The 1968 Mustang Fastback driven by Steve McQueen from the movie Bullitt made its 2018 SEMA Show debut at the Shell “Pioneering Performance” Pavilion.
For decades, rumors, myths and dead-end searches about this car resulted in stories evolving and taking on a life of of their own making it somewhat of a holy grail in the old car world. Sean Kiernan, owner of the Bullitt Mustang, discussed the rumors and dispelled myths on the Shell “Pioneering Performance” Live Stage.
At 26 years of age, Sean’s father (Bob) purchased the car from an ad run in the October 1974 issue of Road & Track magazine placed by a New Jersey detective. Bob Kiernan was the only person that ever called about that ad.
The car, affectionately referred to as “Bullitt” in the Kiernan family wasn’t a second car – it was their only car. Sean’s mom (Robbie) drove “Bullitt” to St. Vincent’s parish every day where she taught third grade. Unmodified, the car shook the pavement with its straight exhaust – and to this day, still does!
In 1977, Steve McQueen tracked down that New Jersey detective who gave him Bob Kiernan’s contact information. McQueen reached out – he wanted the car. Steve McQueen was a guy not used to hearing the word “no” but he heard it more than once from Bob Kiernan. “Bullitt” was part of their family.
After McQueen passed away in 1980, the hunt for the Bullitt Mustang intensified. While the car was decidedly not for sale, it became a project Bob didn’t have time for. A busy career, a family to raise, a horse farm to run – all of these things took presedence. However, Bob always took quiet pride knowing “Bullitt” was waiting in the garage for the day that he and his son Sean could rebuild the car as their father-son project.
When he had time, Bob began disassembling the car in his modest two-car garage. When their father-son project finally started to gain momentum, illness struck – Bob was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. For the next couple of years, the two talked about the car, however, they weren’t able to accomplish much. In 2014, Bob Kiernan passed away leaving the father-son project to Sean.
For two years Sean worked alone in that same garage to return “Bullitt” to the condition it was when it was Bob and Robbie’s daily driver. The engine was rebuilt, aging carpets were replaced, and a new steering wheel, similar to the one used in the movie, was added. Other than the evidence of family road miles, and the gentle patina that comes from years of storage, “Bullitt” had returned.
“I am thankful for the years my father and I shared and I know he would be proud that we are sharing the Bullitt Mustang with the world, it was something we discussed so often,” said Sean Kiernan.
Earlier this year the 1968 Mustang Fastback was announced by the Historic Vehicle Association (HVA) as the twenty-first automobile to be added to the National Historic Vehicle Register. This program is a partnership between the HVA and the U.S. Department of the Interior, Historic American Engineering Record, and the archives of the Library of Congress.