of iconic. There have been countless car chases filmed since then, some of them quite good, but it is hard to imagine that any will ever be as remembered and beloved as the 1968 granddaddy of chase scenes.



As far as I know, this chase far surpassed anything put to film up to that point. The length: 7 min. The soundtrack: sweet engine sounds unencumbered by music. The realism: all on real city streets with no sped up trick filming. The intensity: through hilly San Francisco with plenty of in-car first person shots. All were unprecedented and mindblowing to the contemporary theatergoer. In retrospect, it’s iconic status is cemented by the facts that it was done with two of the most popular cars from the musclecar era and starred Steve McQueen, leading candidate for Coolest Guy Of All Time.



Newer chase scenes tend to be let down by the modern tendency to use quick-shot editing. I think producers and directors believe that split second, constantly panning, extreme close up shots make scenes more exciting. I disagree. I think it’s a cheap way to simplify filming and use trickery to try to fool people into thinking they are seeing something that wasn’t actually filmed. For example, the first Bourne movie (Identity) had a chase through Paris filmed more or less in the Bullitt style. It was really good. The second movie (Supremacy) had a chase through Moscow that had a lot of potential, but with a different director it was hampered by the frenetic editing style. I found it very disappointing. I love the long shots in Bullitt that clearly show cars actually going dangerously fast.



Were it not for the car chase, the movie would probably not be well remembered. I like it as a movie, personally, but it has a couple other elements that are really priceless. For CC’ers, there are an abundance of street scenes with dozens, if not hundreds, of really clear shots of great curbside classics. My favorite is probably the Pontiac station wagon with 8 lug wheels seen at the car wash. As a paramedic and RN, the ambulance and hospital scenes really interest me. There is a very underplayed and realistic-seeming scene of the attempted resuscitation of the witness who was shot. I have not seen much about it, but I believe it was filmed at least mostly with real doctors and nurses and accurately portrayed then-current procedures and equipment. I really geek out over that.



The Mustang is great, but Mopar fans also love the bad guys’ black ’68 Dodge Charger R/T. With a 375hp Magnum 440 and four speed stick, it is said to have retained stock power and required just suspension beefing up for the chase stunts. With a vinyl top, hubcaps and whitewalls, the villainous Bullitt Charger uses only its great bodywork and speed to look bad ass and does so very well. The Charger also came standard with double layered hubcaps (that’s assumed on my part since it loses 8 hubcaps over the course of the chase).



Fans have good-naturedly ribbed the chase for continuity errors, some of which are obvious and others noticed only by those familiar with San Francisco streets. The makers of the movie weren’t concerned with making a geographically accurate guide to San Francisco, though, they were busy breaking new cinematic ground in action movies.

Jason Shafer wrote a really good CC article on Bill Hickman, the stunt driver who drove the Charger and played one of the two hitmen. He was also instrumental in the great chases in The French Connection (1971) and The Seven-Ups (1973).




Until last year, most people had never seen the actual Bullitt movie car since the chase ended  (R.I.P. fictional bad guys and their real life Charger). Articles about the movie and car up until last year always said there were two Mustangs used in the movie and that the one used in most of the chase scene was damaged beyond repair and sent to the junkyard while the other car was sold to a reclusive owner who hasn’t allowed the car to be seen in decades.



The public has only learned the whole story in the last year. This owner had died in 2014 and his son recently decided to go public with the car. He was the fourth owner, counting the movie studio, having bought the car in New Jersey in 1974. It had been used as a daily driver and continued to be by his wife until the clutch went out in 1980. It was then parked and not driven again, apparently until the present day.



It moved with  the owner from New Jersey to Kentucky to Tennessee, reportedly being kept in garages or barns the whole time. It’s not clear how much of its excessive patina was acquired in its first 12 driving years versus its last 38 parked years. The steering wheel, gearshift knob and air cleaner were stolen over the years by covetous souvenir seekers. The son says he and his father planned to get it running and reconditioned just enough to be road worthy while retaining as much originality as possible, especially after the father retired. However, a Parkinson’s diagnosis and other family events conspired to keep it in parts, stored and immobile. The car remained a closely held family secret.



From here the story gets strangely serendipitous.  The son of the owner (who inherited the car) works in sales of automotive paint, but his boss also had a side interest in movies and was working on a script in partnership with a producer/director. The plot involved two guys who agree to buy a barn find classic car, but before they can make their fortune on it, it gets sold out from under them multiple times to buyers who don’t suspect its true value and the guys spend the movie chasing it. The car, of course, is the Bullitt Mustang but the writer has no idea that his employee owns the real thing! The owner tells his boss the family secret and agrees to be a partner in the movie, with the plan that they will use the real car as a promotional aid to help secure financing for the film.

Over this same time, the long-assumed-lost movie stuntcar was claimed to have been found in a Mexican salvage yard. At the time of the announcement last year, it had been vouched for by Kevin Marti to have an authentic VIN and had been at least partially restored. You can read more here.



To make a long story short, Ford eventually signs up as a financier for the movie and used the real Bullitt Mustang to promote its new 2019 Bullitt. The photos above were taken at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show, where the new car was announced in January. Presumably, the prototype was then sent to Arizona to be used in the Barrett-Jackson auction a few days later. I wish the original car had been sent out west, too, so I could have seen it!

If you want to read the whole story, the original Hagerty article is here.  I haven’t heard anything on when or if the movie will actually get made.




To wrap up this article on all things Bullitt, I can’t resist showing a couple of model cars off my shelf. The Charger is one of my favorite models and is the only diecast, pre-built model I own. I’d never seen or heard of this Revell Bullitt replica until I happened across it at a hobby shop in the early 2000’s. Of course, I bought it on the spot. I’ve never seen another one and I love it! The trench coat-wearing passenger is even holding a shotgun.

I couldn’t find the companion Mustang, so I built my own. I didn’t build it as an exact replica, mainly because it is a ’67 rather than a ’68. I liked the ’67 AMT kit better than the ’68 Revell kit that was available at the time. They have since released an unbuilt diecast ’68 Bullitt kit, which I haven’t gotten. So, mine is just a Bullitt-style Mustang which differs in the interior and some other details. However, I think I captured the overall look okay. I just need a scale Frank Bullitt driver…