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'Bullitt' Mustang spent 40 years in garage — now it's going on tour

Phoebe Wall Howard, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

DETROIT -- Sean Kiernan is a paint salesman who lived on a horse farm outside Nashville with a dream. And somehow that dream came true -- but it is also just beginning.

This is the story of how a rusty '68 Ford Mustang ended up being the biggest attraction at the 2018 Detroit auto show after a family kept the famous muscle car hidden for 40 years. Estimated to be worth at least $4 million now, the Highland green car is famous for being driven by Steve McQueen in the classic film "Bullitt." It forever established a Hollywood standard for high-action car chase scenes. One Mustang used in the film went to a junk heap. The other Mustang seemed to disappear.

Now, Kiernan's 1968 Mustang GT Fastback is going on a world tour that will include a week being shown off under glass at the National Mall in Washington and perhaps eventual display at The Henry Ford, among other classic artifacts of Americana.

"It's not often in life when you run into a Mona Lisa lost in a garage somewhere. That's what this is. It's a Mona Lisa car," said McKeel Hagerty, CEO of the world's largest insurer of classic cars and founder of the Historic Vehicle Association.

These days, TV news crews from throughout the U.S., France, Japan, China, Norway, Italy and Mexico have rushed to capture images of the iconic vehicle on display at the Cobo Center in the heart of the Motor City.

Crowds at the North American International Auto Show can see the global attraction until Jan. 28, and then it tours the U.S., and likely Europe and Asia over the next 12 months.

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In April, the famous '68 Mustang Bullitt will be enclosed in a glass box and featured as part of Cars at the Capital, an Historic Vehicle Association exhibition that attracts some 500,000 visitors to the National Mall. The site, tucked between the U.S. Air and Space Museum and the National Gallery of Art, will be lit up at night.

"This is the most significant unveiling of a lost car in most people's modern memory. This one has just truly always been out there in people's minds," Hagerty said. "And this was a mission for a man who loved his father. "

Keeping the secret

Sean Kiernan, 36, has always been a quiet man who focused on going to work, being a good husband and providing for his family. He rarely allowed his picture taken. Until now, the only images captured have been selfies snapped by Samantha Kiernan, 28, an eye-care technician who met her husband while working at Sam's Sports Bar in Hendersonville, Tenn.

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