"Those two cars spent a lot of time next to each other," Sean Kiernan said. "Nobody paid much attention to the Mustang."
He kept the pony car covered with old bed comforters and blankets. If anyone asked, the family said it was a Camaro. They didn't intend to keep a secret, really. Sean and his father had hoped to refurbish the car together. But Parkinson's disease took the life of the former insurance executive. And Robbie Kiernan knew that after her husband died, Sean wanted to do something special.
He approached Ford Motor Co. with the idea for a unique unveiling. And then Sean reached out to classic car experts, who helped document the origin of the vehicle and create a paper trail.
"When Sean first contacted me about a year ago, he had already started mapping out how he wanted to reveal the car," Hagerty said. "He was new to this world of unique, very rare special cars. This car was in original condition. We needed to get this absolutely validated that this is the car, so no one can take the car from you. The car world does strange things. People claim they have a different car or maybe there were three 'Bullitt' movie cars and not two."
Hagerty, who is based in Traverse City, helped Kiernan document everything through historical automotive records and processes to protect the father of two who simply wanted to hold on to his dad's beloved car.
At issue, too, were potential conflicts; Warner Bros. owns the rights to the film, McQueen's estate manages his interests, Ford builds new cars and created a limited-edition 2019 Mustang Bullitt.
"We wanted to make sure interests were aligned," Hagerty said. "We have over 900 employees and we're dedicated to preservation. This car was not brought out just to go to auction. This is true love for the car."
Ford Motor Co. trucked the '68 Mustang to Detroit in a trailer "by itself, looking very lonely," Kiernan said. "I met Bill Ford and CEO Jim Hackett. They were awesome."
The company has paid for incidentals associated with the trip, including a hotel room in Dearborn, meals and a tuxedo for the auto show's formal charity ball.
'We did this for Dad'