Goodwood Estate, United Kingdom —  Sean Kiernan stood next to the green 1968 Mustang GT Fastback that Steve McQueen once drove, gave a thumbs-up to the camera, and grinned for a photograph with the car that he owns.

“That’s the original?” a man asked as he leaned over the velvet ropes surrounding the Mustang that once raced through the streets of San Francisco in the movie "Bullitt."

“It is,” Kiernan said, nodding. “It’s the original.”

“Really?” said the man. “God…”

Kiernan traveled here to the Goodwood Festival of Speed with Ford Motor Co. to help introduce the automaker's new 2019 Mustang Bullitt, a special-edition pony car that's a tribute to the McQueen film so loved by automotive enthusiasts. He raced alongside the new Mustang in the original car that inspired it.

The 2018 Detroit auto show got to see the original '68 Mustang in the first public appearance since Kiernan told Ford he had the car. But England got to see the car race here at the Festival of Speed.

That was a first for Kiernan and his family, too.

The automaker dispatched the car along with Kiernan, wife Samantha, mother Robbie, and aunt Beth Quellar to the estate about two hours south of London for the event.

The American muscle car, situated at Goodwood among flashy Bentleys, Lamborghinis and Lotuses, attracted a swarm of fans during all hours of the four-day festival.

"I have to keep reminding myself it's not a replica," said Jack Burgoine, who quizzed Kiernan about the vehicle while it was parked and protected by velvet ropes inside a paddock near the race track. "I thought it would be in a glass case."

Almost. Fans were kept three feet away from the vehicle when it was parked. Kiernan is happy to show it off, but he's protective. By his count, only four people besides him have sat in the driver's seat: his mom, his late father Bob, Jay Leno and the man who owned the vehicle for a brief time after the movie.

"I don't usually even let anyone else sit in it," Kiernan said before firing the engine up to roll out to the hill climb track at Goodwood. In tow was a Ford communications official, who'd be a passenger in the vehicle for the morning run.

"I have separation anxiety with the car," he said. 

On each of the each of the four days of the festival, Kiernan would round the first curve of the hill climb twice a day in his car — estimated to be worth millions — next to the special-edition 2019 Mustang built to pay homage to his vehicle. Ford helped him get a racing license so he'd be permitted to drive on the course.

While he wasn't doing any of the burnouts or doughnuts some other drivers offered to crowd with over the weekend, he said driving the Goodwood track was like a dream. "It was pretty well known that this was on my bucket list," he said.

The first person he took up the hill? His mother.

"It was beautiful," Robbie Kiernan said. "It's been very emotional, because we're fulfilling Bob's dream." 

The car is a Kiernan family heirloom. Robbie drove it around as her daily vehicle before she and her late husband Bob started a family. 

In 2001, Sean and his father took the car apart. When Bob died in 2014, the car was still in pieces. 

Now, Kiernan is “preserving” the car McQueen drove during filming, he says. He's not restoring it. It still has holes in the body from the camera mounts, and the paint is faded in various places.

"I don't want to erase history," Sean Kiernan said. "The car is a timeline of my life. It was extremely tough to not do anything to it."

That resonated at Goodwood. Raced here were hundreds of supercars, rally racers and fine-tuned and polished machines most people could never hope to drive. But twice a day for four days at the 2018 Festival of Speed here, Kiernan took the car up the mile-long hill climb bisecting the festival along with the 2019 Bullitt.

Each time the duo took to the track, heads turned.

"This is unbelievable," said Richard Burgione, 60, who posed with his sons Jack and Harry next to the vehicle. "This is why we come here."

Sean, who got one of the first 2019 Bullitts to come off the assembly line at Flat Rock Assembly, said the '68 still owns his heart. He never plans to sell it. The car is introducing him to people and places he and his family hadn't dreamed of.

"It's bittersweet," he said. "I'm taking the most personal thing I have and basically putting it out there. This car is bringing me to people."

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau

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