Bullitt isn’t only Hollywood star on Mecum’s Kissimmee auction docket

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Kissimmee 2020
In this closeup view, the 'Bullitt' Mustang wears its special National Historic Vehicle Register plate | Mecum Auctions photos

Four of the most famous vehicles to grace the silver screen are scheduled to travel down the red carpet runway that serves as the auction block for Mecum’s annual early January visit to Kissimmee, Florida, in what has become the world’s largest collector car sales event. 

The 2020 dates are January 2-12 and the auction docket is expected to include 3,500 collector cars, a dozen or so vintage motorcycles, nearly that many historic watercraft, and even a Porsche farm tractor. 

Also up for bidding will be 120 classic guitars, many with rock-star provenance, and hundreds of lots of Road Art (otherwise known as automobilia and petroliana). 

If you’d rather not bid but simply want to buy, Mecum will offer its newly developed Mecum Gallery Exposition, with “investment-grade” vehicles available for direct purchase. 

But wait, there’s even more: Dodge will be present with a fleet of its most powerful vehicles, and thrill rides are free to those brave enough to ride shotgun. There’s also the Mecum Midway with demonstrations by celebrity chefs, as well as live musical entertainment and a variety of food vendors, and all of it consuming the 60 acres of Osceola Heritage Park.

Movie star cars aren’t the only headliners on Mecum’s Kissimmee docket. Above is a 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 and below is the 1955 Chevrolet Aztec, a custom by George Barris

The stars — quite literally, these cars became famous in Hollywood movies — are the “hero” 1968 Ford Mustang driven by Steve McQueen in Bullitt, a Superformance Ford GT40 Mk II “hero” car driven by Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari, 1 of 11 original “Eleanor” 1967 Ford Mustangs built for Gone in 60 Seconds, and the 1958 Plymouth Fury featured in the frightening Christine.

“It’s hard to get past those heavy hitters, the main attractions which are getting all the attention, the four A-list movie cars,” said John Kraman, long-time Mecum Auction’s consignment staffer and commentator for the NBCSN television coverage of the auctions. “But take those out of the loop and it is still a killer lineup.”

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Nearly two dozen major car collections have consigned nearly 400 vehicles, among them outstanding muscle and racing cars.

Like many in the auction arena, Kraman is energized by the demographic transition taking place.

“What I’m seeing is that younger buyer, that new generation buyer, is 50ish,” he said. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that as the traditional boomer market ages and moves on, the next generation arrives at the same rate. Around age 50 they don’t have the same financial responsibilities and it’s time to have a cool car.

Kraman said this Gen-X buyer likes the late-model performance cars, such as the Dodge Challenger, Chevrolet Corvette and Ford Mustang. He added that the unveiling of the new mid-engine C8 Corvette has revitalized interest in vintage Corvettes, “fever pitch” was his term. Resto-mods, cars that look vintage but have modern powertrains, suspension and cabin conveniences, also are popular with such buyers.

And right along with the Xers is an even younger buyer, he said, adding that attendees at such events as the SEMA Show and the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals aren’t aging but are getting much younger in the past few years.  

This even younger buyer also is into resto-mods and pickup trucks — “look at the C-10s!” (vintage Chevy pickups that are extremely popular these days) — and early Ford Broncos (another vehicle experiencing a resurgence with Ford ready to introduce its new version).

Volkswagen buses also are popular, and with both next-gen groups, he added.

But, Kraman noted, buyers want good cars. “People still recognize quality.”

“Overall, the collector car market seems to be very solid, especially in ‘the core,’ the $40,000, $50,000, $60,000 cars, it’s as strong as it’s ever been. 

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The 1968 Challenger 2 streamliner (above) set records at Bonneville
Actor ‘TV Tommy’ Ivo also starred on the drag strips and his 1974 Top Fuel dragster is on the auction docket

Then Kraman said something quite fascinating about his observation of the generational shift. He said that while the baby boomers were interested in older vehicles from the standpoint of nostalgia, he called the newer generations “the legacy guys,” who were putting collector vehicles “on a higher pedestal.”

 “It’s not all guys,” he added. “It’s gals, too.”

Another aspect of the generational shift is the number of cars coming out of long-term collections, especially as boomers realize they will not live forever. Many of those cars, Kraman noted, are being offered with no reserve prices. 

The cars offered at Kissimmee from private collections span the collector car hobby and marketplace. The Samuel Vaughan Collection features several American classics from the 1930s, including a Duesenberg Model J, while the Michael Fux Collection offers a group of contemporary supercars. 

In between, there are the likes of the Wellborn Musclecar Museum Collection of classic and especially Mopar muscle, the Thompson’s Muscle Car collection, the Frank Karabetsos Collection that includes a rare Muntz Jet convertible, the Low Mileage Collection with its array of classic Cadillacs, and the Don Wallace Collection of drag racing machines, including a TV Tommy Ivo Top Fuel dragster and a Sox & Martin Pro Stock Hemi Cuda.

Also among the auction’s “Main Attractions” are a Shelby 427 Cobra, the 1968 Challenger 2 land speed-record streamliner, the stunning 1955 Chevrolet Aztec custom by George Barris’ shop, and many others. But the stars of the auction are the stars from the big screen. 

The impending sale of the Bullitt Mustang is such a major milestone in American collector car history that Mecum has set up an entire website devoted to the vehicle. The car’s own story could easily be made into a big-screen blockbuster: Movie “hero” car driven by the King of Cool becomes a school teacher’s daily driver, then goes into hiding as a long-kept family secret, only to emerge as part of Ford’s promotion of a new Bullitt Mustang — and after an international tour is offered for sale — on Friday, January 10 —  and at no reserve.

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‘Hero’ car from ‘Ford v Ferrari’ is on the Kissimmee docket

But the Bullitt is just one of four movie-star cars on the docket. Crossing the auction block on Saturday, January 11, will be the Ken Miles hero car from the Ford v Ferrari movie. The car is one of two prepared for the film and replicates the pale blue No. 1 driven at Le Mans by Miles and Denny Hulme. The car is powered by a Roush 427cid V8 stroked to 511cid and has been autographed by Miles’ son, Peter, and by Miles’ Le Mans crew chief, Charlie Agapiou.

One of the original ‘Eleanors’ built for the ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’ movie will cross the auction block in Florida

Also on the block on January 11 will be one of 11 original Eleanor Mustangs. Mecum says that according to the movie studio, this car was “The Dream Car” and was used in film scenes from the Shipyard and City and River chase scenes, and has been driven less than 100 miles since undergoing restoration by Cinema Vehicle Services. 

Built in conjunction with the release of the movie ‘Christine,’ this 1958 Plymouth Fury was a movie sweepstakes prize

A recent addition to the Kissimmee docket is a Christine Plymouth Fury, in this case the one that was a promotional sweepstakes giveaway car for the terrifying John Carpenter movie based on a Stephen King novel, and formerly part of the Ron Pratte Collection. Mecum notes that the car is the only documented Christine movie car with paper trail that includes documentation from Polar Films.

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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 books. In addition to being Editorial Director at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times, writes a weekly automotive feature for The Detroit News and is an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

3 COMMENTS

  1. How many Bullitt mustangs do you think are left? Are the car buyers that dumb to think there is still more Bullitt cars out there!!!!!.

    • Take away the BULLITT MUSTANG and I bet the auctions attendance and viewers watching on cable would drop in 1/2! The BULLITT MUSTANG is the MOST ICONIC MUSTANG EVER…IT WAS A REAL CAR 100% believable in the chase scenes…the 1968 Charger that shared paint with the BULLITT MUSTANG will NEVER be as ICONIC! Timing is everything…when the word was officially out that the BULLITT MUSTANG was located, people waited to see and hear more about it’s condition and location. Once the new owner(s) make the purchase at MECUM this January 10th, the MYSTERY is OVER, and I bet the suspense will never fetch the high dollar amount it will bring this coming January 10th ever again. Best investment the sellers ever made back when they purchased the BULLITT MUSTANG! Congrats to them!!!

  2. Forget the ’68 Highland Green Mustang, a fairly common car (the ’67 Mustang was a better year in my humble opinion); the car I would chase would be the Ford GT40. It will be interesting to see what that will bid up to. The GT 40 is a far rarer car and let’s face it; Bullitt was a movie that had a chase scene that had not been done before and if it is carefully watched you will see there are many cuts spliced together to create the chase. In other words, the chase really didn’t happen as presented.
    I did enjoy Steve in the movie and the film is entertaining but it is just another cop film that would gone into obscurity had it not been for the airborne cars flying down the hills of San Francisco. The movie, largely due to the casting of Mcqueen, was a popular film when released but how many people outside the vintage car crowd care about a tired movie prop that has not been particularly well cared for over the years.
    Regardless of how the bidding goes, it is bound to be entertaining to watch the next "chase scene"!!

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