Auto archeology: Bullitt-movie Mustang re-emerges

Auto archeology: Bullitt-movie Mustang re-emerges

Top-10 stories of 2017: No. 8 — Steve McQueen's famed movie Mustang discovered in Mexico

Yes, there were the Keystone Kops, and Herbie the Love Bug was cute, and those maneuvering Minis in both Italian Jobs were nicely choreographed, and there was Popeye Doyle hustling his Pontiac through New York City and the Blues Brothers doing much the same in Chicago in a Dodge Monaco.

But when it comes to car chases, Frank Bullitt and his Highland Green Ford Mustang stand alone, which is just what they did after the villains and their Dodge Charger were consumed in flames after crashing into gas-station pumps.

Actually, there were two Bullitt Mustangs used in the filming of the Steve McQueen movie. One was the “hero” car, used for closeups of the King of Cool and environs. The other was the “jump” car, driven — and battered and bruised — in the iconic chase scenes.

After the filming was done, Warner Bros. sent the pair back to car-builder Max Balchowsky. He did some repair to the hero car and then sold it. But the stunt car was so badly abused that it was shipped off to a wrecking yard. For decades, the whereabouts of the cars were unknown — the private owners of the hero car keeping its location secret and the jump car apparently recycled for scrap metal.

Except that it wasn’t. Instead, it was sent off to Mexico, to the Baja Peninsula, where it was put back onto the road, repainted red and then white before the salt air ate away at what was left.

Kevin Marti inspects rusted but original sheetmetal removed from Bullitt Mustang movie car

And that might have been it had the body shell not been found by Hugo Sanchez and Ralph Garcia Jr., who was in the process of turning the car into yet another Shelby GT500 “Eleanor” clone. Fortunately, they had saved the old sheet-metal panels and contacted Mustang specialist Kevin Marti, who traveled to Mexico, studied the car, the panels — including a couple that were specially modified during the shooting of the movie — the VIN and door data plate, and who then confirmed that this was, indeed, the missing Bullitt jump car.

It was an archeological find worthy of yet another Hollywood legend, Indiana Jones. It also was one of the top stories of the year for the collector car world.

But it’s also a story that is ongoing. Sanchez and Garcia enlisted another Mustang specialist to help them restore the car to its movie-set configuration. If spy photos are accurate, there will be even more Bullitt news coming soon, with Ford expected to announce in January the launch of a new Mustang Bullitt to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the McQueen movie. And don’t be surprised if yet another piece of the Bullitt Mustang puzzle emerges as well.

As they say in TVland, stay tuned.

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