The definitive work on “Bullitt”

It’s time to make clear that there’s a personal connection to this book review. Back in January, I got to see the car that’s the subject of this book go to auction at the huge Mecum sale down the road in Kissimmee, Florida. The globally ballyhooed sale, which drew a horde of media from everywhere, ended when an undisclosed individual dropped $3.71 million on a severely used-up 1968 Ford Mustang. In the world of gigabuck car sales, this was a huge deal that’s reverberated ever since the hammer dropped. It’s inspired a lot of tribute-type journalism, some of which is shopworn and repetitious. But not this.

Amid the welter of Steve McQueen books that discuss everything from his unflappable gaze to his motorcycles to the filming of Le Mans, this one stands out. As its title implies, Bullitt is a one-stop read for literally everything you need to know about the 1968 detective drama, which boasts the best two-car race ever captured on film. Our expectations were piqued when we learned that the author is Matt Stone, one of the most respected automotive journalists out there. In 192 hardcover pages, he offers a manageable, compact dissection of McQueen’s legacy, the buildup heritage of both Mustangs used in the movie plus the hit men’s 1968 Dodge Charger, a look at other cars in the movie (including the Volkswagen Beetle that shows up at least three times in the chase scene), and the tale of the Mecum hero’s recovery and sale. Proper kudos are given, happily, to Max Balchowsky, the California racing pioneer who prepped the Mustang for combat, and tributes to supporting actors better known for other things such as Georg Stanford Brown (later of The Rookies and Tyne Daly’s husband), Robert Vaughn (The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and later, a stillborn run for governor of California) and Robert Duvall (driving McQueen in the taxi following the chase, before his turn as Tom Hagen). There’s even a map of the chase route in the endpapers. A good job. It’s $42.95 from CarTech; clicking the link will take you straight to the ordering page.

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