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Bullitt is a 1968 American dramatic thriller film directed by Peter Yates and produced by Philip D’Antoni. It stars Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn and Jacqueline Bisset.
The total time of the car chase scene is 10 minutes and 53 seconds, beginning in the Fisherman’s Wharf area at Columbus and Chestnut, followed by Midtown shooting on Hyde and Laguna Streets, with shots of Coit Tower and locations around and on Filbert and University Streets. The scene ends outside the city at the Guadalupe Canyon Parkway in Brisbane.
Two 1968 390 V8 Ford Mustang GT fastbacks (325 hp) with four-speed manual transmissions were used for the chase scene, both loaned by the Ford Motor Company to Warner Bros. as part of a promotional agreement. The Mustangs’ engines, brakes and suspensions were heavily modified for the chase by veteran car racer Max Balchowsky. Ford also originally loaned two Galaxie sedans for the chase scenes, but the producers found the cars too heavy for the jumps over the hills of San Francisco. They were replaced with two 1968 375 hp 440 Magnum V8-powered Dodge Chargers. The engines in both Chargers were left largely unmodified, but the suspensions were mildly upgraded to cope with the demands of the stunt work.
The director called for maximum speeds of about 75–80 miles per hour (121–130 km/h), but the cars (including the chase cars filming) at times reached speeds of over 110 miles per hour (180 km/h). Driver’s point-of-view shots were used to give the audience a participant’s feel of the chase. Filming took three weeks, resulting in 9 minutes and 42 seconds of pursuit, first of Bullitt by the hitmen then the reverse. Because of multiple takes spliced into a single end product, heavy damage on the passenger side of Bullitt’s car can be seen much earlier than the incident producing it and the Charger loses five wheel covers, with different ones missing in different shots. Shooting from multiple angles simultaneously and creating a montage from the footage to give the illusion of different streets also resulted in the speeding cars passing the same cars at several different times. At one point the Charger crashes into the camera in one scene and the damaged front fender is noticeable in later scenes. Local authorities did not allow the car chase to be filmed on the Golden Gate Bridge, but did permit it in Midtown locations including the Mission District, and on the outskirts of neighboring Brisbane.
McQueen, an accomplished driver, drove in the close-up scenes, while stunt coordinator Carey Loftin hired stuntman and motorcycle racer Bud Ekins and McQueen’s usual stunt driver Loren Janes for the high-speed part of the chase and other dangerous stunts. Ekins, who doubled for McQueen in the The Great Escape sequence where McQueen’s character jumps over a barbed wire fence on a motorcycle, also lays one down in front of a skidding truck during the Bullitt chase. The Mustang’s interior rear view mirror goes up and down depending on who is driving; when the mirror is up McQueen is visible behind the wheel; when it is down Ekins is driving.
The black Dodge Charger was driven by veteran stunt driver Bill Hickman, who both played one of the hitmen and helped with the chase scene choreography. The other hitman was played by Paul Genge, who had ridden a Dodge off the road to his death in an episode of Perry Mason — “The Case of the Sausalito Sunrise” two years earlier. In a magazine article many years later, one of drivers involved in the chase sequence remarked that the stock Dodge 440s were so much faster than the Mustang that the drivers had to keep backing off the accelerator to prevent the Dodge from easily pulling away from the Mustang.
One of the two Mustangs was scrapped after filming because of damage and liability concerns, while the other was sold to an employee of Warner Brothers. The car changed hands several times, with McQueen at one point making an unsuccessful attempt to buy it in late 1977. The current state and location of the surviving Mustang is largely unknown, but it is rumored many times that the Mustang is kept in a barn in Ohio River Valley by an unknown owner.