The shell of a 1968 Ford Mustang fastback found recently near the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula is indeed the “jump” car used in the movie Bullitt. That much has been verified by Mustang expert Kevin Marti of the Marti Report.
Through a licensing agreement with Ford, Marti produces and shares complete details of components in place when, since the 1967 model year, cars rolled off a Ford assembly line. His reports are vital information for people restoring Ford vehicles. Or using them to produce clones.
“When I saw the car at the Ford dealership (in Mexico), I’m seeing it with certain (body) panels already having been replaced,” Marti said.
For example, he said, the floor pans were replaced, as was the roof. The car had neither a drivetrain nor was the interior complete.
Nonetheless, Marti was able to confirm that the VIN information within the engine bay and the original door data plate, even though it had been painted over a couple of times, validated his belief that the remains are those of the Bullitt stunt car.
Two Highland Green Mustang fastbacks were prepared by Max Balchowsky for the Warner Brothers’ movie. One, the “hero” car, was driven by Steve McQueen. The other, the “jump” or stunt car, was used for the movie’s famous car-chase scene, which included leaps over intersections on the hilly streets of San Francisco and a series of NASCAR-style paint swaps that finally sends the villains and their Dodge Charger to a fiery finish involving exploding gas-station pumps.
After the filming was finished, Warner Brothers sent the cars back to Balchowsky for storage. But he argued that his was a working shop and didn’t have room to simply store cars, so the studio, eager to get the cars off its books, sold him the Mustangs. The hero car was in good enough shape that it could be and repaired and sold. (It still exists and remains in private hands.) But the stunt car was so badly damaged that Balchowsky knew it couldn’t be fixed to the point of being licensed in California, and he took it to a local Los Angeles wrecking yard.
At some point, the car was taken to Mexico, repaired and repainted, first in red and later in white. But years of exposure to the corrosive air of a peninsula surrounded by salt water took its toll.
The remains of one of Hollywood’s most famous cars were discovered by Hugo Sanchez, who offered the body shell to several people. But that was before anyone knew that the car was the long-missing Bullitt Mustang. He then contacted Ralph Garcia Jr., who specializes in turning old Mustangs into clones of Eleanor, another movie car, well, actually two of them — the original in the 1974 original Gone in 60 Seconds and the Shelby GT500 in the 2000 remake starring Nicholas Cage.
Garcia and Sanchez have become partners in the effort to return the Bullitt car to its movie specification.
“It’s pretty much a complete car,” Garcia said, explaining that the car was found without a drivetrain or rear end, “and it had rust. We removed all the rust and put in original parts from a ’68. We’re about to gather all the remaining parts that we need,” including a date-correct engine. He said he has the original seats.
Garcia said that Glen Kalmack, a Bullitt Mustang specialist from British Columbia, is helping put the car back the way it was for the movie.
“The car was going to be built for a customer in Georgia as an Eleanor,” Garcia said. “But it wasn’t meant to be. It was meant to be for myself and Mr. Hugo.
“We’ve been blessed with this Bullitt. We plan to keep it and restore it back to the way it was from the movie and from that point we’re going to see what the Lord has to offer us. We’d like to put it in a TV show about finding Mustangs and other cars and about restoring the lost Bullitt.”