Steve McQueen

“The racing world is no less creative an expression than film itself. It’s only an oddity because it’s a blood sport.” —Steve McQueen on the set of Le Mans, 1971.


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Cool. Handsome. Talented. Paranoid. Driven. Mercurial. Idealistic. Straightforward. And Sexy. Sexy as hell.

These are but a few of the words used to describe Terrence Steven McQueen.

Even now, nearly 25 years after his passing, Steve McQueen’s legend lives large. A troubled, dyslexic, often homeless youth who found his calling on both stage and set, McQueen was the most complex of human beings. He could be kindhearted one moment, evil-spirited the next. He exhibited a wicked sense of humor and a violent temper. He was always the perfectionist. A man’s man. And a lady’s man.

McQueen’s complicated life and wildly successful career paralleled the tenets of theater itself: Comedy and Tragedy. Possessing a steely blue gaze and a smoldering moodiness, he magnetized everyone with whom he came in contact, whether in person or only through the silver screen. His gritty sex appeal made him a star in life and a Hollywood icon ever since that life was cut short when he passed away on November 7, 1980, succumbing to cancer at only 50. Steve McQueen and his contemporaries–Newman, Brando, Garner, Coburn, and others–for decades defined the genre of macho American actors.

Steve McQueen’s talent at the wheel of an automobile or aboard a motorcycle was considerable. He was ultra competitive at anything he did, and mastering cars and bikes became an early passion. By the time he was able to influence the content of the films he appeared in and create opportunities for his characters to drive or ride interesting machinery, he had already done a considerable amount of racing at amateur and semi-professional levels.

“McQueen and his Lotus 11, circa 1959. This is the car that he traded his ’58 Porsche Speedster for, and as such it was McQueen’s first real racing machine. He enjoyed several good battles in it, winning a few races along the way. About it, McQueen said “In that Lotus I really started to become competitive. I was smoother, more relaxed; the rough edges had been knocked off my driving. I was beginning to find out what real sports car racing was all about.”

5.9.1959 Preliminary Santa Barbara [Modified 2.0] Lotus Eleven Steve McQueen 2nd
6.9.1959 Santa Barbara [EM+FM+GM+HM] Lotus Eleven Steve McQueen 4th
20.9.1959 SCCA Regional Del Mar [GM+HM+IM] Lotus Eleven Steve McQueen 6th

McQueen designed a motorsports bucket seat, for which a patent was issued in 1971.[45]:93[53]

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 exotic sports cars, including:

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,[54] while the other one, which McQueen attempted to purchase in 1977,[55] is hidden from the public eye. At the 2018 North American International Auto Show the GT 390 was displayed in connection with the 2019 Ford Mustang “Bullitt” in its current non-restored condition.[56]

McQueen also flew and owned, among other aircraft, a 1945 Stearman, tail number N3188, (his student number in reform school), a 1946 Piper J-3 Cub, and an award-winning 1931 Pitcairn PA-8 bip, flown in the US Mail Service by famed World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker. They were hangared at Santa Paula Airport an hour northwest of Hollywood, where he lived his final days.[7]

The documentary suggests that the disasters on set and the financial problems that plagued the film had more of an effect on McQueen than anyone thought at the time, leading to the collapse of his business empire and marriage.[3] Chrissy Iley explains how McQueen imagined building a movie empire and taking control of his career as a film maker. His first step would be Le Mans, the definitive racing movie. Le Mans was a creative and box-office disappointment upon its release the following year, although it retains a reputation, particularly among auto sports fans, for the documentary-like authenticity with which it catches the racing ethos and experience.[4] McQueen didn’t even bother going to the premiere and he never raced in a car again.[7]

Learning Opportunities

Our learning /educational opportunities are intended to be challenging thought provoking and requiring additional research and/or analysis.

These opportunities are particularly designed for a museum/education centre location where visitors would be able to enjoy access to all the structured resources available in conjunction with any concurrent exhibition.

In this instance we suggest the following might be appropriate:-

Exhibitions, Education and Economics

In the museum context the editors believe that commercial considerations are both necessary and complementary with its educational objectives.

For these reasons our suggested outline Business Plan includes provision for promoting products and services which share Chapman’s ideals of mechanical efficiency and sustainability. In addition we propose merchandising that explain and interprets the social and cultural context of Chapman’s designs in period. It’s suggested there will be catalogue for on line purchasing.

In this instance we suggest the following might be appropriate:-


Steve McQueen possessed considerable driving talent. Maybe not enough to compete at the very highest levels, but, like Paul Newman, he could’ve enjoyed a solid career as a journeyman sports-car racer had he chosen to do so.


Stars and Cars.Braunstein.Arum.2017.



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