After an epic chase, a treasured prop — or character, nearly — from the 1968 Steve McQueen classic Bullitt has been rediscovered, car experts say. Two models of the '68 Mustang were bought for the film, in Highland Green with 390 engines, one for casual driving, one for stunts. And stunts there were: The car famously flew through San Francisco streets in dynamic chases with McQueen's police Lt. Frank Bullitt at the wheel. But after filming, one of the vehicles was lost, presumably for good, while the other is in private hands in Kentucky according to reports.
Surprisingly, on the interest group website Vintage Mustang Forum, word of the possible rediscovery began to bubble up at the end of last month. "It's the missing Bullitt car," wrote Fede Garza, "the other from what I read is tucked away in Kentucky..." The car's whereabouts? "It's currently in Mexico," Garza wrote, "seems its been here for a good 20-30 years, at one point it was in baja california sur (near los cabos) rotting away, a guy bought the fastback and the coupe, together with intent to have the Fastback turned in to an eleanor..."
Here, Garza is referring to the Eleanor Mustang from another, lesser car flick — Nick Cage's Gone in 60 Seconds. As the LA Times picks up the thread of the story, a Paramount, California-based body shop owner, Ralph Garcia Jr., frequently creates Eleanor Mustangs for fans of that film.
He got the car in question, which he thought was ripe for Eleanor-ization, and had it delivered to a Mexicali, Mexico shop he owns. “I was going to turn it into another ‘Eleanor’ car, but my partner Googled the VIN,” Garcia told the LA Times. “That’s how he found out it was the ‘Bullitt’ car. He said, ‘You can’t touch it!’ ”
An article in Mustang 360 about the two-famed cars from the cinematic classic makes note of their modifications, which could also speak to the authenticity of the find.
Hollywood car-builder and racer Max Balchowsky modified all four cars (two chasing Dodge cars and the two Fords) with extra welding, bracing, suspension, and engine work to handle the heavy abuse. The Mustangs' shock towers were stiffened, and Max installed heavy-duty front springs, a thicker antiroll bar, and Koni shocks. A power increase came from milled heads along with ignition and carb upgrades. Several pieces were removed from the Mustangs, including the GT foglights, the running-pony grille emblem, the Mustang lettering, and even the GT badges... In addition, the fastback assigned to jump duty received a rollbar-mounted camera so moviegoers could get a taste of what it was like to fly through the air above San Francisco's hilly pavement.
That's why Garza, when asked for proof of the car's origins by other aficionados on the car forum site, was so keen to show off details like the fact that both shock towers in the car were reinforced, or that there were holes in the trunk, likely used for a generator to power movie lights.
"It's the one," a senior member of the forum responded to Garza's post. "It makes me incredibly happy someone found it and is properly restoring it. It's such an important piece of automotive history and it would be absolutely tragic if it had unknowingly been heavily altered."
According to the LA Times, Ford evaluator Kevin Marti also gives the car his more official seal of approval. “I see car fraud on a daily basis," he told the paper, but after he saw the VIN, and inspected the car in Mexicali, "Then I was sure." Pointing to the Mustang's suped-up suspension system, Marti says this was the stunt or "jumper" of the two cars.
Garcia has already received offers for the find, but for now, he's busy on a full restoration. Look out for the car at Barrett-Jackson or Mecum auction someday, but don't expect to see it flying down the Streets of San Francisco anytime soon. That would detract from its value.