Friends Of Steve McQueen Show Celebrates 50 Years Of Bullitt

“There sure are a lot of green Mustangs here,” was the comment overheard in the crowd at The Friends of Steve McQueen Car and Motorcycle Show held at Boys Republic in Chino Hills, California, on June 2, 2018. And for sure there were, as the event was themed around the 50th anniversary of the movie Bullitt, so you know what that meant — a sea of Highland Green Mustangs and one black Dodge Charger.

Everyone in the Bullitt Mustang universe was represented, with Ford making it three generations of Bullitts on hand, thanks to two 2019 examples of the breed. At the other end of the pipeline a handful of Highland Green ’68 fastbacks were on-site, the cars most identifiable with the movie even if the Bullitt name was never applied as a specific model until 2001.

Officer Frank Bullitt put on an overwhelming show of force at The Friends of Steve McQueen Car and Motorcycle show. As expected, show center was a sea of Highland Green — although a few of the other Bullitt hues made brave appearances as well to mark the 50th anniversary of the movie. And to think we saw it first run, in a theater!

Of those 2001, 2008 and 2009 Mustangs labeled by Ford as Bullitts, they were parked in long rows at show center on the Boys Republic outdoor running track. We were going to count them for you but never could get all the way through without being interrupted or distracted, so let’s just say there were many; Certainly far more than we’ve ever seen in one spot before.

Like ocean waves, this legion of Bullitts was simultaneously seemingly identical, yet no two were exactly the same. Of course they were nearly all green, but some had bolt-ons, a few had blowers and many were simply stock with the odd daily driver license plate frame or sticker.

Kary Kidder drove to Boys Republic from Maple Valley, Washington, so she had a few bugs to wipe off before judging began. Kary is the spark plug behind MustangMommas.com, an all-female social and cruising club with members nationwide, and was able to convoy with friends as far as Sacramento. The trip was issue-free, but Kary admits, “I got a little fun in,” along the way.

Bullitt folks, at least those appearing at the Boys Republic show, are a clubby lot, flocking together online and simply enjoying their cars as the superb daily drivers they are. Never the most powerful of specialty Mustangs, the Bullitts have always been about real-world performance, that oh-so-difficult to engineer combination of quick, stable handling; a bit more power; and everyday manners. They match their namesake’s quietly cool persona and it was great to see so many out in one spot.

Likely the most populated class of Bullitts was the 2008-2009 group, but it narrowly edged the first-gen 2001 Bullitts, which were out in force as well. They all looked good in the bright morning light. Clustered in their own section of the Boys Republic running track, the ’01 Bullitts easily showed why the model was an instant success. The bright light is no illusion; The Friends of Steve McQueen show seems to have a lock on bright, sunny and warm weather.

And speaking of driving, some Bullitts were wearing license plates from states far from California thanks to the Hoondog Legend Lives Route 66 Tour that had the faithful searching for Radiator Springs all the way from Chicago to Santa Monica along the Mother Road. Try as we might we never did get the inside scoop on what happened on the tour — mainly everyone was out ogling cars as we made our rounds — but the quick word was everyone had a good time, and no tow trucks, police cars or ambulances were involved. Furthermore, the eager drivers were headed north to San Francisco after the Steve McQueen show, so the fun was continuing.

There were no Bullitt Mustangs 50 years ago, only Mustang fastbacks painted Highland Green and maybe sporting the popular Torque Thrust D wheels. Copying the movie car was not a thing, but mean and green was definitely cool and these were fly rides in their day. There were a handful of such cars at TFSMC&M show.

Once past Mustangs the McQueen car show has proven a first-rate event. Unlike most we report on, the McQueen gig is a many-faceted event, so Mustangs play just one part. A fundraiser for the Boys Republic where Steve McQueen lived as a youth, the show is always themed around something Steve McQueen was interested or involved in.

Ford ran two 2019 Bullitt prototypes in the Hoondog Route 66 cruise to Boys Republic, and they look good! The pair drew their share of attention from the crowd, but weren’t thronged as they’ve been seen already.

Boys Republic

Steve McQueen’s manly cool may evoke envy from the cubicle crowd, but it evolved in part from his troubled early years. Luckily the courts sent Steve to Boys Republic, a private facility for just such youths, and he turned himself around with the great guidance the facility’s reputation implies.

Never forgetting his debt to Boys Republic, Steve maintained a relationship with the facility his entire life. The Friends of Steve McQueen Car and Motorcycle Show, put on entirely by Boys Republic, is simply a continuation of the fund-raising Steve took care of privately while he was alive. That everyone participating in the show knows they are contributing to the Boys Republic makes it that much better.

Luckily he was the consummate California guy, playing with everything from Mustangs, dune buggies (Bruce Meyers of Myers Manx fame was on hand with both old and new buggies, for example), and old Porsches to Le Mans race cars, exotic cars, and, especially noteworthy, motorcycles. These are mainly vintage dirt bikes — rare and difficult to come across in restored condition — along with road racers and a few cruisers.

Boys Republic gets an A+ for dressing up its campus for car-show duty. The show is a major fundraiser and it gets the full treatment with many hundreds of American flags, hay bales, flowers, nicely groomed grounds and even acres of straw over the unpaved parking meadows to hold dust down. It’s a huge effort put on by the boys and really makes the show a class act. Other examples of the custom touches are the trophies at the TFSMC&M show. This hardware is created in the Boys Republic shop using a fun collection of appropriate tools. The effort is a win-win-win that saves Boys Republic money while building skills and self-worth in the boys.

Steve was also into airplanes, so a few small vintage planes were flown into the display field — The Boys Republic is over 100 years old and has been smart enough to hang onto its extensive real estate holdings in mainly agricultural form, so hacking out a dirt strip is no big deal — and there were even vintage travel trailers. Add in some hit-and-miss engines chugging away and there was plenty of cool stuff to check out.

Needing some way of designating the various areas at the show, Boys Republic creatively came up with the idea of using motorcycle tires as sign holders. This one is a sand paddle, while the others were road race, street, or motocross rubber.

Also, unlike the typical Mustang car show, the Boys Republic affair costs $10 to attend, but it has no problem attracting a traffic-snarling throng of attendees. The bother is worth it for anyone with wide-ranging internal combustion interests, so put it on your calendar in early June next year if you’re in the area. And you shouldn’t have to, but on your way in we’d keep an eye out for black Chargers, just in case…

There’s plenty of commercial action in booths surrounding the McQueen show, but it’s not the usual speed-and-chrome suspects. Many booths tout non-profits or lifestyle items. This one, for example, is for a winery and was a lot more than a couple of pop-ups.

SoCal loves its motorcycles — as did Steve McQueen — and the densely packed motorcycle area is a huge show highlight. The bikes are with few exceptions rare, beautifully restored performance models along with some iconic street models. Steve McQueen was a pilot with a taste for classic flying machinery so it was appropriate “his” show has an aviation component. This glider was giving rides via a cool winch launch system; an ex-Army Cobra attack helicopter was also selling rides and a couple of airplanes were on static display right in the middle of the car show.

Of the handful of ’68 Highland Green fastbacks on display, this one best represented the original concept. The 15-inch wheels and tall sidewalls give the all-important ‘60s stance while underhood a healthy double four-barrel-carb’d FE big-block puts on the heat. The manual trans is faithful to the movie action while air conditioning is a concession to actually enjoying the car in the modern era.

Talk about “one for the money, two for the show,” check out the infamous Vicious Mustang. Built for open-track action the effort combines a vintage shape, modern details, and wild mechanicals in a package crossing many disciplines. The track-oriented interior sports turn indicator and horn functions on the dash along with a paddle shifter, while the Coyote is not only visibly supercharged but twice turbocharged! The suspension is late-model Chevy and slams all the way down to the ground.

Another rarity was this restomod Cougar. Keeping with the Cougar’s original up-market persona the build features mild 5.0 HO power and automatic transmission inside an understated and unmolested chocolate brown wrapper. The woodgrain dash is original, as is much of the rest of the interior. The small video monitor on the center console and billet hood hinges are not.

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About the author

Tom Wilson

Infatuated by things that make noise and go fast, Tom has been writing about cars and airplanes for over 35 years. So far that’s meant a decade editing Super Ford magazine, plus long associations with Road & Track, MSN Autos and more lately Kitplanes magazine. It’s also meant some SCCA racing and a lot of fun sampling everything from Trans Am cars to F1 chassis as part of “work.” Besides the racing hobby Tom enjoys flying his biplane, plinking tin cans and messing around with telescopes.
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