Ford Mustang driven by Steve McQueen in Bullitt sells for US$3.4 million

The 1968 "Bullitt" Ford Mustang is presented at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan in 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

KISSIMMEE, FLORIDA (REUTERS) - The 1968 Ford Mustang GT that Steve McQueen drove in the classic car chase from the movie Bullitt, one of the most famed cars from American cinema, sold for US$3.4 million (S$4.5 million) at auction in Florida on Friday (Jan 10), Mecum Auctions said.

It was the highest price ever paid for a Ford Mustang at auction, according to David Morton, marketing manager for the auction house in Kissimmee, near Orlando.

The buyer has not been publicly identified.

"The hammer dropped at US$3.4 million, but with buyers' fees, the total cost is US$3.74 million," he said, adding it shattered the auction house's previous record set last year of US$2.2 million.

The unrestored muscle car, its "highland green" paint looking rusty and black upholstery splitting apart, starred in a 10-minute sequence in the 1968 film, getting airborne a few times as it sped through the hilly streets of San Francisco.

The car was auctioned without a reserve, or minimum sale price, a risky decision that could have forced the owners to sell low.

McQueen filmed with the window down so viewers could see he was behind the wheel.

Although credited as the driver, McQueen actually shared the wheel with Hollywood stunt driver Bud Ekins, according to the movie database IMDB.

Many movie buffs view the chase as ground-breaking for its duration and white-knuckle drama.

The sequence forgoes a score in favor of roaring engines and screeching tyres.

McQueen, playing the no-nonsense police lieutenant Frank Bullitt, was chasing bad guys who drove a black 1968 Dodge Charger.

After filming, the Mustang was sold to a Warner Brothers employee, and later to a New Jersey police detective. He in turn sold it for US$6,000 in 1974 to Robert Kiernan of Madison, New Jersey, who held onto the car until he died in 2014.

Kiernan rejected multiple offers for the car, including one from McQueen himself, according to the New York Times. He left it to his son, Sean.

"I would like to appeal to you to get back my '68 Mustang," McQueen wrote to Kiernan in 1977, 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 died in 1980 at age 50. Robert Kiernan never responded to McQueen's letter, which Sean Kiernan still has, the Times said.

Sean Kiernan told Mecum in a promotional video that his mother drove the car until the clutch failed in 1980. It went nearly 40 years without being driven until recently, with 100,000km on the odometer, Kiernan said.

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