How do you steal the spotlight at the North American International Auto Show? For starters, you make a detour from the slew of trucks and electric vehicles being unveiled at the annual Detroit event and roll out a 50th-anniversary model of one of the most iconic automobiles in Hollywood. Then, you invite a few people who have a special connection to the vehicle, and cap it all off by unearthing one of the two original cars that set the entire legacy in motion.

That pretty much sums up the debut of the new 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt at the Detroit show, which kicked off earlier this week. Though, it doesn’t come close to capturing the emotions tied to the debut of the new model of the famous Mustang fastback, which first gained notoriety in 1968 as the car driven by actor Steve McQueen in Bullitt, featuring one of the most famous movie car chase scenes to date.

Just ask Sean Kiernan, the owner of the original Bullitt Mustang on display in Motor City, who was joined by McQueen’s granddaughter, actress Molly McQueen, to help unveil the 2019 model, side-by-side with the ‘68 car.

“Being here in this moment and knowing that it was going to eventually come and eventually be here, it’s unbelievable,” says Kiernan, who inherited the original Bullitt Mustang in 2014 from his late father, Robert, who purchased the vehicle in 1974. “To be able to not only share my story, but to hear everyone else’s story, is so emotional. She is a part of my family, so it’s not like I’m unveiling her, or revealing her. It’s like, I’m just with her. I’m telling her story.”

Sean Kiernan sits inside his original Bullitt Mustang, on display in Detroit. Photo by A.J. Mueller.

Sean Kiernan sits inside his original Bullitt Mustang, on display in Detroit. Photo by A.J. Mueller.

Molly McQueen, who starred in a special promo video of her own, racing the new third-generation Bullitt against a Dodge Charger for a final free parking space, to introduce the new model in Detroit, says the entire experience has been pretty overwhelming. “I think people had an inkling that the new 2019 was coming out, but I’m shocked at how under-wraps they kept the ’68. And just seeing the them both on stage and the excitement that everybody had when the old one came out, it was a great culmination of everything that came up to it,” she tells Playboy.

Mark Schaller, Ford Mustang Marketing Manager, says having Sean’s family story with the car paired with the McQueen connection and Molly added a special touch to the reveal. “There’s no denying the passion and sentiment that Sean and Molly elicited as they revealed both the new and old cars together,” says Schaller. “It was an amazing experience to be part of.”

He adds, “Despite the movie coming out 50 years ago, Bullitt still has a passionate fan base, much like Mustang. The car used in that film has become synonymous with Steve McQueen and the fact that people are excited for the new version of the effortlessly cool Mustang speaks to the staying power of both the car and the film.”

The details of how Ford wound up landing one of the two identical original ‘68 Mustang GT fastbacks from Bullitt for the unveiling of the 50th Anniversary model are fascinating on their own. Apparently, after the movie completed filming, both cars were split up: The hero vehicle driven by McQueen in the movie was sold by Warner Bros. to a private buyer, and the other—used in many of the jumps during the famous chase scene—was sent to a salvage yard. That jumper vehicle resurfaced in Baja, California, in early 2017. But the whereabouts of the original hero car would remain a mystery, until Kiernan reached out to Ford in 2016 to verify the authenticity of his dad’s ’68 fastback.

Kiernan was only a child when he learned that his family’s ’68 fastback could actually be one of the two Mustangs used in Bullitt.

“My father’s wish was always to reach out to Ford about the car, because who better on the planet to say ‘this is the real Bullitt Mustang’ than Ford? So, I reached out to Ford. I was, like, crazy emotional, because it was the first time I went somewhere on behalf of the car, without my dad. And since that moment, we’ve all become a family,” Kiernan tells Playboy, speaking of that first meeting with the Ford team.

The biggest challenge, says Kiernan, has been keeping the car under wraps for so many years.

“Today is the first day of my life I’ve been able to say ‘Bullitt’ with somebody standing around, because before, I’ve always been keeping it a secret,” says Kiernan. “It’s always been the ‘B’ car or the ‘Green’ car. I haven’t even tuned it yet, because nobody knew about it.”

Of course, the new Mustang Bullitt, which goes on sale this summer, is a drastic evolution of Kiernan’s ’68 model that Steve McQueen drove roughly five decades ago. In addition to packing a monstrous 475 horsepower V8, more than 150 horsepower than the original Bullitt Mustang, the 50th Anniversary model also comes with standard equipment like a heated leather steering wheel and a 12-inch all-digital LCD instrument cluster with a unique Bullitt welcome screen that starts up in green with an image of the car.

The new Bullitt’s exterior paint choices are limited to Shadow Black and the classic Dark Highland Green, as featured in the film. Other details that pay homage to the original ’68 car are subtle chrome accents around the grille and front windows, classic torque thrust 19-inch aluminum wheels, red Brembo brakes and a unique black front grille. Badging on the new model has been kept to a minimum. In fact, the only visible Bullitt logo on the exterior of the car is planted on the circular faux gas cap on the rear of the vehicle.

Inside the 50th Anniversary Mustang Bullitt. Photo courtesy of Ford.

Inside the 50th Anniversary Mustang Bullitt. Photo courtesy of Ford.

Inside, the new Bullitt Mustang features leather trim with green accent stitching on the dashboard, door panels, center console and Recaro black leather-seats, as well as a white cue ball shift knob as a nod to the original. The new 2019 model also comes with a special Bullitt Electronics Package with navigation, driver memory seats and mirrors, an upgraded sound system and a high-tech blind spot information system that can alert drivers of vehicles detected in difficult-to-see places.

But make no mistake about it: The most alluring thing about the new Bullitt Mustang is the history surrounding the vehicle, something that really shines through in the passion in which Kiernan and McQueen talk about their personal connection to the original ’68 car.

“I’ve got a couple of other show cars, [but] this one is on another level,” says Kiernan, who was only a child when he learned that his family’s ’68 fastback could actually be one of the two Mustangs used in Bullitt. “The car stopped running right before I was born. The only person I’d seen drive it was Steve McQueen. The way the car looks is exactly how it looked when I used to walk by it as a kid.”

Molly McQueen says that while she typically shies away from a lot of the fanfare tied to being the granddaughter of Steve McQueen, she felt compelled to be a part of the Detroit event when contacted by Ford. “I think if there’s anything that he would have wanted me to be a part of, it’s this,” she says. “Cars meant everything to him. It’s a cool moment.”