Machines: The Cars and Bikes
of a Hollywood Icon
"STEVE MCQUEEN" AND WHAT'S THE FIRST THING YOU THINK OF?
To many people it would be the unforgettable image of the actor on a motorcycle
in a scene from The Great Escape.
Dozens of books have been written about Steve McQueen's life and career. But
none, says his son Chad, has focussed on the cars and bikes the star owned
the ones he worked into his films and racing. Until now. Chad writes in his
Foreword to Matt Stone's new book, McQueen's Machines: The Cars and Bikes
of a Hollywood Icon: "Cars and bikes were woven not only into our family,
but into Dad's movies." And, he says, he was delighted when Matt Stone approached
him with the idea for a book as he recognised that this major part of the star's
story needed to be told.
Chad recalls visiting the set of the film Le Mans, when he was a child.
Along with the Ferrari 512s, Porsche 917s, Lola T70s and Porsche 911s was "a
strange blue racer called a Matra."
Steve McQueen loved cars and he was passionate about racing. He was once quoted
as saying: "I'm not sure whether I'm an actor who races or a racer who acts."
The book takes a look at that
going behind the scenes to take a look into McQueen's film roles and how
the car chases were filmed.
The cars and motorbikes that featured in his films were not just any vehicles.
In Bullitt it was a Mustang
McQueen took an unscheduled wrong turn and corrected it in such a dramatic way
that the shot stayed in the famous sequence; in The Thomas Crown Affair
it was a Ferrari NART Spyder and a fully set up Corvair-powered dune buggy.
Chad now has some bikes and two of the cars from his father's large collection
a 1969 911S and a 1958 Porsche Speedster. The Speed-ster was bought from new
and Steve used it when he first went racing.
Steve McQueen was, along with James Dean
who died at a tragic-ally-young age
Paul Newman and James Garner, among the first actors who loved cars and racing
before it was fashionable to do so.
McQueen's Machines: The Cars and Bikes of a Hollywood Icon is full of stories
about the man and the cars. A Siata 208S that had formerly belonged to the star
was bought by Dr Bruce Shand. While driving it in Hollywood, another car pulled
up alongside him and he recognised McQueen
whom he had met once before while picking up some mis-sing parts for the Siata.
Shand pulled over and let McQueen treat him to the drive of his life!
In the early days, McQueen had helped an older friend to assemble a hot rod.
The star had a fascination with all things mechanical and he went on to buy
more and more cars. The smallest car he owned was a 1967 Mini Cooper S
repainted and with trick touches added. But he was often seen racing through
the Hollywood Hills at night in his rare Jaguar XK-SS. Motorcycles were also
important to him and Steve raced them under the pseudonym 'Henry Mushman'.
Steve McQueen raced at Sebring, Phoenix and Elsinore. When he was the guest
car-tester for Sports Illustrated magazine (8 August 1966 issue), he
carried out his task at the legendary Riverside International Raceway
about an hour east of Los Angeles. It was there that McQueen had raced in his
Porsche Speedster and where he'd also tes-ted a Chevy V8-powered Lola T70 sports
racer, so he'd had some understanding of the track.
Steve McQueen also owned as many as 120 bikes at one time. They were stored
in a large hangar beside his Boeing Stearman bi-plane. His dirt riding experience
casually mentioned by his character Hilts, in the film The Great Escape,
began on a bike borrowed from a neighbour. He then started racing in Southern
California, on specially-modified Triumphs. Despite this, we learn from the
book that it was actually his stunt double Bud Ekins who carried out the most
famous fence-jumping sequence in The Great Escape. "I always felt a bit
guilty about that," McQueen said later.
The chapters devoted to his competition careers on four wheels and two provide
ample evidence that he was an accomplished driver and rider. To get the experience
of driving a Porsche 908 ahead of the Le Mans film, McQueen drove in
a couple of sports car races in America. For a while he led the A Sports Racer
category in the SCCA's Southern Pacific region but was unable to contest further
events because of filming commitments. Thirty-one years later Chad was to win
the C Sports Racer class of the SCCA National championship.
Stone ends with a review of McQueen's legacy
the cars and bikes sold after his death in 1980. In TV commercials by the Ford
Motor Company, McQueen has even been digitally recreated. For the many millions
of Steve McQueen fans and all those who religiously watch The Great Escape
on television each Christmas, this book is an essential purchase.
Steve McQueen passed away in Mexico on November 7, 1980 from complications of
mesothelioma, a rare and painful form of lung cancer that few survive. In 2002,
Sheryl Crow had a hit single with Steve McQueen
a fitting tribute to a superstar.
McQueen's Machines: The Cars and Bikes
of a Hollywood Icon by Matt Stone, with a Foreword by Chad McQueen, is published
in hardback by Motorbooks. Out now, it is available from all good bookshops
at an RRP of £16.99. ISBN: 978-0-7603-2866-8.
Author Matt Stone is the executive editor of Motor Trend magazine and
has been a professional automotive journalist and photographer since 1985. He
has written and photographed seven automotive books for MBI Publishing Company,
including 365 Cars You Must Drive.