BULLITT – Steve McQueen’s Famous Car Chase!


Steve McQueen, also known as the “King of Cool,” starred in the 1968 box office hit movie, “Bullitt,” which had us all sitting on the edge of our seats! McQueen’s personality depicted the very essence of what was so popular with young people at the height of the counterculture revolution. He was seen as a hero of sorts but was unconventional in his tactics to accomplish his mission.


McQueen was cast as the character of San Francisco Police Lieutenant Frank Bullitt in the movie, “Bullitt.” His mission was to protect a person he thought was an important Mob witness/informant and surprise, star witness, Johnny Ross (Pat Renella); a member of organized crime, who was supposedly prepared to testify against the Mob. Bullitt’s mission was to guard and keep him safe for a weekend; until he could testify that Monday. Bullitt’s mission was two-fold, though… by keeping his charge safe, he was also keeping himself safe. Bullitt was advised that if he failed in his duty, that it meant “his head.” That being the case, he was given carte blanche to take whatever measures were necessary. And carte blanche, he took!


Little did Bullitt know that he was not guarding the intended witness; but someone who had been employed to stand in his place. After leaving his colleague in charge of Ross’ safety, Bullitt learned that the “witness” had been killed by the Mob. Given the events that had occurred, he had begun to realize that he had been given insufficient information to properly carry out his duty. He soon realized that he may have been played. Not to worry though, Bullitt was quite capable of taking care of business.


Of course, it came as no surprise to moviegoers that the main character, and would be hero, had a love interest. Bullitt’s live-in girlfriend, Cathy (Jacqueline Bisset) had been drawn to his tough-guy persona. She was also then privy to, and began to grasp, the true nature of his profession for the first time; questioning their relationship.


So, let’s cut to the chase… the movie, “Bullitt” is well known for one of the most epic car chases in movie history. The chase itself took nearly 5 weeks to film but lasted just 10 minutes and 53 seconds in the movie; traveling through the streets of San Francisco. It is said to have revolutionized Hollywood’s standards of car chases. Every movie car chase, since, has strived to rival the bar it set. By today’s standards, the editing might be questionable. One example is that the Charger lost no less than 5 hubcaps! No worries, though… it was an adrenaline rush and we didn’t care!


The chase started when Bullitt, who was driving a 1968 Ford Mustang, noticed that he was being watched, then followed by two Mob hit-men in a 1968 Dodge Charger. Admittedly 2 impressive vehicles; and the chase ensued! Bullitt makes short order of ducking them and turning the situation around; becoming the chaser; engaging the bad guys in a game of cat and mouse. High speeds, squealing wheels, epic jumps and motorcycle wrecks were all part of the chase; ending with the bad guys crashing into a gas station and meeting their demise by blowing up!


Of course, the chase scene was sensationalized for the sake of the movie, but, again, we didn’t care! It was a thrilling chase that had people talking! The remarkable chase scene in “Bullitt” was met with unbridled excitement. Car enthusiasts and non-car enthusiasts, alike, were in awe! Although scripted speeds were only supposed to reach 78 – 80 MPH, actual speeds were as high as 110 MPH.


Steve McQueen, who played Bullitt, was an experienced race car driver who was behind the wheel for much of the filming of the iconic car chase. In other scenes, stunt drivers were used. The Ford Motor Company had struck a deal with Warner Brothers. Ford loaned the cars to Warner Brothers for the filming of the movie in exchange for publicity. Two different cars were actually used in filming the chase scene; both dark green, 1968, 390, V8, Ford Mustang, GT Fastbacks (325 hp) with four-speed manual transmissions. The Mustangs’ engines, brakes and suspensions had been dramatically modified to accommodate the punishing demands of the stunts. Note to self… don’t try this at home folks!

NEXT: "Easy Rider"

Jackson Hall

Jackson Hall is one of the best writers of our generation. He has been on the New York Times Bestsellers list three different times and nominated multiple time for best Memoir on Goodreads. He studied history at Yale and became obsessed with the 70s. Now he focuses on digging up stories nobody has written about to help grow our extensive knowledge of the past. He is the glue to our company and we are so lucky to have him on the team.

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