The National Historic Vehicle Register (NHVR) is not open to just any classic car. Selected vehicles must be significant to the fabric of automotive history in America. Only 20 vehicles have been deemed important enough since the NHVR launched in 2013, and until now, a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro was the only pony car in the NHVR corral. That’s changing, however, as Ford announced at the 2018 Detroit auto show that the original 1968 Ford Mustang fastback coupe from the film Bullitt has been recovered and will be the 21st inductee later this year.
Ford kicked off the Detroit show with announcements of a brand-new special-edition 2019 Bullitt Mustang, a reborn Ranger pickup, and the performance-leaning Edge ST, but old heads likely had their eyes on none of those vehicles. The star attraction was the ’68 Mustang GT fastback, serial number 8R02S125559. It’s one of only two used for footage for the movie. It was employed for many of Steve McQueen’s close-up shots, while a second Mustang, serial number 8R02S125558, was modified and used for the film’s stunts. Both were forever ingrained in Hollywood and American history thanks to the famously wild nearly 11-minute chase scene with a Dodge Charger through the streets of San Francisco.
While the stunt Mustang was recently discovered in Mexico, Mustang 5559 has lived a much more pampered life. It belongs to Sean Kiernan of Tennessee and has been in the care of his family for 44 years. His parents bought it in 1974 after finding it in a classified advertisement in an issue of Road & Track, and Kiernan recalls the ad was misspelled, naming it as a “1968 Bullett Mustang.” In 1977, Steve McQueen attempted to buy the car, but the Kiernans refused and have kept the car in secrecy ever since.
Aside from replaced carpets and a new steering wheel, the only major work done on the car was a rebuilt engine, and the front valance and bumper have been replaced. Not even the Highland Green paint has been redone. Kiernan says he is responsible for the work done while the car was under his family’s ownership.
Following an extensive verification process that took about 18 months, documentation of this mostly original car will now live in the Library of Congress, immortalized forever as a piece of American lore.
So why bring it out of hiding now? For Kiernan, the 50th anniversary of the movie’s theatrical release signaled that it was the right time to show the car. We’re glad he decided to do so, and Ford is more than happy to have it handy for the of its own celebratory special edition.