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Steve McQueen

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Steve McQueen
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Wikipedia: Steve McQueen

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Born: 24 March 1930
Died: 7 November 1980

A Hollywood actor famous in automobile & motorcycle history for his roles in Bullitt & Le Mans as well as competing in automobile & motorcycle races as a hobby.

Biography

The following section is an excerpt from Wikipedia's Steve McQueen page on 3 July 2020, text available via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Terrence Stephen McQueen, nicknamed "King of Cool", was an American actor. His antihero persona developed at the height of the counterculture of the 1960s made him a top box-office draw during the 1960s and 1970s. McQueen received an Academy Award nomination for his role in The Sand Pebbles. His other popular films include The Cincinnati Kid, Love With the Proper Stranger, The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullitt, The Getaway and Papillon, as well as the all-star ensemble films The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and The Towering Inferno.

In 1974, he became the highest-paid movie star in the world, although he did not act in films again for four years. McQueen was combative with directors and producers, but his popularity placed him in high demand and enabled him to command large salaries.

McQueen was an avid motorcycle and race car enthusiast. When he had the opportunity to drive in a movie, he performed many of his own stunts, including some of the car chases in Bullitt and the motorcycle chase in The Great Escape. Although the jump over the fence in The Great Escape was done by Bud Ekins for insurance purposes, McQueen did have considerable screen time riding his 650 cc Triumph TR6 Trophy motorcycle. It was difficult to find riders as skilled as McQueen. At one point, using editing, McQueen is seen in a German uniform chasing himself on another bike. Around half of the driving in Bullitt was performed by Loren Janes.

McQueen and John Sturges planned to make Day of the Champion, a movie about Formula One racing, but McQueen was busy with the delayed The Sand Pebbles. They had a contract with the German Nürburgring, and after John Frankenheimer shot scenes there for Grand Prix, the reels were turned over to Sturges. Frankenheimer was ahead in schedule, and the McQueen-Sturges project was called off.

McQueen considered being a professional race car driver. He had a one-off outing in the British Touring Car Championship in 1961, driving a BMC Mini at Brands Hatch, finishing third. In the 1970 12 Hours of Sebring race, Peter Revson and McQueen (driving with a cast on his left foot from a motorcycle accident two weeks earlier) won with a Porsche 908/02 in the three-litre class and missed winning overall by 23 seconds to Mario Andretti/Ignazio Giunti/Nino Vaccarella in a five-litre Ferrari 512S. This same Porsche 908 was entered by his production company Solar Productions as a camera car for Le Mans in the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans later that year. McQueen wanted to drive a Porsche 917 with Jackie Stewart in that race, but the film backers threatened to pull their support if he did. Faced with the choice of driving for 24 hours in the race or driving for the entire summer making the film, McQueen opted for the latter.

McQueen competed in off-road motorcycle racing, frequently running a BSA Hornet. He was also set to co-drive in a Triumph 2500 PI for the British Leyland team in the 1970 London-Mexico rally, but had to turn it down due to movie commitments. His first off-road motorcycle was a Triumph 500 cc, purchased from Ekins. McQueen raced in many top off-road races on the West Coast, including the Baja 1000, the Mint 400, and the Elsinore Grand Prix.

In 1964 McQueen and Ekins were part of a four-rider (plus one reserve) first-ever official US team-entry into the Silver Vase category of the International Six Days Trial, an Enduro-type off-road motorcycling event held that year in Erfurt, East Germany. The "A" team arrived in England in late August to collect their mix of 649 cc and 490 cc twins from the Triumph factory before modifying them for off-road use. Initially let down with transport arrangements by a long-established English motorcycle dealer, Triumph dealer H&L Motors stepped-in to provide a suitable vehicle. On arrival in Germany, the team, with their English temporary manager, were surprised to find a Vase "B" team, comprising expat Americans living in Europe, had entered themselves privately to ride European-sourced machinery.

McQueen's ISDT competition number was 278, which was based on the trials starting order. Both teams crashed repeatedly. McQueen retired due to irreparable crash damage, and Ekins withdrew with a broken leg, both on day three (Wednesday). Only one member of the "B" team finished the six-day event. UK monthly magazine Motorcycle Sport commented: "Riding Triumph twins...[the team] rode everywhere with great dash, if not in admirable style, falling off frequently and obviously out for six days' sport without too many worries about who was going to win (they knew it would not be them)".

He was inducted in the Off-road Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1978. In 1971, McQueen's Solar Productions funded the classic motorcycle documentary On Any Sunday, in which McQueen is featured, along with racing legends Mert Lawwill and Malcolm Smith. The same year, he also appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine riding a Husqvarna dirt bike.

McQueen designed a motorsports bucket seat, for which a patent was issued in 1971.

In a segment filmed for The Ed Sullivan Show, McQueen drove Sullivan around a desert area in a dune buggy at high speed. Afterward, Sullivan said, "That was a 'helluva' ride!"

McQueen owned a number of classic motorcycles, as well as several exotics and vintage cars, including:

  • Porsche 917, Porsche 908, and Ferrari 512 race cars from the Le Mans film
  • Porsche 911S (used in the opening sequence of the Le Mans film)
  • 1963 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta Lusso
  • 1967 Ferrari 275GTB/4
  • 1956 Jaguar XKSS (right-hand drive) (now on exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California)
  • 1958 Porsche 356 Speedster 1600 Super (black exterior, interior and top) (McQueen drove the car in numerous SCCA racing events)
  • 1968 Ford GT40 (Gulf liveried) (used in the Le Mans film)
  • 1953 Siata 208s (McQueen replaced the Siata badges with Ferrari badges and called it his "little Ferrari")
  • 1967 Mini Cooper-S (McQueen had the car customized by Lee Brown with changes including a single foglight, a wood dash, a recessed antenna and a custom brown paint job)
  • 1951 Chevrolet Styline De Lux Convertible (used in The Hunter, McQueen bought the car in 1979 after filming ended)
  • 1952 Chevrolet 3800 pickup camper conversion (McQueen used the truck for cross-country camping trips. It was the last car he rode in before his death)
  • 1950 Hudson Commodore convertible
  • 1952 Hudson Wasp 2-door sedan
  • 1953 Hudson Hornet 4-door Sedan
  • 1956 GMC Suburban
  • 1958 GMC Pickup Truck (Reportedly one of McQueen's favorite cars, it is powered by a 336 Ci V8 which has been modified. The tag "MQ3188" is a reference to the ID number assigned to him when he was in reform school)
  • 1931 Lincoln Club Sedan
  • 1935 Chrysler Airflow Imperial Sedan
  • 1969 Chevrolet Baja Hickey race truck (originally debuted at the 1968 Mexican 1000 Rally and was driven by Cliff Coleman, Johnny Diaz, Mickey Thompson and others during its racing career; said to be the first truck specifically constructed by GM for use in the Mexican 1000; McQueen bought it from General Motors in 1970)


  • In spite of multiple attempts, McQueen was never able to purchase the Ford Mustang GT 390 he drove in Bullitt, which featured a modified drivetrain that suited McQueen's driving style. One of the two Mustangs used in the film was badly damaged, judged beyond repair, and believed to have been scrapped until it surfaced in Mexico in 2017, while the other one, which McQueen attempted to purchase in 1977, is hidden from the public eye. At the 2018 North American International Auto Show the GT 390 was displayed, in its current non-restored condition, with the 2019 Ford Mustang "Bullitt".

    Article Index

    DateArticleAuthor/Source
    7 January 2016Steve McQueen Honored as Father of the Motorcycle Lifestyle as He is Added to British Customs' Legends SeriesBritish Customs


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