Bullitt aIt is, arguably, the best car chase sequence ever filmed, not least because the Mustang involved was driven by the king of cool himself, Steve McQueen. And now the Highland Green 1968 fastback has found a new owner, for an equally cool $US3.74 million ($A5.4 million).

The movie was Bullitt, a pretty crook cops-and-bad-guys movie from 1968 that survived only because of the blindingly great ten-minute chase sequence through the streets of San Francisco. The chase was and remains unique in several respects; it includes mistakes by both drivers, there’s more than a nod to collateral damage when a motorcyclist is forced to lay his bike down and skid along the tarmac, and it ends with one car destroyed and the other undriveable.

But the big one is the soundtrack; the moment the chase starts the music and all background sound stops. All you hear is the glory of a couple of huge V8s at full stretch, manual transmissions, shredding tyres and the crash of suspensions as the cars launch and land again down the San Francisco hills.

After the movie the Mustang was sold to a private buyer (for $US3500) and used as a family car. It had one more owner before being bought by Robert Kiernan in 1974, again for $US3500. He died in 2004 when it passed to his son Sean, who decided to send it to auction.

He was hoping for something more than $US3500, which is where bidding started. One estimate was $US5 million, and the sale aroused so much interest that it was televised live.

According to Sam Murtaugh, the auction house’s vice president of marketing, the Mustang is effectively a one-of-one example, touched with the golden blessing of car culture’s most important god; it has transcended into legend with few direct comparisons from which to predict a sale price. The New York Times quoted one auctioneer who was talking least $US3 million; a recent Hagerty magazine article said it would fetch at least $US4 million; another auctioneer specialising in collectible cars expected nearer to $US5 million.

But at $US3.74 million it set a new record for Mustangs, as was described by the auctioneer as “The Mona Lisa of Mustangs.” There is a seven-figure precedent: In 2019, auctioneers Mecum set the record for a Mustang-based car when it got $US2.2 million for a 1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake.

bullitt c“A movie car always has a multiple applied to it,” Murtaugh told the New York Times. “When you add the Steve McQueen factor, that multiple effect goes up exponentially. It varies depending on the item whether it’s a motorcycle or a car he used to own, but with Bullitt being both in a movie and driven by McQueen, you’ve got a double-multiple going on, and with McQueen it has always been a multiplier of 10x or 15x.”

Cars that have been owned or driven by Steve McQueen have a history of fetching more than their price premiums. A 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB by Scaglietti he owned sold for $US 10.175 million in 2014. In 2015 McQueen’s 1976 Porsche 930 Turbo sold for $1.95 million while the normal price for such cars at the time was one tenth that.

Published December 2019. Updated January 2020.

 

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