Sean Kiernan drove his father’s Mustang for probably the final time today. He shepherded the Highland Green 1968 pony car right up onto the auction block and into the history books. Yes, the original, real-deal hero car from the film Bullitt, starring the inimitable Steve McQueen, just sold at Mecum’s Kissimmee, Florida, auction for $3.74 million.
That result ($3.4M hammer price plus fees) smashes the record for the most expensive Mustang to ever change hands at public auction, which belonged to a 1967 Shelby GT500 “Super Snake” that sold for $2.2M in Kissimmee last year. Before the sale, auction house president Dana Mecum declined to provide an estimate for the Bullitt Mustang, but he anticipated it would exceed the $3.5M hammer price ($3.78M with commission) for a 1971 Plymouth Hemi ’Cuda convertible that sold in 2014.
According to Hagerty marketplace expert Colin Comer, the $3.74M result was right about where the car belongs in terms of value.
“In my view, $2M was definitely the floor, and $4M was the ceiling,” said Comer. “It’s hard to know whether the two-year promotion campaign was ultimately helpful or hurtful, though. If it rolled right out of the garage in Tennessee and went straight to the block, would it have brought more? A lot of people would say yes. It’s been at all of the premiere car events in the last two years, which means you can’t unveil it to the world all over again. That matters in the car world, especially with a vehicle as historically significant as the Bullitt. It’ll always have the perks of being a cultural icon for the new owner, but without their name being associated with its historic reveal.”
“Movie and TV cars have always been worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for them,” said McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty. “But the Bullitt Mustang has it all—a great chase scene, the McQueen connection, and a fantastic backstory. The fact that it had disappeared for decades, only to reemerge as an unrestored, movie-car time capsule is something we’ll likely never see again in our lifetimes.”
Before Hagerty broke the story in 2018 that revealed it to the world, the Bullitt Mustang had been in Kiernan’s garage in Tennessee for decades. His father, Robert Kiernan, was Bullitt’s third owner and even rebuffed a personal request from McQueen in 1977 to sell him the car. Robert’s wife commuted in Bullitt to her teaching job (they were living in New Jersey at the time) but the couple moved it to the garage when the clutch went out in 1980, with 65,000 miles on the clock.
His father passed away in 2014, but Sean Kiernan made sure his mother, sister, wife, newborn daughter, and his dog were there at the auction in Florida to see Bullitt off.
Kiernan told Hagerty about his decision to sell the car. “It’ll be hard looking in the garage and seeing an empty space, but this is a way for my dad to take care of his family. With Bullitt, we’ve been able to tell my dad’s story and share the car with the world,” he said.
“It’s funny, I think the emotional tie is probably more with the car, and all that’s happened these last few years, than with my father, specifically. He was more the at-home man, taking care of the horses, and that’s the tie I feel with him. The car—man, when I saw it in the glass house it’s been stored in down here—that was the emotional moment. This is the end. The closer.”
Kiernan spoke briefly right before the auctioneer took over, setting the tone. “This car has sold twice in its life. It’s been in my family for 45 years. Each time it sold [for] $3500. We’re gonna start [the bidding] off at that, and go from there.”
Now that the Bullitt Mustang is moving on to a new home, Kiernan just hopes the car will remain in its current shape—preserved for posterity. “That way it’ll be just another chapter,” he explains. “I can’t imagine anyone restoring it, disrupting any part of it, or just hiding it away.”
Whatever the future holds for this film-famous Mustang, Bullitt’s new owner is now in possession of a real piece of American automotive and Hollywood history. With any luck, the car will continue to be shared with the world and enjoyed for years to come by people who remember the thrill of first seeing it on the silver screen, tearing up the streets of San Francisco.