STEVE MCQUEEN - PETROLHEAD & MOTORKING

Steve McQueen taking a break by the track in 'LE MANS'.
Steve McQueen taking a break by the track in 'LE MANS'.

Say the name Steve McQueen to any modern, red-blooded man that's worth his salt, and you’ll probably hear the reply, “Ahh, The King of Cool”, which, of course is true…

But what was it exactly about this stylish petrolhead, reckless freebird, wild velocity freak and motoroil covered madman?  Was it his infectuous smile, permeating the very essence of 60’s film and moto culture? Was it his larger than life and yet totally down to earth persona? His phenomenal presence and onscreen ability?

Or was it the fact that he was just a regular guy with an insatiable thirst for anything with a powerful motor, who found a way to make epoch-defining movies while indulging his one true love – driving powerful machines as fast as he could make them go?

Steve McQueen (March 24, 1930 – November 7, 1980) was THE American movie actor, aptly nicknamed “The King of Cool.” His “anti-hero” persona, which he developed at the height of the Vietnam counterculture, made him one of the top box-office draws of the 1960s and 1970s. McQueen received an Academy Award nomination for his role in The Sand Pebbles.

His other popular films include The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullitt, The Getaway, Papillon, and The Towering Inferno. In 1974 he became the highest paid movie star in the world. Although McQueen was combative with directors and producers, his popularity put him in high demand and enabled him to command large salaries.

The rough with the smooth - Fame and Imfany.
The rough with the smooth - Fame and Imfany.

He was an avid racer of both motorcycles and cars. While he studied acting, he supported himself partly by competing in weekend motorcycle races and bought his first motorcycle with his winnings. He is recognized for performing many of his own stunts, especially the majority of the stunt driving during the high-speed chase scene in Bullitt. McQueen also designed and patented a bucket seat and transbrake for race cars.

Perhaps the most memorable were the car chase in Bullitt and motorcycle chase in The Great Escape, riding his 650cc Triumph TR6 Trophy motorcycle. According to the commentary track on The Great Escape DVD, it was difficult to find riders as skilled as McQueen. At one point, due to clever editing, McQueen is seen in a German uniform chasing himself on another bike.


"Switzerland??"
"Switzerland ???" 
This was THE one defining scene that turned me on to motorcycles all those years ago. 
McQueen arrives at the Swiss border, looks at the sign surprised, and goes "Switzerland ???"
I knew then that I wanted to experience the same feeling...



McQueen considered becoming a professional race car driver. 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 before) won with a Porsche 908/02 in the 3 litre class and missed winning overall by a scant 23 seconds to Mario Andretti/Ignazio Giunti/Nino Vaccarella in a 5 litre Ferrari 512S.

The 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 his film backers threatened to pull their support if he did. Faced with the choice of driving for 24 hours in the race or driving the entire summer making the film, McQueen opted to do the latter.

However, the film was a box office flop that almost ruined McQueen’s career. In addition, McQueen admitted that he almost died while filming the movie. Nonetheless, Le Mans is considered by some to be the most historically realistic representation in the history of the race.


“Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting”
“Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting”
- Steve McQueen just waiting in 'LE MANS'.


McQueen also competed in off-road motorcycle racing. His first off-road motorcycle was a Triumph 500cc that he purchased from friend and stunt man 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, with Ekins on their Triumph TR6 Trophys, he represented the United States in the International Six Days Trial, a form of off-road motorcycling Olympics. He was inducted in the Off-road Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1978. In 1971, Solar Productions funded the now-classic motorcycle documentary On Any Sunday, in which McQueen is featured along with racing legends Mert Lawwill and Malcolm Smith. Also in 1971, McQueen was on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine riding a Husqvarna dirt bike.

Steve McQueen and his 1940 Indian Chief, his personal 'Holllywood Bike'.
Steve McQueen and his 1940 Indian Chief, his personal 'Holllywood Bike'.

McQueen collected classic motorcycles. By the time of his death, his collection included over 100 and was valued in the millions of dollars. He owned several exotic sports cars, including:

* Jaguar D-Type XKSS
* Porsche 917, Porsche 908 and Ferrari 512 race cars from the Le Mans film.
* 1963 Ferrari 250 Lusso Berlinetta
* Porsche 356 Speedster

McQueen’s height is disputed. He was officially listed as 5′10″, but some people, including film critic Barry Norman, have said McQueen’s height was in fact only 5′7″. He had a daily two-hour exercise regimen, involving weightlifting and at one point running five miles, seven days a week.

However, he was also known for his prolific drug use (William Claxton claimed he smoked marijuana almost every day; others said he used a tremendous amount of cocaine in the early 1970s). In addition, like many actors of his era, he was a heavy cigarette smoker. He sometimes drank to excess, and was arrested for driving while intoxicated in Anchorage, Alaska in 1972. Don’t try this at home!

SOURCES:  stevemcqueen.com | wikipedia | imdb.com
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1 comment:

Rob said...

STEVE MCQUEEN is definitely on my short list of the King of Cool Man that guy lived the life. Doesn't everyone smoke pot once a day?

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