Jay Leno’s Garage

Lost for 40 years, the 1968 Mustang from 'Bullitt' resurfaces, and Jay Leno gets in the driver's seat

Whether it's the original or the remake, there's no mistaking the signature roar of Ford's "Bullitt" Mustang. According to Road and Track, the Mustang GT helped invent the modern cinema car chase with its appearance in the 1968 Steve McQueen film "Bullitt," and to commemorate the film's 50th anniversary, Ford recently revealed a souped-up 2019 special edition called the Mustang Bullitt.

Jay Leno was lucky enough to be the first civilian, other than Steve McQueen and the car's recent owners, to drive the iconic vehicle that appeared in the film. Then Leno took a test drive of the 2019 model for good measure.

The dramatic story of the 1968 vehicle has as many twists and turns as the film it appeared in. After being sold in 1974 for the hefty sum of $6,000, it seemed to go missing for 40 years. In reality, it was safe and sound in the hands of private collector Robert Kiernan. Kiernan turned down many offers for the car, including a few from Steve McQueen himself, and after he passed away in 2014, Kiernan's son Sean contacted Ford to let them know where the Bullitt had been stashed away.

Which brings us to Jay's once-in-a-lifetime chance to hop in the driver's seat.

The Kiernans' goal was to leave the car exactly as it was, and according to Leno, they absolutely accomplished that mission. His bumpy ride is powered by the car's powerful 390 engine with roughly 300 horsepower. After getting the chance to settle in, Leno determines that "it drives much worse than a 50-year-old car because nothing's been done to it. It's literally been sitting in a barn for the last 40 years at least."

With all its original parts (including the original paint job) the 1968 vehicle provides a totally different experience than the brand-new 2019 Bullitt, which packs a serious punch. Although all the specs for Ford's new model haven't been revealed yet, the V8 engine makes a grand entrance with 475 horsepower, 420 pound-feet of torque and a top speed of 163 mph. There's also the six-speed manual transmission. Mustang product marketing manager Mark Schaller says, "It's all about a little bit more power, better handling … It's meant to be a little more discreet and a little bit under the radar."

While the 2019 version is faster, with better balance, more horsepower and 50 years of improvements, Leno says that it still gives you the feeling you get from the movie: "When you get in this Bullitt Mustang, you become Steve McQueen."

Watch all-new episodes of "Jay Leno's Garage" on Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.