Mystery surrounds $3.74M sale of 1968 Mustang Bullitt: ‘Only one person knows’ buyer

The mystery continues. And so do the tears.

The 1968 Ford Mustang Bullitt GT driven by Steve McQueen in Hollywood’s legendary action film of the same name emerged to international celebration after being hidden in a family’s garage for 40 years.

Now, after touring America and the world for two years, the pony car has been sold to an anonymous bidder for a record $3.4 million – $3.74 million after commissions and fees.

“Only one person knows the buyer, and that’s the guy he was on the phone with,” said Sean Kiernan, who put his father’s beloved Highland Green Mustang on the auction block in Kissimmee, Florida, on Friday. “Eventually, it’ll come out. But right now, no one knows. Only Frank. Frank is the only one trusted to know.”

Frank as in Frank Mecum of Mecum Auctions, host of the world-famous event.

“It was like an 11-minute rock concert,” said Kiernan, 38, an automotive paint manager from Hendersonville, Tennessee. “I kinda lost my place. I wasn’t paying attention to the bidding. I was just staring at people. I think the crowd must’ve been about 7,000 people.”

Steve McQueen, starring in the title role of "Bullitt," steps out of his car after a 140-mile-an-hour pursuit through the hilly streets of San Francisco. The Technicolor action drama was filmed entirely on location in the Bay City.

 (Photo: Warner Bros., Seven Arts Inc.)

He explained Sunday night that he had auction bidding start at just $3,500 because that’s what his father paid for the vehicle in 1974. 

“When the auctioneer asked, ‘Who will give me $3,500?’ Everybody in the room raised their hand. Everybody had a chance to bid on the car,” Kiernan explained, having just arrived home after driving through wind and rain storms in a 37-foot RV after two weeks away preparing for the auction “That’s what I’ll remember.”

The New Jersey detective who sold the storied car to Robert Kiernan, then a 26-year-old insurance executive, said Kiernan was the only person who responded to the Road & Track magazine ad that touted a McQueen film connection “with documentation.” 

McQueen filmed some of the chase scenes himself in the Warner Bros. classic that depicts a cop chasing hitmen through the hills of San Francisco. Real speed. Real crashes. Real point of view of the driver.

With the public unveiling of the vehicle in 2018 at the Detroit auto show, Mark Gessler, president of the Historic Vehicle Association, told the Free Press, “This is probably the Holy Grail if there is one. It’s one of the most important artifacts of the 20th century in terms of automotive history. It is a national cultural treasure.”

Sean Kiernan of Nashville, Tennessee is the owner of the “Bullitt” car. He is photographed with the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt on the left and the 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback from the 1968 movie Bullitt on the right. (Photo: Ford Motor Company)

The sale this month broke a Mustang auction record held by a 1967 Shelby GT500 “Super Snake” that sold for $2.2 million in Kissimmee in 2019. The all-time record for “muscle” is held by a 1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda convertible that sold for a $3.5 million “hammer price” (or $3.7 million with fees) in 2014. 

But this is not just a story about money.

This is a story about a paint salesman whose life and family were changed forever by a car. And when his wife had a terrifying health scare, he reflected on what it all means.

Daughters born in Bullitt years

After three years of trying to have a third child and finally succeeding through in vitro fertilization, Sean Kiernan decided he wanted to sell the beloved Mustang and devote himself to cutting hay on the farm for his horses, spending time with his wife, Samantha, and daughters Katelyn, Brooklyn and Summer – all coincidentally born in the years that Ford introduced each new version of the Bullitt: 2001, 2008 and 2019.

“It wasn’t planned. It just happened,” Kiernan said, adding the most recent pregnancy changed the way they saw the world and their priorities.

“Sam just was not healthy. She had endometriosis extremely bad. That was a big part of our deciding to sell the car. She had emergency surgery. … We wanted to tell our family story with the car but now I want to play in the dirt during the day and play with cars at night – both with my girls. Just take care of my property and cut hay. That’s what I love to do.”

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