No rundown of the greatest movie car chases is complete with “Bullitt,” where Lt. Frank Bullitt, played by Steve McQueen, drives a1968 Ford Mustang through the steep streets of San Francisco as he chases a Dodge Charger.
Just 10 minutes long but a demanding two weeks to film, the chase scene turned the Ford Mustang from the original pony car into a movie star as big as its driver. Countless replicas finished in Highland Green were built over the years, and Ford itself launched a special edition, the 163 mph Mustang Bullitt, in 2018.
The shoot required two examples each car. One was used for close-up shots and the other for action scenes. Both examples of the Mustang are accounted for, with the hero car making $3.4 million at auction in 2020, while the stunt car was discovered in a Mexico scrapyard.
But what about the two Dodge Chargers.
The Chargers were purchased for the movie by stunt driver Bill Hickman. These cars were originally blue and yellow, as Dodge didn’t offer the 1968 Charger in black, with the former being used for stunt shots, and the latter was designated the hero car for close-ups. After shooting was complete, the surviving hero car was returned to the dealer, who repainted it yellow and sold it. It remained that way for several decades.
But in 2002, 51-year-old Mopar fanatic Arnold Welch purchased what he believed to be the “Bullitt” Charger, in Tucson, Arizona.
Welch says the Chrysler Historical Museum “indicated that I knew more about the car than they could physically provide to me,” and Warner Brothers’ archive department said any documents relating to the car would have been lost or destroyed. Welch noted that the car is highly original, had only 62,000 miles on it when he bought it, and hadn’t been driven since 1973.
Since there was no official channel to confirm the car’s identity, Welch turned instead to the Bullitt movie. First, the blue color of the stunt car is visible in a scene when a door handle comes off, thus proving that it was the yellow hero car that survived.
Unusual holes make compelling evidence
Next Welch discovered a series of unusual holes within his Charger’s bodywork.
Welch said: “During my restoration I noted several holes on the body … the interior floor holes are from the interior camera mounts, sound and lighting and are mostly located on the passenger side.” Images provided by Welch to Ponysite.de show how the holes match the location of camera mounts seen in photographs taken while ‘Bullitt’ was being shot.
Although there is no definitive proof, factoring the holes in with the car’s color history and build date of January 1968, three months before filming of Bullitt began, Welch said: “I do believe this is the original ‘Bullitt’ Charger movie camera car. “
What happened next?
With its restoration complete, the Charger appeared at the SEMA auto show in Las Vegas in November 2011, and was reportedly advertised for $1 million in 2013, before selling for “a way lower price,” says Ponysit.de, which was in touch with Welch regularly until he parted with the car. It was at one point sold by Carlyle Motors of Houstin, Texas for an undisclosed price.
The Charger then appeared in England at the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed, where it was driven alongside the original Ford Mustang that also appeared in “Bullitt.” Chrome Cars, a dealership in Germany, exhibited the Charger at Goodwood and currently has the car listed for sale, stating: “This 1968 Dodge Charger R/T is one of two film vehicles used in the legendary chase in the 1968 movie ‘Bullitt’ with Steve McQueen. “
The car’s description matches Welch’s accounts, down to the camera mount holes. Chrome Cars lists the Charger, with the price available upon request. The dealership did not respond when we asked for comment.