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Monday, 01 October 2018 22:05

Steve McQueen Wanted His Mustang Back, New Owner Refused To Sell

Written by E.L. Hamilton, The Vintage News
Steve McQueen (1930 - 1980) as Frank Bullit next to a Ford Mustang 390 GT 2+2 Fastback in the american crime thriller movie 'Bullitt', San Francisco, 1968. Steve McQueen (1930 - 1980) as Frank Bullit next to a Ford Mustang 390 GT 2+2 Fastback in the american crime thriller movie 'Bullitt', San Francisco, 1968. Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images


A letter came in the mail. Steve McQueen wanted his car back.


It wasn’t just any old car. The souped-up Dark Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback was arguably as memorable as the star who drove it in an iconic and much-imitated street-rattling and nearly 11-minute car-chase scene.


The year was 1968, and Steve McQueen was reaching the peak of his superstardom. Two years earlier, he’d notched his first (and only) Academy Award acting nomination for The Sand Pebbles. He followed that by producing and starring in Bullitt, a noir-ish crime thriller in which the King of Cool played a San Francisco police detective battling a mob boss.


Though Bullitt was a critical and commercial smash, today it is best remembered for the classic car chase between McQueen’s character in the Mustang and the mobster in a black Dodge Charger. (A green VW beetle also makes an appearance.) Cited by many as one of the best car chases ever, it helped secure the Academy Award for Best Film Editing. As Roger Ebert wrote in his 1968 review of the film, “[it] leaves your stomach somewhere in the cellar for about 11 minutes.”


Filming the car chase took three weeks. Two Mustangs were used: One was called the “hero” car, which McQueen drove throughout filming; another was used in jump and crash scenes. Though stunt drivers took over for some of the riskier maneuvers, McQueen did much of his own driving, creating a sort of cinema verité.


Car aficionados took note. “The Bullitt chase is coveted for the usual crashes and jumps, but it had something more,” fan Larry Webster recently wrote on the classic car site “Unlike most cinematic chases that feature cars performing impossible feats, the one from Bullitt was every bit as exciting, but the driving was obviously real. Those who know cars knew. It’s 10 minutes of film nirvana.”


After filming was complete, the Mustangs were disposed of—the banged-up jumper car supposedly trashed, the hero Mustang sold to a Los Angeles executive who in turn sold it to a policeman. The cop kept the hero Mustang for a few years before selling it by placing an ad in the back of Road & Track magazine in 1974. An insurance executive, Robert Kiernan, bought it for a then-steep $6,000, shipped it to his home to Madison, New Jersey, and his wife drove it on grocery-store runs around town.

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