When the Bullitt Mustang sells, we’ll see the McQueen Premium’s potential
You’ve seen the movie, you know the car. And in just a few days, Mecum Auctions will sell, at no reserve, the real-deal 1968 Bullitt Mustang at its 2020 Kissimmee auction in Florida.
It has been an action-packed 24 months for Bullitt since we unveiled the car to the world after it had spent more than 40 years in hiding with the Kiernan family in Tennessee. Following that story, the knee-jerk reaction was speculation about how much the iconic Mustang might be worth if it ever hit the market. And since I’m writing this before we know the answer, I’ll seize this last chance to speculate a little more.
Two identical 1968 Mustangs were used in the filming of Bullitt. One was to be the “stunt car” and the other the “hero car.” In 2017, the stunt car was found in rough shape in a junkyard in Baja California Sur. It has been undergoing an extensive restoration ever since. The hero car, the one on screen with McQueen driving it, has lived a quiet life in the Kiernans’ garage, safe and sound. Steve McQueen tried to buy it in 1977, rebuffed in no uncertain terms by Bob Kiernan, in the process creating an unintended but important validation for the hero car from the King of Cool himself.
But how much can a Mustang be worth?
The current record holder is the one-off 1967 Shelby GT500 “Super Snake,” which Mecum sold at its 2019 Kissimmee auction for $2,200,000. The Super Snake is well known to Shelby faithful, but it is neither the cultural icon nor the most famous Mustang of all time. The Bullitt Mustang is.
Sure, the existence of two Bullitt Mustangs might reduce the ultimate sale price of either one, but there are precedents for multiples of the same movie car excelling on the block. Take, for example, the Aston Martin DB5 made famous by James Bond in Goldfinger and Thunderball. There were actually four DB5s for these roles—two used on film and two exclusively as promotional cars. One of the promotional DB5s sold at the RM Sotheby’s auction in Monterey for $6.38 million. A “regular” DB5 in the shape you’d want it is closer to $1 million.
Mecum offered no presale estimate for the Bullitt. However, company president Dana Mecum did predict it should surpass the $3.5M for a 1971 Plymouth Hemi ’Cuda convertible sold in 2014. But McQueen never owned the ’Cuda. So let’s dig into the potential McQueen Premium (MQP) for this particular 1968 Mustang using some previous McQueen car sales.
In 2011, his 1970 Porsche 911S sold for $1.375M at a time when its #1 Hagerty Price Guide value was $72,000. That’s roughly an 1800-percent MQP. In 2012, his 1968 Ford GT40 (used in Le Mans) sold for $11M, representing a 323-percent MQP over the #1 HPG value at the time. And in 2014, McQueen’s 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 sold for $10.175M, a 228-percent MQP.
If the Bullitt Mustang exceeds $3.5M, not only will it set a record for Mustangs and American muscle, but it will also set an MQP record for cars. Even at $3.5M, that represents a 3500-percent MQP over the current #1 value of $96,000 for a four-speed 1968 Mustang 390 fastback. (Notably, the highest noncar MQP I could find was $70,200 for his Persol 714 sunglasses in 2006, a 17,500-percent premium over the $400 retail.)
As for the Kiernan family’s decision to sell Bullitt, “The car is my father’s legacy,” Sean Kiernan told me. “It’ll be hard looking in the garage and seeing an empty space, but this is a way for my dad to take care of his family. With Bullitt, we’ve been able to tell my dad’s story and share the car with the world. Bullitt has been part of my family for 45 years, and we have celebrated it in the grandest way possible. Now the Mustang will have a new role and new meaning for the future owner.”
For millions of people, seeing the Bullitt Mustang is like meeting a hero. Here’s hoping it lands someplace where more people can experience it, no matter the final price.