A starter chirps repeatedly and a 390 ci Ford engine rumbles to life, ready to propel a patina’d pony for a drive. This one would be short. It would not be a ten minute romp through the streets of San Francisco or a commute to a school in New Jersey. This drive, however, would be yet another trot into the history books. This drive would cross the block at the Mecum Auction in Kissimmee, Florida. And this is no ordinary Mustang. This is the original Hero Car driven by the King of Cool himself, Steve McQueen, in the movie Bullitt.
It annihilated the record, and obviously as far as Mustangs go, this is it. There won’t be another one that comes across and goes higher. — Sean Kiernan, seller of the original Bullitt movie car
And unlike most of the cars that cross the block, it wouldn’t be pushed to the stage to idle across. No one touches Bullitt. This is an artifact of pop culture history and an icon in automotive lore. It has also long been entwined in the life of Sean Kiernan and his family, and it would only be driven by its owner.
On Friday, January 10, 2020, it changed his life yet again as the hammer fell. Bidding kicked off at the same price that Sean’s father purchased it for — $3,500. The price quickly jumped into the millions and surpassed the previous $2.2 million Mustang record set by a 1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake at Mecum last year. By the time the gavel fell, the car brought home a whopping $3.4 million (plus a buyer’s premium fee pushing it to $3.74 million) from the no-reserve auction.
“I think we’re good,” Sean enthused after the sale. “It annihilated the record, and obviously as far as Mustangs go, this is it. There won’t be another one that comes across and goes higher. So being in the record books forever, that’s, that’s what matters to me.”
Since he revealed the car alongside the latest factory Bullitt Mustang back in 2018, two questions have dogged Sean as he traveled the world sharing this legendary car with its fans: “are you going to restore it?” and “how much is it worth?”
Now we know the answers to those questions are a resounding “no” and “more than most could have imagined.” However, the sale of the car is the closing of the chapter on a legendary car that was part of his family’s fabric. It was his mom’s daily driver, his dad’s project, and Sean’s mission was to bring it back to the world.
“I feel almost exactly the same since about 7 o’clock last night. I started figuring that this is a lot like Dearborn two years ago,” Sean said of how the auction compared with the car’s surprise debut. “It’s almost two years to the day (since it debuted). The car turned 52 years old yesterday or two days ago. And I mean, to me it’s all about these past two years and everybody I’ve met. Leading up to the reveal last night, it felt exactly the same. This morning I felt the same. Then I was worried about the car starting, but she’s been on point every time since then.”
Though this chapter is closed, the story isn’t over just yet. This moment will not only mark a historic sale of a car, but the dramatic crescendo of a four-part documentary series that Sean and filmaker Ken Horstmann have labored on. It will detail more about the original Bullitt Mustang and the journey of Sean and his family. We got a sneak peak of a clip at the Hoondog Performance Group Bullitt Movie Car Celebration in advance of the auction, and the documentary is definitely going to be a great watch.
Until it is released, however, we don’t know what is next for the original Bullitt Mustang. Let’s hope that in the hands of its new owner, it won’t disappear for another 40 years.