When they recently packed their bags for Detroit, no one knew they were part of a Ford Motor Co. celebration of the 50th anniversary of the film "Bullitt" and the public unveiling of the collector car, along with introduction of a new Mustang that pays homage to the original.
"My dad thought Sean was getting an award for selling the most paint for LKQ Corporation," said a smiling Samantha Kiernan, who grew up in Dearborn with a father, uncle and aunt who worked at Ford.
As store manager, Sean Kiernan had worked for the automotive paint company for a decade.
And their kids, did they know? "They thought Daddy was traveling because he was getting a promotion."
Sean's mother, Robbie, was part of the plan. She drove that Mustang back in the day to St. Vincent's Parish to teach third grade. Her husband, Robert, who had bought the car, took the train from their home in Madison, N.J., to work in New York City.
"The car didn't impress me much back then. I was just 8 and it was old and uncomfortable," said Sean's sister, Kelly Cotton, 47, a preschool teacher who lives in Union, Ky. "We carpooled and Mom would pick us up from Girl Scouts. You heard that car before you saw it. And there were holes in the floorboard on the passenger side where the camera mount was used for the movie. I could watch down at the road as we drove along."
Later, the car would end up retired to the garage, first at the family's home in New Jersey. Then later, when the family moved to a Kentucky farm outside Cincinnati.
"One day, I was in the bookstore and I noticed a book about Mustangs," Cotton said. "I wouldn't be my father's daughter if I didn't open a book about Mustangs, and there, at the bottom of a photo, it said no one knew where the '68 Mustang Bullitt is. I thought, 'Dear God.' And the book said it might be in Kentucky. And I thought, 'It is.'"
That Mustang, purchased through a classified ad in an October 1974 issue of Road & Track magazine for somewhere between $3,000 and $6,000, was left parked next to a 1975 Porsche in the family garage. The Mustang today has 65,000 miles on the odometer.