Steve McQueen and Lotus: Anti Hero & Cool Cars

Steve McQueen and Lotus: Anti Hero & Cool Cars


Our series on celebrities and Lotus has been constructed as prism to interpret Lotus and its brand status. Celebrity ownership helps sell cars.

Steve Mcqueen is perhaps slightly more significant in the fact he owned and raced a Lotus. This might have had an importance in his development of race craft and perhaps influenced other racers embrace the brand.


“for film fans and car enthusiasts alike, SM represents the ultimate combination of actor and racing driver .in the film Bullitt in 1968 he took part in the most famous car case in the history of cinema and three years later in le mans [1971] he starred in and produced –what has come to be known as the most realistic film ever made on motor racing ………..

For McQueen, a passion for machines ran through his blood ”

Subscribers are invited to see our piece on Sellers/Ekland in order to gain the fullest interpretation of celebrity and Lotus cars connection .Here we provide momentum and interpretation that helps explain the other subjects in the series.

Subscribers might like to see the directly relevant and integrated A&R pieces that complement and help structure this article:-

  • Celebrities series: Sellers/Ekland, Jimi Hendrix, George Best, Francoise Sagan
  • American motor racing including Lotus at Indianapolis and Can-Am
  • Tracks across America series
  • Lotus Eleven
  • Jaguar

Terence Steven “Steve” McQueen (March 24, 1930 – November 7, 1980) was an American actor. [ from wiki and net ]

“He was called “The King of Cool”, his “anti-hero” persona developed at the height of the counterculture of the 1960s and made him a top box-office draw of 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, 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”.[citation needed]


“Steve McQueen personified the “anti-hero” in Hollywood at a time when the emerging counterculture in America was challenging the very definition of what a true “hero” is.  Maybe a better way to look at it is– heroism is an act.  To live an idealistic, heroic life without fault is ultimately impossible.  We all struggle with aligning our beliefs and goals in life with what is truly right.  The fact is there are grey areas that we have to be honest about.  We saw the good and bad in McQueen, and loved him anyway– in fact, we loved him for it.  He was honest about who he was.

We all know McQueen raced cars and motorcycles, but his story goes a lot deeper than that.  His father abandoned him and his alcoholic mother when he was just six-months-old.  Steve locked horns with his new stepfather, whom he called “a prime son of a bitch”.  He struggled with dyslexia in school and was partially deaf.  The young McQueen soon fell in with a street gang, and ran away from home at 14, joining the circus for a short time, and was eventually turned over to the California Junior Boys Republic in Chino Hills, California.  McQueen later worked in a brothel, on an oil rigger– and was even a lumberjack. When he was old enough he enlisted in the U.S.M.C., went AWOL and spent 41 days in the brig.  McQueen decided then and there to embrace the Marines’ discipline and beliefs and better himself. He did just that and later saved the lives of five other Marines during an Arctic exercise, pulling them from a tank before it broke through ice into the sea.  In 1950, McQueen was eventually honorably discharged.

After the Marines, McQueen used his G.I. Bill to study acting at Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse. He brought home extra dough by competing in weekend motorcycle races at Long Island City Raceway.  His big break came in 1958 when he landed the role of the bounty hunter, Josh Randall, in Wanted: Dead or Alive.  Steve McQueen became a household name, and his image as the anti-hero was forged through his character’s detached, mysterious, and unconventional ways– like carrying a sawed-off Winchester rifle, the “Mare’s Leg”, instead of typical six-gun carried by other gunslingers. Hollywood soon came calling, and the rest is history.

All this from a kid born into what many would consider a throw-away life”

The Lotus Eleven

Mcqueen’s selection of the Lotus Eleven is significant. Being competitive and perhaps doing his own work alerted him to the fact that the Eleven offered him the greatest prospect of success. There were other choices.

The results he achieved are an indication of their combined skill:

Year: 1959 Results from net:

Date Race No. Car Drivers Entrant Result
30.5.1959 Preliminary Santa Barbara [EP] 160 Porsche 356 Super Steve McQueen Steve McQueen 11th
30.5.1959 Novice Santa Barbara [DP+EP+FP+GP+HP] 160 Porsche 356 Super Steve McQueen Steve McQueen 1st
31.5.1959 Santa Barbara [DP+EP+FP+GP+HP] 160 Porsche 356 Super Steve McQueen Steve McQueen DNS
20.6.1959 Preliminary Hourglass Field [EP] 173 Porsche 356 Super Steve McQueen Steve McQueen DNS
21.6.1959 Hourglass Field [DP+EP+FP+GP+HP] 173 Porsche 356 Super Steve McQueen Steve McQueen DNS
21.6.1959 Consolation Hourglass Field [DP+EP] 221 Porsche 356 Carrera Steve McQueen Earl Callicult/Steve McQueen 3rd
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

The editors believe that Mcqueen and the Eleven would have been well matched and that the car would grant him access to competitive club racing through the US.

Furthermore, having ridden motorcycles he might have adapted to the light Eleven.

We believe the Eleven would have developed McQueen’s racing skill and helped prepare him for more powerful and higher racing levels.

Mcqueen had basic mechanical knowledge and this might be of assistance in maintaining setting up and racing his Lotus.

Lotus Eleven: net

We are unable through space, copyright to provide images but there are extensive B&W photographs on the net. These are deeply redolent and subscribers are directed towards them.

To obtain technical and aesthetic insights into the Eleven please see A&R dedicated pieces.

Steve McQueen Car/Transport Collection

Here we list some of the cars, bikes etc. that Mcqueen collected, or drove in competition. We have not found anything that suggests how Mcqueen might have benchmarked these. [subscribers might like to devise some calculation] As noted the Lotus Eleven fairly early on in his career [ both acting and racing indicates the faith he had in the brand].

His race results in the car confirm his faith.

  • MG.TC
  • Porsche 356, 1600 Speedster
  • Lotus Eleven
  • Jaguar XKSS
  • Ferrari Lusso/ 275
  • Porsche 911
  • Mercedes Benz 300SEL
  • Porsche 908, 930
  • Beach Buggy
  • Shelby Cobra
  • Lola T70
  • Mini Cooper S
  • Winton
  • Hudson
  • Chevrolet
  • Packard
  • Motorbikes
  • Aeroplanes

Film Actors and Racing Drivers

Several actors have aspired to be racing drivers. We record some of the more successful below.

The motives for these might range through: –

  • Relaxation away from incestuous movie world
  • Means to develop skills complementary to acting and to reinforce role [type casting]

It is interesting to note the respective motor racing-based films these actors participated in. Newman and McQueen were peers and competitors worthy of fuller analysis.

  • Paul Newman
  • James Dean
  • James Garner
  • Gene Hackman

“However, let’s not overlook Steve McQueen’s ability as a driver. I believe he and Paul Newman could have been very respectable professional racers had they begun racing careers earlier. Steve had finished in second place at the classic Sebring 12 Hours earlier in 1970 (with a damaged foot), driving with Peter Revson, one of the great drivers of that era. So, he was well equipped to drive at Le Mans—though naturally his financiers and insurers were none too happy with him participating at La Sarthe, so he had to be content with being the star of the movie instead. But it wasn’t long before he was seen thundering through sections of the track in a Porsche 917.”

Motor Racing films

There is some scope to explore motor racing films. As this touches and rerefers back to Lotus and actors mentioned. Lotus in the 1960’s was a significant, easily recognizable, highly successful FI brand, and it finds inclusion in many films of the era.

During the 1960’s British products in the USA enjoyed considerable prestige on the back of fashion and pop music etc. Lotus would find considerable sales success and be fashionable throughout the USA and particularly in California.

Le Mans


“about 8 million dollars was spent on Le Mans [Cinema Centre Films 1971] and it certainly makes for an expensive looking package. Without going in for all the visual pyrotechnics of Grand prix director Lee H.Katzin captures on the wide screen ,with zooms and vivid close-up, the excitement and tensions of Formula One racing.

The plot is minimal. The drama comes from the struggle between Porsche and Ferrari, engine failure, time lost in the pits and the crashes.

Slow motion is used to show in minute detail what happens to a car crashing at speed….. Steve McQueen, no mean driver himself, plays a member of the Porsche team…..”


“McQueen really wanted to combine his twin passions –as actor and driver and in 1971 he succeeded with what was to become the definitive motor racing movie le mans McQueen came up with an idea for making special camera supports which allowed filming of high speed action from three cameras fitted to a Porsche 908 during the “live” le mans 24-hour race in 1970…he was to be a game changer in terms of the ability to immerse the films audience in the live race action at very close quarters…………………the film seemed to shatter something inside mcqueen and he never again raced competitively ”

Grand Prix [ see A&R review]


“Visually John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix [MGM 1966] must be the most successful race car movie ever made. The Super Panavision screen is sometimes divided …………..Zooms, filters, prismatic reflections and slow motion are all used to make racing into vivid cinematic experience .A camera attached to a car was lowered to within an inch of the track to give the spectator a bumper eye view of the race at 150mph…………………where it is virtually impossible to tell the difference between the simulated and the real thing …………..”

From wiki:-

Grand Prix is a 1966 American drama film about motorsports featuring an international ensemble cast. The picture was directed by John Frankenheimer with music by Maurice Jarre and stars James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand, Brian Bedford, Jessica Walter and Antonio Sabàto. Toshiro Mifune has a supporting role as a race team owner, inspired by Soichiro Honda. The picture was photographed in Super Panavision 70 by Lionel Lindon, and presented in 70 mm Cinerama in premiere engagements. Its unique racing cinematography – in part credited to Saul Bass[2][3] – is one of the main draws of the film.

The film includes real-life racing footage and cameo appearances by drivers including Formula One World Champions Phil Hill, Graham Hill, Juan Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Jochen Rindt and Jack Brabham. Other drivers who appeared in the film include Dan Gurney, Richie Ginther, Joakim Bonnier, Bruce McLaren and Jo Siffert.[4]

One of the ten highest-grossing films of 1966, Grand Prix won three Academy Awards for its technical achievements. The film was released on DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray Disc in May 2011.[3]


From wiki: –

Winning is a 1969 American motion picture starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. The film is about a race car driver who aspires to win the Indianapolis 500. A number of racecar drivers and people associated with racing appear in the film, including Bobby Unser, Tony Hulman, Bobby Grim, Dan Gurney, Roger McCluskey, and Bruce Walkup.

Rush see A&R reviews

Senna A&R reviews also from wiki: –

“Senna is a 2010 British documentary film that depicts the life and death of Brazilian motor-racing champion Ayrton Senna, directed by Asif Kapadia.[3] The film was produced by StudioCanal, Working Title Films, and Midfield Films, and was distributed by the parent company of the latter two production companies, Universal Pictures.

The film’s narrative focuses on Senna’s racing career in Formula One, from his debut in the 1984 Brazilian Grand Prix to his death in an accident at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, with particular emphasis on his rivalry with fellow driver Alain Prost. It relies primarily on archive racetrack footage and home video clips provided by the Senna family, rather than retrospective video interviews, and has no formal commentary.”

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.

  • Which famous actors have also indulged in motor racing?
  • What films have featured moto racing
  • What are road movies?
  • List films with significant car presence or car “character”
  • Was Steve McQueen a better actor or driver?
  • Read critical reviews of Le Mans what can be learnt? And does it justify reputation?
  • Compare and contrast Winning, Grand Prix and Le Mans
  • What did Bullitt do for Fords?
  • Compare and contrast Paul Newman and Steve McQueen as drivers and actors how do their respective careers compare?

Exhibitions, Education, Economics and Entertainment

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: Driving Force/Driven Man
  • Steve Mcqueen: Mechanics and Method Acting
  • Steve McQueen: Off Screen, Off Road, Off track
  • Steve McQueen: King of Cool and Cars
  • Steve McQueen: The Magnificent Seven
  • Steve McQueen: The Great Escape
  • Baby you can Drive my Car
  • Steve McQueen, Le Mans and Hard Day’s Night
  • Steve McQueen: Bites the Bullitt
  • Steve McQueen and Lotus –Performance Art
  • Steve McQueen and Lotus: Film Tracks
  • Lotus and the Leading Man: Steve McQueen


Our assessment of Steve McQueen and his Lotus in Bullitt form is:-

  • Mcqueen by temperament and events was an antihero. He confirmed ., solidified and reinforced this in his film roles. The antihero was socially acceptable at the time. Mcqueen and method acting might have gone hand in glove and his racing might have assisted type casting, He was man of his time and ranks highly in leading men film stars
  • Mcqueen probably had a developed engineering aesthetic; he bought some exceptional cars. The Lotus Eleven is well placed amongst these; furthermore it’s thought Mcqueen designed or held patents. His creativity extended into filming techniques
  • We believe the Lotus Eleven helped McQueen significantly develop his racing craft [ he seemed to prefer sports racing cars]
  • His ownership and film status would act as testimonial in the USA and introduce it to a wider audience and potentially increase sales
  • Mcqueen and Lotus are a gift to museum curators with an exceptional range of exhibitions that can be built around his persona and cars. These extend through fashion [ clothes, watches to his films, talks and wider cultural appreciation of how and why the antihero came into existence and how they have been portrayed in film and literature


Sports in the Movies.Bergan.Proteus.1982.


Stars and Cars.Braunstein. Aurum.2017.


Please note the editors of the A&R attempt to give the broadest spectrum of references but not all are available for consultation in an article. However by noting their existence it may assist students in their research.

*Items in italics non A&R library books.