Authenticity of Bullitt Mustang in Mexico Confirmed; Drivetrain and Much Bodywork Not Original


Authenticity of Bullitt Mustang in Mexico Confirmed; Drivetrain and Much Bodywork Not Original

Apr 5, 2017

If you’re restoring a Ford Mustang, or pretty much any Ford, the guy you call first is Kevin Marti. He’s the man in blue in the photo above, taken at a Ford dealership in Mexico. Next to him, in the car shirt, is Ralph Garcia, Jr., who has the Mustang they’re posing with—the elusive stunt car from the 1968 movie Bullitt.

Marti’s company, Marti Auto Works, is situated near the end of a runway at Luke Air Force Base in the desert west of Phoenix. He produces parts that restorers need. Even more important, though, is that Marti has a licensing agreement with Ford through which he can share detailed information about how each car was equipped when it rolled off the assembly line. A Marti Report is considered infallible truth among Ford faithful. So it’s his word that mattered most when determining the truth of the claim that one of two Ford Mustangs used for filming the Steve McQueen movie Bullitt had been found in Mexico.

“I’ve had people order reports for Bullitt-serial-number cars,” Marti said. “I ask them, ‘Do you actually have this car?’ Anyone can order a report. What they typically say is, ‘I’m wanting to make a clone, and I want to know how the car was originally delivered.’ ”


The data plate on the door pillar shows evidence of the multiple times the car has been painted.

Marti has been at this long enough that he has memorized the serial numbers of certain cars, including Mustangs that raced in the original Trans-Am series and cars that had significant roles in movies. A few weeks ago, he was asked for a report on a serial number he knew by heart. So Marti asked if the caller had the car.

“The guy said, nonchalantly, ‘Yes,’ ” Marti recalled. “Do you know what this car is?” Marti asked. “He did not.”

But Marti did. The car in question was the stunt car from the movie Bullitt, the car that flew over the hilly streets of San Francisco before sending the villain-driven Dodge Charger into a fiery finish of exploding gas-station pumps while the Mustang skidded safely to a stop.

“Before you do anything, you should have someone take a look at this car,” Marti suggested. “He asked me to be the person.”

So Kevin Marti headed off to Mexicali, Mexico, where Ralph Garcia, Jr., has one of his two custom-car facilities, a paint shop just across the border from Calexico, California. Garcia’s primary shop is in Paramount, California, between Los Angeles and Long Beach. He customizes pickups, Chevrolet Camaros, Dodge Chargers, and other vehicles, including the installation of modern suspension components, and for nearly a dozen years he has specialized in turning vintage Mustangs into clones of Eleanor, the car from the 1974 movie Gone in 60 Seconds. That was what he planned and had started to do with the Bullitt car.

Around a dozen years ago, Garcia said, he had a 1966 Mustang and a ’71 Mach 1, “and my parts supplier said, ‘Why don’t you build one of those Eleanors and make a good profit on it?’ Eleanor was a big thing. I had a ’67 Mustang convertible and turned it into an Eleanor and sold it within two days,” Garcia said. “The next car was a fastback like the [Gone in 60 Seconds] movie car, and it sold in the first week. From that point, I started building Eleanors.”

Garcia said his partner in the Bullitt project, Hugo Sanchez, is the one who found what was left of the car in the southern tip of Baja, not far from Cabo San Lucas. Sanchez had offered the car to others, but not knowing what it really was, “nobody wanted to buy it.

“Two weeks later,” Garcia recalled, “he called and said: ‘Don’t touch it! It’s the movie car. I got a Marti Report.’ ”

Max Balchowsky of Old Yeller fame had been contracted by Warner Brothers to prepare two 1968 Mustang fastbacks for use in Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen. After filming was finished, the cars were returned to Balchowsky, who complained that he didn’t have room in his shop to store them. The studio’s response was to offer to sell him the cars so it could get them off its books. Balchowsky bought the cars. The hero car, used for all but the chase scenes, could be salvaged, so he fixed it up and sold it. But the jumper car had been too badly damaged and was sent to a local wrecking yard.

Although the car supposedly could not have been repaired sufficiently to license it for road use in California, it eventually was taken to Mexico and was put back on the road. Over time, the Baja Peninsula’s salty seaside air apparently took its toll on the car’s sheetmetal.builltt-rear-panel-626x405

This modified rear valance, part of the car as it was found in Baja California, helped Marti with the identification. It was created when the car was damaged during one of the jump scenes and stayed on the car for the remainder of filming.

After wearing Highland Green paint for its role in the movie, the car had been repainted, first in red and later in white. After doing body work, Garcia’s shop has returned it to its original color.

Kevin Marti’s opportunity to inspect the car was unusual, to say the least. The car was in the showroom of a Ford dealership, along with several dozen people, including
a full mariachi band.

Kevin Marti’s opportunity to inspect the car was unusual, to say the least. The car was in the showroom of a Ford dealership, along with several dozen people, including a full mariachi band. Garcia said the festivities were held as part of the car’s “farewell to Mexico” before it was transported to Garcia’s California shop.

“It was kind of unnerving,” Marti said about crawling around inside and under the car with such an audience and with live music playing. The car had no drivetrain or interior, and rusted-away sheetmetal had been replaced, but Marti was able to confirm that the VIN stamping in the engine compartment and the original door data plate, even though it had been painted over a couple of times, validate his belief that the remains are, indeed, those of the Bullitt stunt car.Builltt-Marti-inspects-floor-626x405

Kevin Marti inspects part of the Bullitt Mustang’s original and seriously rusted floorboard.

“It’s pretty much a complete car,” Garcia said, adding that he has the original seats and has located a source for a properly dated engine. “But without the drivetrain. And the rear end wasn’t there. And it had rust. We removed all the rust and put in original parts from a ’68. We’re about to gather all the remaining parts that we need,” he said, adding that he is getting guidance on the restoration from Glen Kalmack, a Bullitt Mustang specialist from British Columbia.

“The car was going to be built for a customer in Georgia as an Eleanor. But it wasn’t meant to be. It was meant to be for myself and Hugo Sanchez. We’ve been blessed with this Bullitt car. We plan to keep it and restore it back to the way it was from the movie, and from that point we’re going to see what the Lord has to offer us. We’d like to put it in a TV show about finding Mustangs and other cars and about restoring the lost Bullitt.”



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