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Arts & Culture
Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

Celebrating The 50 Year Legacy Of Bullitt's Mustang

The highland green 68 fastback Mustang was the star of the movie Bullitt.
Wikimedia Commons
The highland green 68 fastback Mustang was the star of the movie Bullitt.

Fifty years ago a movie director named Peter Yates and a young rising stare named Steve McQueen made a car into a movie star. The movie was called Bullitt. McQueen played a cop who drove a highland Green 68 Mustang fastback. 

Not too many people remember that the movie won an Academy Award for film editing but every car guy and girl knows that classic chase scene; Steve McQueen in his highland green 68 fastback Mustang chasing the bad guys in a dark '68 Charger, seven minutes of real cars on real streets. No CGI. No fake explosions. No special effects, just the real deal.

I love the sound of that Mustang.  So does Mustang owner and Ford salesman Aaron Robison of Miamisburg Ohio. Aaron is a car guy He drives with the radio and cell phone turned off.

"When I’m driving I pay more attention to the car then anything else," says Robinson. "I love the way it sounds."

Robinson thinks the world will be poorer when electric cars take over, humming and not roaring. For now Ford is still making Mustangs the roar, including a new 50th anniversary Bullitt edition.

The 1968 movie helped spark an excitement about the Mustang that burns to this day. With over 100 clubs devoted to the Mustang in the US alone, it was no surprise to find one meeting the first Wednesday of each month at Lakota High School north of Cincinnati. 

Atend a meeting and you will find members talking horsepower and trading spare parts. They go to car shows together and hold a big annual car show in June donation the proceeds to local veterans, a hospice and local food pantry.

Anita Fifthen is the club president and currently has a 2004 premium convertible, not her first Mustang.

“[I saw Bullitt] when it first came out," she says. "It definitely made an impression on me, yes it did. My very first car after that, I bought a Mustang."

"I remember seeing bit and pieces of Bullittt growing up, [I was ] 10...11 years old when I first realized what a Bullitt Mustang was. My uncle was a big Mustang guy and he was talking about it.  The car's pretty sweet, love it," says Kurt Zaiser from Carlisle Ohio, who has a '65 Mustang.

With the 50th anniversary of the movie there has been more talk than usual about what happened to the original Bullitt Mustang.

It hadn’t been seen in decades. The last trace was in 1974 when an ad appeared in Road & Track magazine, “Bullitt Mustang driven by Steve McQueen in the movie….can be documented. Best offer.”

Bob Kiernan of Madison, New Jersy ponied up $6,000 for the iconic Mustang, nearly twice what a new '74  would cost. He drove it on the street, and eventually it became his wife’s daily driver to and from the Catholic school where she taught 3rd grade. The car became a part of the family, and in December of 1977, when Steve McQueen wrote and asked to buy the car back, Bob Kiernen dismissed it out of hand.

The car remained in hiding until the Kieran family brought it to the attention of the Historic Vehicle Association . They documented the car and made it the 21st entry on the National Vehicle Register, which led to the current international tour of the Bullitt Mustang.

Tony Fithen of the Cincinnati Mustang club summed it up, "We didn’t realize at that time it was going to be such an icon. Always been around and keeps coming back."

Thank you Mr. McQueen and Mr. Yates for making a movie that has helped keep the Mustang around all these years.

Culture Couch is made possible through a grant from the Ohio Arts Council.