The Story Behind The Bullitt Mustang
By Ted Caulfield
In the 1968 film “Bullitt”, Steve McQueen plays Det. Lt. Frank Bullitt, whose superiors have assigned him to guard Johnny Ross, a key mob witness. The film debuted one of Hollywood’s most iconic muscle cars, the 1968 Ford “Bullitt” Mustang GT 2 + 2 Fastback. The film’s first chase scene was practiced on a Cotate, California race track. The scene lasted roughly for 10 minutes; but took two weeks to film it. No camera tricks were used in filming of the iconic scene. The drivers reached speeds of more than 100MPH on the San Francisco streets. Bullitt chases the hit men in their black 1968 Dodge Charges 440 R/T in his dark highland green 1968 GT Ford Mustang. What results from this high speed chase is a fiery crash that takes the lives of the two hit men.
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There were two 1968 Mustang GT’s used during the filming. The pair had consecutive VIN numbers – 8R02S125558 & 8R02S125559. Max Balchowski, a veteran racecar driver and builder, was hired to modify the vehicles to endure the high-speed chase scenes. Balchowski installed numerous after-market racing parts including:
- Fabricated reinforcing braces for the inner fenders
- Oversized heavy-duty springs and struts
- GR70 sized racing tires on 15×8 American Racing Torq Thrusts
- Koni Racing shocks
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Some minor tuning was done on the 390-cubic-inch, 4V engine to give the Mustang some additional power. In most of the scenes, McQueen himself was behind the wheel. However, the car jump scenes were carried out by professional stunt driver Bud Elkins.
After completion of the film, the main car was in major disrepair. A toll of two weeks’ worth of stunt driving took its toll on the Mustang. Due to liability issues, the vehicle was crushed. The other vehicle, however, had only 40,000 miles. Robert M. Ross, a Warner Brothers’ editing department employee, purchased the vehicle. During the early 1970s, an ad for the vehicle was placed in The Los Angeles Times for $6,000. The vehicle ended up on the East Coast upon its purchase.
In 1977, the vehicle was once again listed for sale; this time, in Road & Track Magazine. Steve McQueen allegedly wrote a letter dated Dec. 14, 1977, expressing his desire to buy the vehicle for his collection. However, he was informed that it had been sold; but was provided with the buyer’s contact information. McQueen attempted to persuade the new owner to sell it to him. “No dice!”, the new owner allegedly told McQueen.
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McQueen died in 1980 from pleural mesothelioma – a cancer associated with asbestos and has no known cure. Upon his death, his collection of motorcycles, cars and antique toys were sold. The buyer/owner of these items has refused to speak publicly and has refused all offers to sell them.
During the mid-1990s, the car was moved from New Jersey to the Ohio River Valley area. It has been kept in a hay barn, where it remains in disrepair and still sporting New Jersey tags. The current vehicle owner recently declined a film company’s offer to use it for a motion picture.