Sean Kiernan explains why he’s selling the Bullitt-movie Mustang

20
Bullitt
Sean Kiernan (standing behind the car) and the Bullitt-movie 'hero' Mustang were at the SEMA Show as part of the Mecum Auctions display | Larry Edsall photos

When the late Robert Kiernan put the Bullitt Mustang on up blocks, where it would spent a couple of decades, he also parked the 1975 Porsche 911 he’d driven only 100 miles since buying the sports car.

Now, Kiernan’s son, Sean, says it’s time to get that Porsche back on the road, and that project is only one of the reasons he’s decided to sell the historic Steve McQueen movie “hero” car at Mecum’s Kissimmee, Florida, collector car auction in January.

By the way, the car will cross the auction block with no reserve price. High bidder gets the car.

Why not put a reserve price on such a car? 

“I’m not doing this twice,” Sean Kiernan responded, acknowledging the emotional decision to sell, and knowing that if he set a reserve that was not met on the auction block, he’d face repeating the selling experience at a later date.

Bullitt Mustang in a special display this past week at SEMA Show in Las Vegas

It has been a wild 22-month ride for Kiernan since it was revealed that his family owned the Dark Highland Green 1968 Mustang that McQueen drove in Bullitt. The car was one of two such Mustangs used in the filming. This was the “hero” car used for closeups. There also was a stunt car for the chase scenes. 

The Kiernans bought the “hero” car as a used vehicle in 1974 and it became the daily driver for Sean’s school-teacher mother, Robbie, until it was put away for safe keeping and then would become a closely guarded family secret, especially as the internet blossomed and people who believed the car had to be someplace started doing daily VIN searches.

Among the few non-family members who knew about the car was Mustang expert Kevin Marti. When Sean Kiernan learned that Ford was working on its own new Bullitt Mustang, he asked Marti to contact Ford to see if it was interested in using the real Bullitt as part of the version’s promotional effort.

“We wanted to do tell the right story,” Kiernan said of the decision to reveal the car’s ownership and its history.

Starting with the new Mustang’s unveiling at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2018, Kiernan and the real Bullitt embarked on a promotional tour that took them across the country and even to England for the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

I wanted to see if I could live without it, without a Bullitt-shaped hole in my garage.”

But the travel and time away from home were wearing. So when LeMay-America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington, asked about putting the car on display for a few months, Kiernan agreed. 

“I wanted to see if I could live without it, without a Bullitt-shaped hole in my garage,” Kiernan said.

RELATED:  Doubts arise about recent record-speed run

When he learned that he could, indeed, live without the car, he knew it was time to sell.

Steve McQueen sat at this steering wheel to film driving scenes for Bullitt

Like selling one of your children? 

“Like selling a sister,” he responded. “She was my Dad’s baby. It was a very hard decision.”

But, Kiernan was confident, given the opportunity and the publicity and the car’s value, his father would have sold the car much sooner.

“He wanted a house in Florida,” Kiernan said.

What Kiernan wants to do is to be home and to add a few more retired thoroughbred horses to his family’s farm. Speaking of his family, Kiernan and his wife are expecting their third child within the next few days. Citing a mysterious bond between family and car, noted that each of their children was born in the same year that Ford introduced each new version of the Bullitt: 2001, 2008 and now 2019.

Car has not been restored, but left as it was after being school-teaching mom’s daily driver

Once he’d made the decision to sell the car, there was still of issue of how. 

“What would my Dad do?” he wondered.

He talked with several people and realized “Dana Mecum and my father would have gotten along very well. This is emotional for me and Mecum gets that, and they’re family oriented.”

And with the Bullitt going to its new caretaker, Sean Kiernan expects to have time to get his father’s Porsche back in running order. Steve McQueen may never have driven this Porsche, but Sean’s father did, and that’s what matters to him.

Advertisement
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

20 COMMENTS

    • I believe the timing of the selling of this historic car may have passed. Once the public has a chance to review and digest all the info on this car it no longer can retain its mystique. The time to sell it was 3 years ago when interest heightened as to where this vehicle may be located and it’s overall intrigue peeked among aficionados.

    • Sean can do whatever he wants, its his family’s car and his decision, each of us may do something a little different, but that what makes us individuals. Great article. Great car. Great movie. This car has history, is iconic and deserves to be in a museum for others to enjoy if that’s what the new owner intends to do. If you are a true car guy, you’ll get goose bumps seeing it in person, if not, you may just not understand…again, that’s ok and what makes us individuals :-).

  1. I can’t tell you why exactly, but I hate Mustangs in general. Having said that, I do love some fastback Mustangs and I love this car.

    • Why are most of these comments from a bunch of sad sack losers , acting like they are knowitall blowhards ? You losers don’t even own a cool car , yet you pretend to be knowledgeable and like you are in the business
      So sad and predictable . You have been losers all your lives . Way to keep up your average !
      You would wet your pants just to sit in a car like this . Go Away

      • William, William, William. we must be related. I have to admit the way you project your words are quite entertaining. I must say out of all the comments I really got a great laugh. No disrespect to the other that commented, fact remains its a 68 Mustang period. they had several in the movie I admit it is one of my favorite year mustangs but the fact is it just that a 68 mustang. The plus is Steve McQueen drove it and that’s is. Hell if it’s worth so much more for this reason the walk of fame has to be worth Trillions. My take is this; rich little weasels drive the price of the collector cars so the average person, "that would be me" can not enjoy building a car with the kids or grand children because a piece of junk set out in the woods fetches thousands and parts forget it. Time for us to pull our heads out of the democratic hole and realize we all suck. Only if we knew what they price would fetch now.

        • It’s a simple supply and demand situation for collector cars , everyone but a few of you know that
          Everyone wants Steve McQueen stuff as well.
          Boomers are obsessed with him
          I suspect a small fortune will be forked over for this car
          If you read the article ( I know , reading is hard ) 😁
          The owner tell you exactly why he’s selling . He has a good enough reason for himself . That’s all that matters
          So why all the hand wringing ? Just sit back and enjoy the cars . They aren’t yours ,leave it at that . Restore it my ass. It’s a one of kind . You don’t restore history . Or do you revisionists ? Sad indeed Have fun folks , time is short🏆

          • Problem with THIS car TODAY….it’s NOT the car McQueen drove in the movie. It was sold to a guy on the street, who gave it to his wife, who drive it for years as a "daily driver"….changing out the parts as needed to maintain it as a "DD"….safety stuff….parking lot dings, faded paint..etc.
            It’s not as Steve left it at the end of the movie!! I doubt a high price will be paid, regardless if McQueen did drive it…SO did Sean Kiernan’s mother!!…a lot more miles than McQueen. Just sayin

    • That’s crazy, he can help set the whole family forward by selling, by not selling it does no one any good. The new guy can let it travel to museums, shows, etc. No one has seen the car for years until recently.

  2. Anyone who isn’t absolutely mesmerized just by the thought of this car going up for sale needs to go back and watch the movie again. If I were Sean, I would get the mechanicals sorted, put some fresh tires on it and go out and tear up the streets of San Francisco. (I could see McQueen doing that). Once it hits the auction, I doubt it will ever get driven again.

    • I’m a GM, GTO guy all the way. But.
      I saw this movie at the theatre when first released, and can’t even guess how many times after.
      The peg-leg ‘Stang v. the 12? 13? hubcap equipped black on black Charger just blew my mind as a kid, and "Ronin" notwithstanding, still does same.
      There’s no argument: the Bullitt ‘Stang, Popeye Doyle’s brown LeMans, the Euro sedan supercars of "Ronin", the white Challenger of "Vanishing Point", the original yellow ‘Stang of "Gone in 60 Seconds" and Cage’s silver Eleanor… the Bullitt ’68 wins hands down every time.
      Not a Mustang guy, but. Not a Ford guy, but. The ’67-’68 fastback ‘Stang captured a moment in time; the ’68 Charger represented the next moment.
      And the American Racing Torq-Thrust rims on McQueen’s Stang simply define the entire era- can you imagine it with period Cragar S/S, or Keystone Kustomags? Yeah, I thought not.
      This must be the most duplicated Ford outside of the ’32-’34 replicas and all those fake Cobras. Ford provided exemplary styling and attitude- McQueen? Well. FYI- a built Ford FE series 390 is a serious contender, but the ’67-’68 Mustang shell can accommodate so much more.
      Sigh. Want this.

  3. I personally wouldn’t sell the car, but there can come a time when the car owns you. Hopefully the buyer understands history. Sean Kiernan is about to enter a new income tax bracket.

  4. I went to Dallas and saw the car in person at the Mecum auction. Frankly it was really exciting to see it for the first time after 50 years since the movie premier. On the other hand it looked terribly beat up and rusted. I’m shocked frankly he didn’t make more of an effort to keep it in better shape or possibly even restore it. I know some would prefer it has the original equipment but I think a lot more could’ve been done to keep the car looking pristine. After bringing it out of hiding and promoting it for year letting everyone know that he would never ever part with his car you have to wonder what changed? I guess the potential for a lot of money might do that. I’ve heard $5 to $7 million not sure what everyone else thinks??

  5. I would restore it. None of the "patina" lends to this cars value. The provenance is that a famous man made a great car famous in a great movie, the car did not look like this in the film. All the so called patina was gained as a daily driver to work and back, hauling kids, groceries, and what-not. I believe the car would be best displayed as it appeared in the movie. Just my humble opinion, but, I make a living restoring cars so I am not a fan of "patina" in general!

  6. This MUSTANG is the most iconic MUSTANG that ever was made! This MUSTANG fueled my love for MUSTANGS. 3 things to consider why this car may well do over a million dollars at auction, maybe even more. (1) It’s a "S" code 390-4 speed car (2) It is The BULLITT MUSTANG (3) Steve McQueen drove it. The recipe is all there to cook an enormous amount of attention and money at auction. Last night on Movies Network TV, BULLITT aired at 7pm…This movie set the GOLD STANDARD as to what all other car chase scenes were to follow! Some people are very critic about rust, dings, dents, etc…years ago an older gentleman who was the largest fireworks manufacturer in the U.S.A. attended the Tom Williams Auto Auction in Kentucky, and I had the pleasure and opportunity to hang out with this cool old guy. I think the year was 1989, not 100% for certain, anyway he educated me on one fact that remains true today…he told me that he may not see it in his remaining life time, but I will see the day a car with dings, dents, rust, broken glass, etc. will bring more than a restored car of the same kind. I asked him why…his response was "because they are only original once". If I had the bank roll needed to buy this MUSTANG, I WOULD!

  7. I wouldn’t have turned McCool McQueen down when he came asking for it back. I would have loved that piece of history till they parked me in the ground or I would have saluted Steve as he drove away to glory in it.

    • Dennis, I agree with you. I read that McQueen sent heartfelt letters asking to get the car back and was turned down. If that was true, then the car sale has some very bad vibes attached to it. Money earned from the sale would be tainted in way.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here