This article originally appeared in USA Today, written by Phoebe Howard Wall, on January 14, 2018.
DETROIT – Ford is going to bite the Bullitt again.
The Mustang that Steve McQueen drove into Hollywood history for the 1968 movie Bullitt emerged for the first time in 40 years Sunday at the Detroit auto show in tandem with the debut of a new, limited-edition 2019 Mustang Bullitt.
The special model, due out this summer, will be available only in Shadow Black or Dark Highland Green. It has a 5-liter V-8 engine that packs at least 475 horsepower and tops out at 163 miles per hour – an 8 mph increase over the latest Mustang GT.
“It doesn’t need to scream about anything. It’s just cool,” said chief designer Darrell Behmer.
The all-new Mustang Bullitt is equipped with manual transmission, and the gear shifter features a white cue ball shift knob as a nod to the original. Standard equipment reflects a new era, with a heated leather steering wheel and high-tech amenities.
Features pay tribute to the car McQueen drove, with chrome accents around the grille and front windows, classic torque thrust 19-inch aluminum wheels, a black front grille. Only the circular faux gas cap Bullitt logo on the rear center is visible on the exterior. The leather-trimmed interior features green accent stitching on the dashboard, door panels, center console and seats.
“It has to have the right attitude, it has to be unique in some way from a Mustang GT and, more than anything, it has to be badass,” said chief engineer Carl Widmann.
McQueen filmed all the chase scenes himself in the Warner Bros. classic that depicts a cop chasing hit men through the hills of San Francisco. Real speed. Real crashes. Real point of view of the driver.
As it turns out, the 1968 car has been in a family garage, quietly waiting for the film’s 50th anniversary. Its owner died years ago, leaving a son to hold on to a collector car found in a classified ad from Road & Track magazine in 1974.
Hargerty, a classic-car insurance company, says that based on other famous movie cars like the Batmobille and James Bond’s original Aston Martin, the origial Bullitt Mustang could be worth more than $4 million at auction.
“We kept it a secret in the family for so long, hiding in plain sight,” Sean Kiernan, 36, of Hendersonville, Tenn., said. “We hoped to restore it, but then my dad got Parkinson’s and I had my first daughter and life was happening.”
“The car shows the gentle patina of time. It has rust marks,” said Gessler, who noted that Detroit will be the first stop before a national tour that includes Washington, D.C. “Steve McQueen wanted to create the most realistic chase scene ever on film. He found a director, Peter Yates, and Warner Bros. gave him the reins. They took four weeks to shoot an 11-minute chase scene.”
McQueen had all the badging on the car removed. It was recognizable from just its angles and silhouettes. And that’s why the new model is so sparse, said Kevin Marti, owner of Marti Auto Works in El Mirage, Ariz., who created and maintains the database for every Ford vehicle built since 1967. “This car is so iconic that you don’t even need to put a name on the thing. That speaks to the confidence Ford has.”
As the licensee of Ford production records, he tracks every vehicle identification number for more than 140 million cars, and he notes style and color trends of each era. In the 1960s, popular cars were avocado green, white and red. In the 1970s, automakers turned to browns, yellows and earthy colors. Now consumers lean toward silver, white and black. So Dark Highland Green will make a statement. It is a throwback color on a throwback car.
‘That is one sexy car’
People have asked why Ford wanted to do a third generation Mustang Bullitt, having created 2001 and 2008 editions already. The company simply couldn’t resist.
“You will have a mix of people who have an affinity with the car based on the movie when they saw it or when they owned a previous version. But you will have people who may have no idea about the history or background and will look and say, ‘That is one sexy car. I have to go buy it,” said Mark Schaller, marketing manager for Mustang.
Leslie Daniels, 73, of Detroit, a former Ford assembly line chipper and metal pourer, used to drive his aunt’s orange Mustang GT with a white convertible top.
“I love the different sounds that Bullitt makes, the roaring,” he said. “And Steve McQueen is one of those movie stars that stays in your mind after all this time.”
Meanwhile, many Millennials have no knowledge of the film.
Ford thought of everything. Not just the huge (young) consumer market, but honoring history.
The company called Molly McQueen.
The 30-year-old actress and producer flew to Detroit from Los Angeles in December to learn how to drive the 2019 Mustang Bullitt and videotape chase scenes in Dearborn for a debut film promoting the collector’s edition. The Audi owner had never driven a manual transmission until she was asked to be part of the top-secret launch.
“I honestly didn’t know how to drive a stick shift and I stalled it quite a few times. By the end of the second day of shooting, they asked me to slow down. It becomes second nature. And you’re thinking about the gears and the clutch and driving becomes a fun activity as opposed to just a way to get from one place to another,” McQueen said in advance of Sunday’s event at Cobo Center.
“This is something my grandpa would have loved. And my mother, Terry McQueen. She used to always say, ‘God, he would’ve loved you. You’re so similar to him.’ But I never knew my grandpa. He died in 1980 and I was born in 1987.”
Few people know Molly McQueen is the famous actor’s granddaughter. She grew up in Pacific Palisades with a film producer mother who spent most of her time as at home as a mom. Now Molly is a writer, actress and producer who recently sold her first project to Warner Bros., the company that made her grandfather famous.