Famous Hollywood Bullitt parks in Traverse City

Feb 8, 2018

The Ford Mustang from the 1968 film “Bullitt” is currently on display at the Hagerty Insurance in Traverse City.

There’s a famous car chase in the film.

In it, a San Francisco cop played by actor Steve McQueen speeds through the steep city streets in his '68 green Mustang Fastback. Two mobsters in a black Dodge Charger are chasing him.

Many people say this scene revolutionized Hollywood car chases. Ten minutes of heart-pounding action had never been done before in a movie. Film critic Leonard Maltin calls the chase “one of the screen’s all-time best.”

The car that Steve McQueen drives, nicknamed Bullitt, now belongs to Sean Kiernan from Tennessee. Sean’s late father found the Bullitt in a Road & Track magazine ad in 1974, and he bought it for $6,000.

For the next six years, Sean’s mom, who was a school teacher, drove the Bullitt to school everyday.

“As soon as she pulled up, there’s nothing but nuns at the school,” Sean recalls. “Then they all knew she was there.”

Owner Sean Kiernan says he won't restore Bullitt. “You totally disrupt the history of it when you restore it,” he says.
Credit Dan Wanschura

In 1977, Steve McQueen wrote a letter to Sean’s father trying to buy the Bullitt. He didn’t offer a dollar amount.

“I would be happy to try to find you another Mustang similar to the one you have,” wrote McQueen.

But Sean’s father turned him down.

“I think the big thing was, to know my dad, he didn’t really have a problem telling anybody ‘no,’” Sean says. “It was his car, and it’s something he wanted and he liked. If he wanted something else he would have went and got it.”

For about 40 years, the car was stored in the Kiernan family garage. Now, 50 years after the the car and film were made, the Bullitt Mustang is back in the public eye for its anniversary.

During the chase, the two cars slam into walls, other vehicles and each other. A lot of those dents and scars are still visible today. Most of the modifications made for filming "Bullitt" are also still there.

Sean says his family drove the Bullitt daily as a commuter car, putting 46,000 miles on the vehicle.
Credit Dan Wanschura

Sean says modifications weren’t always  on movie cars like the Bullitt, but they were practical.

“They’re not the prettiest welds; they’re not the prettiest holes,” he explains. 

On the inside of the trunk, filmmakers cut a hole for a smoke machine. That machine pumped out smoke through the hole for a more a dramatic effect during the chase.

Sean Kiernan says sometimes people ask him why he doesn’t restore the car and get rid of the dents, nicks and holes. 

“You totally disrupt the history of it when you restore it,” he says. “Everything that you disrupt on it, or make new, or change ... has no history anymore.”

The Bullitt Mustang will be on display at different museums around the world.
Credit Dan Wanschura

The famous chase scene in “Bullitt” took about three weeks to film. It ends when the two mobsters slam into a gas station, which then blows up. Steve McQueen brings his '68 green Mustang to a screeching stop nearby. 

The Bullitt Mustang will be on display in different museums and other places around the world. It’s recently been valued between $4 and $5 million. But just like his dad, Sean Kiernan has no plans to sell it.

You can see the ‘68 Bullitt Mustang at the Hagerty Insurance building in Traverse City. The car will be on display through Tuesday, February 13.