All of us know Steve McQueen for the Hollywood stud he was. Star of such films as The Great Escape, Papillon, and Bullitt, the Academy Award winner was the Brad Pitt of his era, but only exponentially cooler. Most of us know McQueen as a petrol head. Long before he was in On Any Sunday, he earned a living racing motorcycles. His love for machines only grew with his career – he won his class at the 12 Hours of Sebring (with a cast on his left leg, no less) and competed on bikes in the gruelling Baja 1000 and Mint 300.
Less of us know that before McQueen became a household name, he was the product of a rough childhood. His dad was absent and his mother had a string of marriages to less than stellar men. Bouncing between living with his mother, relatives and the street, McQueen was a burgeoning hoodlum, committing acts of petty crime as a teenager. After getting into a fist fight with his stepdad, McQueen’s mother checked his son in to the Boys Republic in Chino Hills, California.
The institution for troubled adolescents ended up helping the young McQueen turn his life around. He continued to visit the campus and talk to students throughout his Hollywood career. In fact, the actor would include jeans and razors in his film riders that he would donate to the Boys Republic. That spirit of giving lives on today in the Friends of Steve McQueen Car Show, an annual fundraiser for the organisation.
“My Dad used to say,” recalled Chad McQueen, son of the actor, “‘You take some out, you put some back in.’ And that’s what we’re all doing here, giving back by sharing the two things my dad loved, the Boys Republic and engines.”
In addition to the philanthropic cause and rows of pristine cars and bikes, the event showcases a selection of machines once owned by Steve McQueen. While these vehicles are known for their value, each reveal a piece of the actor’s life.
1951 GMC Pickup Truck
While Porsches and Ferraris formerly owned by the legendary actor make headlines when they head to the auction block, not everything he owned was exotic. McQueen owned quite a few GMC/Chevy pickup trucks during his time. The trucks not only provided a utilitarian value, it offered the actor some level of anonymity when he was driving the streets of Los Angeles. This pickup in particular demonstrates how much the Boys Republic meant to the performer. He donated the 1951 GMC to the non-profit school, one of many contributions he made to the organisation.
1970 Husqvarana 400 Cross
In the ‘60s, McQueen was often associated with four-stroke Triumphs. When lighter, more powerful two-stroke engines were introduced, McQueen made the switch to Husqvarana. He became so attached to the Husqy dirt bikes, the actor rode one in On Any Sunday and on the cover of Sports Illustrated, topless. Thanks to the, ahem, exposure, the Swedish brand established itself in the States. The one he owned and rode sold, unrestored, at auction in “last ridden by McQueen” condition for $144,500.
1929 Scott Super Squirrel
Named after its inventive founder, Alfred Angas Scott, bikes produced in the early 20th century by the Scott Motorcycle Company were far ahead of their time, setting lap records at the notorious Isle of Man TT competition from 1912 to 1914. In 1924, the brand introduced the competition-ready Super Squirrel to the public.
This Super Squirrel belonging to McQueen was restored by his friend Kenny “Von Dutch” Howard. The famed artist painted the bike and added his famous pinstripe work and flying eyeball emblem. Note the number plate on the front fender.
It incorrectly has the year of the bike as 1926 instead of 1929. Similar to McQueen, Von Dutch was known to partake in libations. According to lore, it was during one of his inebriated states that Von Dutch painted the numbers. Error notwithstanding, McQueen’s Scott Squirrel most recently sold for $230,000 at auction.
1970 Velosolex 3800
McQueen made the Velosolex 3800 famous during the filming of the movie Le Mans. While he was driving Porsches on set, McQueen was often seen riding the Solex, off-set, around France. More bicycle than motorcycle, the 3800 stacks a tiny 49 cc engine on top of the front wheels. With the gasoline-powered assist, the lightweight Solex was capable of speeds faster than 20 mph with a range over 60 miles. The actor didn’t ride solo on the Solex. There are old photos of McQueen riding the bike with his young son Chad on his lap and him posing next to one with his wife, sans a shirt. Only McQueen could pull off posing topless on a moped look cool.
Although he’s gone, the legend of Steve McQueen continues to live on. The Friends of Steve McQueen Car Show proves to be one of the largest annual celebrations of McQueen’s life and the badass machines he was famous for taming, while donating to a great cause.