Automotive history

40 years after Steve McQueen’s death, we celebrate 7 of his best rides

by Jeff Peek
9 November 2020 4 min read
40 years after Steve McQueen’s death, we celebrate 7 of his best rides
Photo: Casey Maxon

Can it really be forty years since the passing of Steve McQueen? The Indiana-born kid who came from a broken home and ended up in a boys reform school went on to turn his life around. He proved he could act, drive, and ride.

When it comes to cars and motorcycles, and especially movie cars and motorcycles, McQueen’s name is as magical as the words barn find. He was the bad-boy version of Paul Newman, saying and doing the things the rest of us couldn’t, and we admired him for it.

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For those reasons and more, this month marks a sad anniversary. Forty years ago, on November 7, 1980, the King of Cool succumbed to cancer. He was only 50 years old.

Steve McQueen
Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

“Steve McQueen was the quintessential bad boy – in his movie roles and his life,” says Dave Kinney, publisher of the Hagerty Price Guide. “He didn’t follow the rules; he always had an attitude that he was getting away with something. And he was always associated with vehicles, both in the movies and his life.

“He was a bon vivant, a risk taker, a sex symbol, an accomplished driver, and a movie star. That combination hasn’t really happened before or since. Paul Newman, yes, to an extent, but he wasn’t a bad boy – he was a nice guy who was married to the same woman for decades.

“Steve McQueen lived life on the edge, and because he died before he was an old and decrepit man, he’ll be forever young.”

Steve McQueen on the set of the Great Escape
Bettmann Archive via Getty Image

Not only are McQueen’s movie roles legendary (Bullitt and The Great Escape immediately come to mind), in his “spare time” he excelled at driving and riding. McQueen drove a BMC Mini to a third-place finish in a British Touring Car Championship race in 1961, won the 12 Hours of Sebring in a Porsche 908 in 1971 (with a cast on his left foot – which you can read all about here), and was inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame, in 1978.

Steve McQueen 24 Hours of Le Mans
Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

Naturally, he did a lot of his own driving and stunt work on the big screen.

We’ve written thousands of words about his most famous movie cars and motorcycles, as well as those he personally owned.

Here are seven of our favourites.

1968 Ford Mustang from Bullitt

1968 Ford Mustang from 'Bulitt'
Photo: Casey Maxon

If Steve McQueen was the quintessential bad boy, then the Bullitt Mustang is the quintessential McQueen car. Interest in the Highland Green fastback hit a fever pitch starting in early 2018, when news broke that the legendary pony car – which had been in hiding for years – was “found” (more accurately, its owner and location were revealed to be) in Nashville. A whirlwind of stories followed: speculation regarding what the Mustang might be worth, to a rehash of the movie that made it famous, to a discussion with screenwriter Alan Trustman. Finally, in January 2020, the Bullitt Mustang sold at auction for $3.74 million (£2.8m).

1970 Porsche 917K from Le Mans

Porsche 917K
Photo: Gooding & Company

“Racing is life,” McQueen’s Michael Delaney says in the 1971 movie Le Mans. “Everything before or after is just waiting.” True, perhaps, for both the character and the actor. One of the 917s from the iconic racing film (chassis no. 917-024) sold for a record $14 million (£10.6m) in 2017. Hagerty’s Aaron Robinson wasn’t surprised.

1962 650cc Triumph TR6R from The Great Escape

Steve McQueen on a Triumph TR6R
Photo: Bettmann Archive via Getty Images

There’s no more famous McQueen bike than this one, which was one of the three TR6Rs used in filming. In the movie, set in World War II Germany, McQueen makes a daring escape from prison on the stolen motorcycle, a failed getaway that includes a 65-foot jump over a barbed-wire fence. Fun fact: McQueen wanted to do the stunt himself, but Bud Elkins ultimately did it. Elkins later served as McQueen’s double in Bullitt.

1967 Con-Ferr Buggy Meyers Manx from The Thomas Crown Affair

Manx Buggy
Photo: Bonhams /Pawel Litwinski

The Meyers Manx, developed by SoCal native Bruce Meyers, was the ultimate funmobile, and McQueen wanted to use one in The Thomas Crown Affair. Not just any Manx, mind you. He asked Pete Condos of Con-Ferr fame to custom-build one. Like the Bullitt Mustang, the dune buggy’s whereabouts were unknown for a time. Once rediscovered, it sold for $456,000 (£347,000) at Bonhams’ 2020 Amelia Island Auction.

1979 Pontiac Trans Am (or what’s left of it) from The Hunter

1979 Pontiac Trans am from 'The Hunter'
Photo: Carlyle Motors

We just wrote about this last month, but we don’t want to leave it off the list. Blown up during the filming of The Hunter, McQueen’s final movie, which was released three months before his death, the Trans Am is surprisingly intact, albeit a tad on the crispy side.

1945 Willys Jeep MB from McQueen’s personal collection

Steve McQueen's Willys Jeep
Photo: Silverstone Auctions

Considering how many personal vehicles McQueen bought and sold through the years, this one was clearly dear to him. The WWII Jeep not only remained in his garage until his death, but its original California license plates were renewed on October 31, 1980, just one week before McQueen passed away.

1951 Chevy Styleline DeLuxe Convertible from The Hunter

1951 Chevy Styleline DeLuxe Convertible from The Hunter

Another car from McQueen’s final movie, this yellow Chevy convertible was so beloved by McQueen that after The Hunter wrapped, he bought it for himself. Clearly, the Styleline has lived a better life than the Trans Am from the same film.

Via Hagerty US.

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