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Original Steve McQueen "Bullitt" Mustang may fetch record-breaking price

Matthew McNulty

Sean Kiernan may get as much as $4 million for a piece of Hollywood history that his father, Bob, acquired for just $3,500 and refused to sell to Steve McQueen, the actor who drove it in the 1968 action film "Bullitt."

When the classic-car insurer Hagerty sent car expert Kevin Marti to authenticate the vehicle, he couldn’t believe his eyes, according to a  New York Times report: “Ninety-eight percent of the original car is there,” Marti told Hagerty. “It’s an incredible artifact.”

Since ‘Bullitt’s’ release, the 1968 Highland Green Mustang has become one of the best-known vehicles shown on the big screen. McQueen himself even tracked down Bob Kiernan in 1977 and wrote him a letter asking to buy the muscle car back, according to the Times.

“I would like very much to keep it in the family, in its original condition as it was used in the film, rather than have it restored, which is simply personal with me," McQueen wrote in the missive detailed by the Times.

The Times reported that Bob Kiernan never wrote McQueen back.

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And it’s probably best that he didn’t sell it then. Classic-car collecting has become a big-money enterprise in the years following McQueen’s letter to Kiernan, with a Ford GT40 driven by McQueen in the 1971 movie "LeMans" fetching $11 million in 2012. That price point and McQueen's reputation with car enthusiasts indicates the Mustang will do well, too.

“There is still a very active portion of collector-car culture that thinks of Steve McQueen as the ultimate car guy,” Hagerty spokesman Jonathan Klinger told the Times. “The King of Cool.”

Interest in the 'Bullitt' Mustang has only increased since the '60s, with Ford releasing two homage models since 2008. As for the original, Kiernan said he ultimately chose auctioneer Mecum to handle the its sale. The firm broke the record for a Mustang price with the sale of a 1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake for $2.2 million in January 2019, according to the Times.

The auction will be televised on NBCSN on Jan. 10, according to the Times.

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Kiernan has opted for a no-reserve sale, which means there's no minimum price for buyers to top. As for why he is parting with one of the most iconic cars in Hollywood history, one that's been in his family for 45 years, Kiernan had a pretty straightforward answer, according to the New York Times.

“It has to go,” he said. “I only have a two-car garage.”

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