It doesn’t matter how hard we try, pop-culture will always steer our automotive culture into tangents we could’ve never expected — and for Ford, who knew that a simple Highland Green ’68 Mustang GT would be enough to propel the pony car into the highest reaches of hollywood fame and car culture lore? 50 years later, Ford is revealing the 2018 Mustang GT 50th Anniversery Bullitt Edition with a splash: by bringing out the long-forgotten “Bowling Green” Bullitt!
Long story short, the long-rumored move to Tennessee was true. Sean and his family had stored Bullitt 559 (its stunt-car twin, the Bullit found in Mexico last March, is serial number 558) inside a friend’s barn in Kentucky, but shortly after, moved the car to a small garage on their property near Memphis in 1984. The last, previously unknown, owner of the Bullitt 559 was Sean’s father, Bob. He’s the man who turned McQueen away when the actor wrote the family, and whom purchased it from the now-retired New Jersey detective named Frank Marranca (coincidentally, “Frank Bullitt” was McQueen’s detective character) in 1974. Found in the Road and Track classifieds, Bob purchased the car for $6,000, according to Hagerty.
The crash damage you always hear about? HVA’s Mark Gessler confirmed that tid-bit for us, “It had some damage on the front — there’s a new bumper and valance — it was one of those deals where grandpa accidentally backed into it, and that was back in the 70s; then Steve came after it in 1977. By then, it was their family car — their only car.”
“We didn’t want to keep it a secret,” Sean told Hagerty. “But the attention over the years was annoying. My dad wasn’t stubborn, he just loved the thing. He wanted it in his garage forever — my dad told Steve McQueen ‘thanks but no thanks.’ He was a badass.” They drove the car until it was mechanically wore-out, and stashed it.
Bob had wanted to keep the car a father and son project, as the lore had always told; but unfortunately, he passed away in 2014, before the two could begin piecing the car back together.
Hollywood, as it turns out, has no secrets — who woulda guessed? While the Kiernan family’s address was redacted in the 1977 letter from McQueen (when he tried buying the car from Bob), movie producers had periodically reached out to the family in hopes of securing the car for different projects. But for Bob, the money and the glam was never the factor.
It was in 2015 when Sean had finally shared his secret with his then-boss at LKQ, where he worked as a local manager with Casey Wallace, a regional manager. Wallace, with the good graces of Sean, reached out to a movie-business friend, Ken Horstman (who was working on a film project with Wallace), who then reached out to Ford Motor Company. With the eve of the 50th anniversary of the iconic movie, it was time for the world to be re-introduced to the original “hero” car, Bullitt no. 599.
Want to learn more about Bullitt stunt car history? Check out our write-up on the Baja Bullitt, no. 558, which was the used-and-abused stunt car seen towards the end of the movie with broken suspension. Also, check out Hagerty and the Historical Vehicle Association for more details on how they helped bring the car to light for the reveal of the 2019 Mustang GT Bullitt 50th Anniversary Edition.
The chase car, VIN serial no. 558, was beaten senseless in the closing scenes of the chase against Bill Hickman’s malevolent ’68 Charger. This is the car found in Mexico last year.
50 years later, we’re reunited with the original “hero car,” which in movie terms is any stunt car that’s kept in tip-top shape for shots with an actor where the vehicle needs to be fully detailed and presentable. Many stunt-cars are modified for safety, performance, or for a “gag” that creates the action you see on screen — like a roll or a wheelie. While Bullitt 558 was abused in the final scenes, even breaking its suspension, 559 was used in key scenes with McQueen.