McQueen’s Bullitt could be the most expensive Mustang ever sold at auction

When we broke the news in January 2018 that the long-lost Bullitt Mustang was safe and sound in Tennessee, the story rocked the automotive world. It also ignited speculation about how much the iconic car might be worth if it ever hit the market.

In five months, we’ll know the answer.

The 1968 Ford Mustang driven by Steve McQueen in Bullitt is headed to Mecum’s 2020 Kissimmee auction in January. Company president and founder Dana Mecum made the announcement on August 14 to kick off Monterey Car Week. Mecum says he expects the Mustang to surpass the American muscle car record of $3.5M paid for a 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda convertible at Mecum’s 2014 Seattle auction. The highest auction price for a Mustang to date is $2.2M for a 1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake at Mecum Kissimmee earlier this year.

Estimating the value of an iconic car like the Bullitt Mustang can be difficult since it’s impossible to know just how much someone is willing to pay for a car that is so ingrained in American pop culture and has never been at auction before—particularly one that was driven by “The King of Cool” in arguably the greatest car chase in movie history. Certainly that number will be in the millions.

Bullitt Mustang interior from the back seat
Casey Maxon
For the film, racer and mechanic Max Balchowsky tweaked the 390-cubic-inch Ford V-8.
For the film, racer and mechanic Max Balchowsky tweaked the 390-cubic-inch Ford V-8. Casey Maxon

Bullitt Mustang profile
Bullitt Mustang Casey Maxon

“There really is no other car to which it can be compared,” says automotive expert and author Colin Comer. “When you put everything together—a cultural icon, connected to a movie legend, and it’s a Mustang—it really stands alone. Then you consider that most people thought it was long gone, destroyed, it was amazing enough when it came out of hiding 18 months ago in near-original condition. Now, for someone to actually have an opportunity to own it for themselves—a car that McQueen couldn’t even buy—this is an unprecedented historic event.”

The Highland Green pony car famously dueled a Dodge Charger on the streets of San Francisco and then disappeared. Sean Kiernan, however, knew exactly where it was. The Mustang had already passed through the hands of at least two owners when Kiernan’s father, Bob, bought it after answering an ad in the October 1974 issue of Road & Track. Once McQueen found out where the Mustang was and who owned it, he reached out to Kiernan on more than one occasion in an attempt to buy it for himself. But Bob Kiernan wouldn’t budge.

After his father died in 2014, Sean Kiernan and his family continued to keep the car a secret. It no longer ran and was in need of work, but as Sean explained last year, he and his dad frequently discussed bringing the car back into public view. That happened a year and a half ago at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The Bullitt Mustang has been touring the country ever since, including a stint at the Historical Vehicle Association’s glass display at the National Mall in D.C.

Bullitt for sale at Mecum
James Hewitt

It’s no surprise that the family labored over the decision to sell the car.

“There were a lot of sleepless nights and stress,” Sean Kiernan says. “The car is my father’s legacy. It’ll be hard looking in the garage and seeing an empty space, but at the same time this is a way for my dad to take care of his family. We’ve taken care of it and protected it, and now it’s someone else’s turn. It just seems like a good time to do it.”

Kiernan says that he spoke with McKeel Hagerty two years ago about bringing the car out of hiding, and he immediately trusted him and valued his advice. He felt the same about Dana Mecum when Mecum reached out and asked if he would consider selling the car. “I knew both times that I was with the right guy,” Kiernan says. “And I trust that the car will go to the right guy too.”

Could that right guy be you? And how much will it cost to be that right guy? The world will soon know.

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