Ralph Garcia (in the car-themed shirt) and Kevin Marti pose with the Bullitt Mustang stunt car. Photos courtesy Kevin Marti.
Steve McQueen may have received top billing for the 1968 crime thriller Bullitt, but the movie really starred a pair of Mustang GT fastbacks, one built as a hero car for close-ups and the other constructed as a stunt car. While the history of the surviving Bullitt Mustang hero car is well known, the stunt car was long believed to have been scrapped, at least until it surfaced south of the border in a discussion on the Vintage Mustang Forum last week. Now certified as authentic by Ford authority Kevin Marti, the Mustang may well be restored in time for the film’s 50th anniversary in October 2018.
Both Mustangs, and a pair of Dodge Chargers, were prepared for the rigors of filming by racer, car builder and stunt driver Max Balchowsky at his Hollywood Garage. The Mustangs were stripped of their fog lamps, grille emblems, GT badging and even Mustang lettering, then beefed up with reinforced shock towers, heavy-duty front springs, Koni shocks, and a thicker anti-roll bar. The 390-cu.in. V-8 was enhanced with machined heads (presumably to bump up compression), a bigger carburetor and a hotter ignition.
Inside, the stunt car received a roll bar with a camera mount, and to run the lighting and cameras used inside the Mustang during filming, a small generator was installed in the trunk, with an exhaust outlet over the left rear tire. The in-car camera rig was designed to give viewers the feel of riding along with McQueen during the jumps and slides of the San Francisco chase sequence, which also demonstrated how badly the car was abused for the sake of cinema.
Once production wrapped, the hero car (VIN 8R02S125559) was repaired and sold to Robert Ross, a Warner Brothers employee (later, in 1970, Ross sold this car through the pages of Hemmings Motor News). The stunt car (VIN 8R02S125558) was considered beyond repair and sold for scrap to a local junkyard, and for four-plus decades, that’s where its story ended, with many believing the Mustang had been sent to crusher.
IN 8R02S125558, as found in a Baja California Sur wrecking yard last year. Then, it was just another 1968 body shell.
On February 28, Fede Garza began the thread on the Vintage Mustang Forum, announcing that the “lost” Bullitt Mustang had been found, saved shortly before it was to be turned into an “Eleanor” clone by the current owners. Garza, who runs a fastener business, has no ties to the car, and only became aware of it through a conversation with one of its owners, Ralph Garcia, Jr., a client in the auto body business. Garza became convinced of the car’s authenticity after reviewing the Marti Report, the VIN, and the car’s registration.
The Vintage Mustang Forum thread includes pictures of the car, currently in the early stages of restoration. The shock towers do indeed show reinforcing seam welds, the generator hole in the trunk is present, the driver’s side frame rail is creased, and the floor pan, by the left side shock access hole, shows evidence of damage. Even the fender’s VIN and door data plate matched the missing car. While these signs pointed to the car’s authenticity, given its potential value, the possibility of a clever counterfeit (raised by several commenters) could not be excluded.
On Friday, March 3, Kevin Marti inspected the car at a Ford dealer in Mexicali, and on Monday, March 6, Fox News published a report that he had verified the car as authentic. As Kevin explained to us, “The car found in the wrecking yard was the car used in the movie Bullitt for the jumping scenes.” The Marti Report for the car had been ordered in November 2016, prompting Kevin to immediately contact the owners for a picture of the fender apron stamping. It was at this point that he knew, with a high degree of confidence, that this was one of the two Mustangs used in filming.
Kevin reserves the details of his findings for customers, but he did say that the pieces of the car shown to him included appropriate date code stampings, serial number stampings, original paint and other identifying marks that verified the Mustang’s identity. “The fender apron and door data plate stampings were authentic,” he told us, “These were, of course a major focal point in the investigation.”
That’s good news for Garcia and co-owner Hugo Sanchez, who found the then-neglected car in Baja California Sur last year. Since then, it’s received a new roof, new floorpans and a coat of Highland Green paint, making it look the part of a Bullitt Mustang. Since Kevin’s authentication, the car has been shipped to California, where Garcia plans to restore it with guidance from Ford Motor Company. Offers to buy the car have already begun to roll in, but for now anyway, it isn’t for sale.