Your monthly briefing of automotive intrigue

Steve McQueen’s Bullitt Mustang

The star of Hollywood's most famous car chase was a 1968 Highland Green Ford Mustang GT, driven by Steve McQueen. The car changed hands a few times after Bullitt was released, before ending up in New Jersey. McQueen himself tried unsuccessfully to get it back in 1977: he was fond of that Mustang. The car then disappeared from public view. It remained hidden by its owners for 40 years. For the 50th anniversary of the movie in 2018, Ford launched a new Mustang Bullitt tribute model at the Detroit Auto Show. To the amazement of the assembled media, the original Bullitt Mustang – rusty and unrestored – appeared alongside.




Missing $10m Ferrari 

The Ferrari 375 MM is one of the most coveted of all racing Ferraris. Based on Ferrari’s V12-powered Formula 1 car, just 26 were built. Although intended for the Mille Miglia sports car race in Italy – which it won in 1953 – it was also successful in other major sports car events. Twenty-five still survive, but one is missing. Chassis number 0378AM was sold to Dr Enrico Wax, a businessman whose interests including importing Johnny Walker Scotch. He was also a car collector and kept his 375 MM in his garage in Genoa. The car has not been seen since it was brand new. If discovered today, it would be worth upward of $10m.




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More than a fancy name

Customized cars were popular after the war and one of the iconic was the ‘lead sled’ Mercury. This was a 1949-51 Mercury Eight that had a heavily modified body – typically a chopped roof, much smoother bodywork and spectacular paint job. The Bettencourt-Zupan Coupé, named after its first two owners, was a spectacular and early example. The car received widespread publicity and was regarded as one of the great customized post-war vehicles. When second owner Johnny Zupan died, it was sold to a well-known Californian customizer, Dean Jeffries. In 1970, the car was stolen from his garage and hasn’t been seen since.




A truly ugly ducking

This is the story of a missing marque rather than a missing car. The mystery is: how could Ford have got it so spectacularly wrong? In 1958 Ford launched the first new car brand from an American automaker since World War 2. Designed to compete against General Motors’ premium brands Buick, Pontiac and Oldsmobile it was named after Henry Ford’s son Edsel. It was a spectacular flop, now a byword for business failure. It was ugly, overhyped and badly made. The name probably didn’t help. Production ceased at the end of 1959. Ford lost an estimated $350m, or about $2.4bn in today’s money, on the US auto industry’s highest profile failure.




That sinking feeling

Concept cars reached their zenith in the ’50s. These spectacularly styled one-offs drew crowds to auto shows and helped to sell more mundane production models. One of the most eye-catching was the 1956 Chrysler Norseman, a four-door fastback designed by Chrysler stylists and built by Carrozzeria Ghia, the famous coachbuilders in Turin, Italy. The Norseman was due to star on the 1957 motor show circuit and was shipped from Italy to New York in July 1956, aboard the passenger liner SS Andrea Doria. On a foggy night on July 25, the Andrea Doria collided with another passenger ship. Fifty-one people died. The Norseman has laid in its seabed grave ever since.




A true pioneer

Errett Lobban (EL) Cord was one of the great names of pre-WW2 automotive America. He founded his eponymous car company in 1929 and saved the Duesenberg and Auburn marques. They were three of the greatest American car brands of the ’20s and ’30s, famed for their technology and style. The 1929 Cord L-29 was particularly avant-garde, not least because of its radical front-wheel drive. The L-29 Speedster was a one-off special built to promote the new car. It was a hit at the 1931 New York Auto Show and again at the Paris Salon. It returned to company headquarters in Auburn, Indiana, where it was photographed on Thanksgiving Day 1931. Then it disappeared.




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