This Oc­to­ber marks the 50th an­niver­sary of the re­lease of the great­est car-chase movie of all time— this is John Jef­fers’ trib­ute to Steve McQueen and the Bul­litt

Mustang Monthly - - CONTENTS - Richard Trues­dell TEXT • Richard Trues­dell John Jef­fers PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

This Oc­to­ber we mark the 50th an­niver­sary of the re­lease of Bul­litt, the great­est car chase movie of all time—this is John Jef­fers’ trib­ute to Steve McQueen and the Bul­litt

John Jef­fers’ dad owned a muf­fler shop that he ba­si­cally grew up in— keep­ing the shop clean, learn­ing how to weld, and work­ing on cars start­ing at the age of 10. In 1975, be­fore he could drive, he helped his Dad re­build the 283ci small-block Chevy en­gine and its T-10 four-speed trans­mis­sion and clutch on his 1933 Ford pickup street rod. All this knowl­edge would come in handy later when restor­ing the car pre­sented on these pages—a 1967 Mus­tang fast­back.

This story re­ally starts when Phil, John’s younger brother, found a clean Dark Metal­lic Green 1967 C-code Mus­tang fast­back he wanted to buy at a lo­cal used car deal­er­ship, but he was still in high school and didn’t have a job yet. “My par­ents told him no,” says John. “I had al­ways wanted a Mus­tang like Steve McQueen drove in Bul­litt, and now was my chance. I told them,

since Phil couldn’t buy it, I wanted to buy it. They told me no as well. I kept be­ing per­sis­tent. I knew I wouldn’t get an­other chance at find­ing a fast­back like this for $2,500. I told them that I could af­ford the car pay­ment. I was al­ready work­ing full time and had paid off my 1978 YZ 250E while I was a sopho­more in high school, work­ing af­ter school. They fi­nally gave in and let me buy it and cosigned for the loan.”

“As soon as I could, I went down to the used car lot to put a down pay­ment on it,” re­calls John. “I tried to talk the old man that owned the used car lot down on the price. He told me, ‘Look kid, I have five other guys that want this car too. It’s $2,500 bucks or hit the road!’ I thought he was be­ing a jerk. But, it was his car, and I wanted it. So, I reached down into my pocket and slammed $500 down on the hood and said, ‘It’s Mine!’ I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my par­ents. My dad was watch­ing the news and told me that Steve McQueen had just passed away. It was a bit­ter­sweet day for me.”

“But, I now had a Mus­tang like Steve McQueen drove in Bul­litt, even though it’s a year ear­lier than his was. I no longer had to stay up un­til mid­night to see the movie just to watch the chase scene. I now had one like it in my par­ents’ drive­way.”

Like most teenage gear­heads, John mod­i­fied his new ac­qui­si­tion with dual ex­hausts with turbo muf­flers and Amer­i­can Rac­ing wheels. To get the right stance, a set of air shocks raised the back end up a lit­tle. Last but not least was the stereo, a Pi­o­neer KE-5100 AM/FM/cas­sette

with the famed dig­i­tal Su­perTuner that could pull in dis­tant sta­tions. (In 1981, these units cost $350. To­day, that’s the equiv­a­lent to more than $1,000.)

“On Fri­day nights I would meet up with my bud­dies to go cruise the boule­vards of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia,” says John.

“My bud­dies had a 1968 Fire­bird, a 1969 Mus­tang coupe, a 1967 Mal­ibu, and one had a 1979 Z-28. We would start with Whit­tier Blvd. Then we’d head for Sun­set Blvd., then Hol­ly­wood Blvd., and then all the way over to Van Nuys Blvd.—then re­v­erse the route back home. I’d get home about 3 a.m.”

But over the years, John’s Mus­tang evolved. It was built to honor his two he­roes: Steve McQueen and Car­roll Shelby. “Since I bought it on the day

Steve McQueen passed away, when it came time to paint the car, there was only one choice: High­land Green with a Satin Black tail­panel,” says John. “I’ve al­ways loved the 1967-1968 body style. Next, I gave it the heart and soul of Car­roll Shelby. That meant a 289 High Per­for­mance with World Prod­uct heads. Next, the four-speed trans was re­built. Down the road came Au­toMeter per­for­mance gauges, a new dash­pad, ProCar 2000 bol­stered seats, five-point har­nesses, four-point roll­bar, the 1966 Shelby pack­age tray, and a full­size spare tire.”

Af­ter paint­ing the car in 2012, the first Mus­tang show he en­tered was Mus­tangs at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Cal­i­for­nia, which was a very for­tu­itous thing. A rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Hotchkis Sport Sus­pen­sion no­ticed the car, and af­ter a short dis­cus­sion, John al­lowed them to use it to de­velop their new TVS sus­pen­sion for ’67-’70 Mus­tangs. It was then used in the Hotchkis booth at the SEMA Show in 2013— parked with a 1969 Dodge Charger, sim­i­lar to the 1968 model, in a re­cre­ation of the fa­mous chase scene from the movie.

Num­ber one on John’s bucket list was to take his Mus­tang to San Fran­cisco to drive the Bul­litt chase route—and for the 45th an­niver­sary of the film­ing of Bul­litt, where the Bul­litt Na­tion­als were held. The group fol­lowed the Bul­litt chase route fol­lowed by a meet and greet with Chad

McQueen. John says, “I put the fin­ish­ing touches on the night be­fore I left for San Fran­cisco and joined the In­ter­na­tional Mus­tang Bul­litt Own­ers Club (IMBOC) group head­ing up to San Fran­cisco from Los An­ge­les.”

On Fri­day the group went to City Hall, where June 20 was pro­claimed Bul­litt Day by the Mayor; then it was off to drive the Bul­litt chase route. Then John started rec­og­niz­ing were he was at, say­ing, “I was at the very be­gin­ning where the Charger takes off. I was fi­nally go­ing to live out my dream of driv­ing the same route Steve McQueen drove in Bul­litt.”

“Af­ter we fin­ished the chase route we headed to Crissy Field at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge for the meet and greet with Chad McQueen. He was go­ing down the rows of Bul­litt Mus­tangs, sign­ing au­to­graphs and tak­ing pic­tures. When he walked over to my Mus­tang he said to me, ‘So, tell me about your car.’ Then I be­gan telling him how since I was a kid watch­ing Bul­litt with my dad, I’ve al­ways wanted a Mus­tang like his dad drove, and how I bought it on Novem­ber 7, 1980, the day his dad passed away. He looked at me and said, ‘You were meant to have this car. My dad would be proud that you liked his movie so much that you would build one to honor him.’ Then I asked him if he would sign the dash. He did.”

John con­tin­ues, “The next day we headed to Danville for the car show at the Black­hawk Mu­seum. As I was get­ting off the free­way my clutch ad­just­ment rod broke. I coasted as far as I could up the of­framp, and then called AAA. Then a white Cadil­lac Es­calade went by with Chad McQueen hang­ing out the win­dow telling the driver to pull over. He got out and walked over to me and said, ‘What­ever’s wrong we’ll get you back on the road.’ I told him the tow truck was on the way and would be go­ing to the show with it in tow. But you’re the guest of honor at the show and peo­ple are wait­ing for you. I’ll be fine. Then he asked if he could of­fer my wife a ride to the show with his wife since this re­ally wasn’t a very safe place for a lady. As I turned around to ask my wife if she wanted to go with Chad she was al­ready get­ting in the Es­calade. Chad told me to find him so he could help me get the parts I needed. Then the tow truck came and towed me to the show. Chad gave me a num­ber to R Mus­tangs in Frisco, and they had the part. I had it towed back to R Mus­tangs and Richard had us back on the road. Chad McQueen is just like his dad—the King of Cool.”

Mus­tang Monthly

caught up with John ear­lier this year when he par­tic­i­pated in the cel­e­bra­tions for the 50th an­niver­sary of Bul­litt’s

re­lease on Oc­to­ber 17, 1968. One of the cen­ter­pieces of this year’s events was the an­nual car show at Boys Repub­lic in Chino Hills, Cal­i­for­nia, a school where a trou­bled teen, one Ter­ence Steven McQueen, at­tended. At this year’s show there were dozens of Bul­litt Mus­tangs—1967-1968 trib­utes, the 2001 and

2008 re­makes, and two pre­pro­duc­tion 2019 Bul­litt Mus­tangs, many of which

had driven from Chicago to Santa Mon­ica on Route 66.

The day af­ter Satur­day’s show we trav­eled with the SoCal Bul­litt Own­ers Club up to San Fran­cisco. A Mon­day morn­ing drive over the Bul­litt chase route was planned, but we had our own idea. On Sun­day evening, with Chris Wlodyka, who owns a 2001 Bul­litt Mus­tang and had driven the en­tire route, we set off for two lo­ca­tions— Bul­litt’s apart­ment at the in­ter­sec­tion of Tay­lor and Clay, and Ma­rina Blvd. along San Fran­cisco Bay where the chase moved to af­ter the streets of San Fran­cisco. We were able to cap­ture John’s Mus­tang in ex­actly the same spot with the Fort Ma­son Cen­ter in the back­ground, just like when di­rec­tor Peter Yates cap­tured McQueen’s Mus­tang 50 years ear­lier.

John’s Bul­litt trib­ute is a mul­ti­pur­pose car; the five-point har­ness and four-point roll­bar make the car track-ready. John has par­tic­i­pated in the open track event at the Mus­tang 50th Cel­e­bra­tion at Las Ve­gas Mo­tor Speed­way, where the Hotchkis TVS sus­pen­sion sys­tem was put to the test.

John ex­plains, “My friend Brian ‘The Pusher’ May­field made a com­ment to me that ‘I see a track car in the mak­ing.’ He also in­vited me to Wil­low Springs In­ter­na­tional Race­way in Rosa­mont, Cal­i­for­nia, to run with the Co­bra Own­ers Club. The first time I went I couldn’t be­lieve I was go­ing to drive on the same track Steve

McQueen, Car­roll Shelby, Pete Brock, Jerry Ti­tus,

Dan Gur­ney, and many oth­ers had driven. At first I was ner­vous, but by the time I was sit­ting on the grid wait­ing for the green flag that ner­vous­ness turned into adren­a­line.

This is what I built my Mus­tang for, to be able to feel what Car­roll Shelby felt be­hind the wheel of his G.T. 350. Ev­ery end­less hour I put in was about to pay off. Af­ter a few laps I started to get more com­fort­able with the track. Now I con­sider Wil­low as my home track.”

John summed up his story by say­ing, “I call my Mus­tang ‘Bullittude.’ It’s a Bul­litt with at­ti­tude. Bul­litt on the out­side, Shelby on the in­side, and John Hotchkis gave it all at­ti­tude.”

Un­der the hood, the look of the 289ci small-bock V-8 is en­hanced with a set of Co­bra valve cov­ers and an air cleaner.

One of the high­lights of Jef­fers’ own­er­ship of the car came in 2013 when Chad McQueen signed his dash.

Jef­fers prefers the cleaner look of the1967 Mus­tang to the 1968 model, without the man­dated-for-1968 side marker lights.

For track-day du­ties, the in­te­rior is up­dated with ProCar seats, a five-point har­ness, and a four-point roll­bar.

Hotchkis Per­for­mance out­fit­ted the Mus­tang with a com­plete sus­pen­sion that makes it han­dle very well.

What could be more per­fect for a High­land Green 1967/1968 Mus­tang fast­back than Amer­i­can Rac­ing Wheels 15x7 Torq Thrust orig­i­nals? Tires? BFGoodrich T/A Ra­dial P225/60R15s all around.

John Jef­fers has owned his 1967 Mus­tang fast­back since Novem­ber 7, 1980, pur­chas­ing the car the day Steve McQueen passed away. An­other high­light of Jef­fers’ own­er­ship of the car has been to drive it on Ma­rina Blvd. for the 45th and 50th an­niver­saries of the Oc­to­ber 17, 1968, re­lease of Bul­litt.

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