For car enthusiasts, the 1968 Ford Mustang driven by Steve McQueen in Bullitt represents everything that’s great about America. So it’s appropriate that this movie icon will be displayed on the National Mall among other American landmarks.
Through April 23, the Bullitt Mustang will displayed in an illuminated glass case located between the National Art Gallery and the National Air & Space Museum. The car’s D.C. debut is part of the Historic Vehicle Association’s Cars at the Capital event, in which a different car is put on display about every week. Other cars in the rotation this year include the Ferrari 250GT California Spyder replica from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the 15 millionth Ford — a 1927 Model T.
This Mustang is one of two used in the filming of Bullitt. The second car, which was set up for the many jumps in the movie’s famous car chase through San Francisco, resurfaced in Mexico in 2017, stripped of some parts and in the process of a rebuild. Many doubted the other car was still around, let alone in virtually original condition.
On screen, the Mustang wore Highland Green paint, and lacked the badges and fog lights that were installed at the factory. But anyone can paint a car green and strip off the badges. Telltale details, such as camera mounts, a Warner Bros. parking sticker, and missing rear backup lights proved this car was the genuine article.
After filming, the car was sold off, and eventually wound up in the hands of Robert Kiernan, Jr. McQueen himself tracked the Mustang down and made a half-hearted attempt to buy it back, but Kiernan kept it, even using it as a daily driver for several years. Kiernan died in 2014 and ownership passed to his son Sean, who worked with Ford to bring the Mustang back into the spotlight.
Ford is launching a special-edition Bullitt Mustang to commemorate the movie’s 50th anniversary, so the timing for a comeback couldn’t have been better. The movie car appeared at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show earlier this year, marking the first time it had been seen in public in decades. Between the appearances in Detroit and D.C., Ford and the car’s owner are making up for lost time.
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