Steve McQueen: Passion for speed

The Hollywood star was passionate about motorsports, a private driver with a strong vocation and a convinced porscheist.

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The congratulations from Zuffenhausen arrived by airmail: "Dear Mr. McQueen", began the letter dated in March 1970. "It is my great pleasure to extend my warm congratulations to you on your outstanding performance at 12 Hours of Sebring." Ferry Porsche wrote that there was "Followed the race from home with great attention." With 40 years at that time, Steve McQueen not only was he one of the stars of Hollywood most successful of the time, he was also an avid racing driver: "You can imagine how pleased I am that I achieve such a brilliant result with a car of our brand", Ferry Porsche concluded.

Steve McQueen
McQueen in action on his Porsche 908/02 Spyder KH.

McQueen and his teammate Peter revson they had accomplished a heroic feat in the classic Florida endurance race. Although his Porsche 908/02 Spyder KH (Kurzheck or short tail), nicknamed “Flounder”, was clearly outperformed in power by the rivals of a higher category with the five-liter engine, McQueen and Revson were able to lead in the last phase of the race. In the end, it surpassed them Mario Andretti with Ferrari, but the difference in goal was only 23 seconds, after 12 hours full.

Steve McQueen hated being second. I always wanted to win. But even for him, that result was like a victory. A victory over himself, so to speak. Two weeks earlier, he had injured his left foot in the motocross race from Lake Elsinore.

He had come to Sebring on crutches. "The foot has been broken in six parts"McQueen explained to the waiting TV reporters. "We had to shorten the left pedal of the car and stick sandpaper on the sole of my shoe to be able to step on the clutch." However, the idea of ​​retiring had not crossed his mind. "I had given my word."

Steve McQueen
McQueen did an outstanding job in the 12 1970 Hours of Sebring alongside Peter Revson.

So it was. The coolest guy ever, who pushed the limits and broke the rules. And not just blockbusters like The seven magnificents, Bullitt o The burning colossus. McQueen was no different in real life. And that meant one thing above all else: racing. "I'm always in a hurry"he said of himself. "This is how I live." Your son Chad, who is 59 years old today, tells it like this: “He loved racing. It was his drug.

McQueen fled the poverty in which he had grown up in Missouri and Indiana at top speed. At 14 he was still in a home for young offenders; at 17 he enlisted in the Marines as a tank driver. At age 22, he successfully auditioned for one of the coveted positions on the famous Actors Studio de Lee strasberg, in New York, the quintessential drama school in the 50s.

To make ends meet, McQueen worked as a dishwasher and truck driver, in addition to rounding up his income by running with a Harley-Davidson. The prize was normally a hundred dollars, a considerable sum at the time.

McQueen landed his first starring role at 27, in the sci-fi horror movie The Blob. Your salary: U.S. dollar 3.000. It was a modest start compared to the promotion that followed.

Steve McQueen
McQueen's FIM license, who also raced motorcycles.

In the late 50s, his income was enough to buy his first new car: a Porsche 356 A Speedster black. Like his colleague James DeanMcQueen was drawn to the young Stuttgart brand. The Speedster with 75 CV it combined everyday functionality with the ability to participate in private races.

In 1959, he ran nine races of the Sports Car Club of America in California. The first officer, in Santa Barbara, on May 31, ended with a victory in the novice category. "I got hooked. Racing gave me a new identity ”, acknowledged McQueen later, "And it was important for me to have that independent identity."

Before the end of the summer of 1959, McQueen had traded in the Speedster for a Porsche 356 A Carrera More powerful. Later, he raced for the first time with a pure racing car, a Lotus eleven. Countless sports and racing cars would follow in its twenty-year trajectory. He almost obsessively collected not only cars, but also motorcycles and even airplanes. "I was crazy about speed and machines," he said. Neile adams, his first wife.

McQueen himself considered his toys as a means of escape to another world, “I can only relax when I'm running. I relax at high speeds "he stated in a television interview.

But there was also something else: the need to prevail at any cost. "I had to get ahead of you, it was his personality", remember Clifford coleman, his assistant director for many years, who also raced motorcycles. “That is why it was so successful. I had to win.

Steve McQueen
The actor finalizes details with a mechanic to get into his car.

And not only on the track, but also to recover his first Porsche 356 A Speedster. When McQueen found out that his racing partner Bruce meyerHe, from Beverly Hills, had bought the car for $ 1.500, chased it for months until Meyer relented. McQueen would keep it for the rest of his life. "Today it would be sold for a sum of seven figures"says Meyer. "Not a million, several million." But the Speedster with the unusual center nut rims is not for sale, it will stay in Chad McQueen's garage.

Steve McQueen's movies were also made by his rules. As a huge movie star, he could do whatever he wanted. He included cars and motorcycles in the story lines whenever possible. For example, the crazy walk on the beach with Faye Dunaway in a VW Buggy en The Thomas Crown Affair.

In the legendary Bullitt chase sequence he insisted on getting behind the wheel himself rather than a stuntman, a nightmare come true for the producer. Had he been injured, it would have meant millions of dollars in losses.

Yet while filming one blockbuster movie after another, he couldn't resist continuing to participate in motocross races. Generally, without the public noticing. McQueen enjoyed the anonymity granted by the helmet and participated in events under the pseudonym of Harvey Mushman. But even with the helmet on, his riding style was unmistakable. "He was strong and fast"recalls Coleman, assistant director. "That was evident in the very aggressive way he was riding a motorcycle."

Steve McQueen
The actor and Derek Bell, a five-time Le Mans winner.

His activities in four-wheel racing attracted a little more attention, mainly because he occasionally shared the wheel with world-renowned drivers, such as Innes Ireland, Pedro Rodriguez o Stirling Moss. "He always wanted to measure himself against the best", says his son Chad.

McQueen was driving at the highest level at the time and even financed his own team through his company. Solar Productions. The peak of his career would be the 12 Hours of Sebring, on March 21, 1970, one of the ten races of the season. International Championship of Brands.

The official Porsche team lined up seven cars, including four 917 KH. But most of the attention went to McQueen and his partner Revson, with a 908/02 private. McQueen had already won with him at Holtville and Phoenix. The Porsche driver, Kurt ahrens; partner of Vic elford At the wheel of a 917, he watched his famous rival closely during practice. "McQueen was very talented and ambitious to almost obsessive limits"recalls the now octogenarian. "And he was fast, although not as fast as Revson."

With their three-liter 350hp Spyder, McQueen and his teammate didn't seem to have a chance against competitors in the five-liter class, with their roughly 600 CV. To compensate, the team did not change the tires or brake pads for the entire race. "We were all surprised by his perseverance because the race was very tough"remembers Ahrens. “The track was made of concrete slabs; it shook us well ". McQueen also had to put up with a broken foot. But even that didn't make him lose his composure. In the end, the strategy in the pits paid off with a sensational second place, in part because McQueen and Revson benefited from multiple dropouts from their competitors.

Steve McQueen
In full Le Mans filming.

The best car of the official Porsche team, with Leo Kinnunen, Pedro Rodriguez and Jo Siffert, came in fourth after a long pit stop. It was not the result that Porsche expected.

"His result has made us stay at the head of the International Brands Championship and for that I thank him", Ferry Porsche pointed out in his letter to McQueen.

The creator of Porsche and the Hollywood star looked forward to the big event on the calendar with equal enthusiasm. In the 24 Hours of Le Mans, McQueen intended to compete alongside the champion of Formula 1 Jackie Stewart in a Porsche 917. But for insurance reasons this would have caused him endless trouble in Hollywood.

For the first time in his life, or so it seemed, McQueen backed down and simply prepared his epic film at Le Mans.. He used the Sebring 908/02 as a camera car. At the wheel, Herbert Linge y Jonathan Williams they shot authentic scenes from their own career. In the end they got a respectable ninth place, but were disqualified for a controversial rule violation.

For Porsche, the race would end with a long-awaited triumph: Hans Herrmann y Richard Attwood they achieved the brand's first overall victory at Le Mans, with their red and white 917.

Soon after, Steve McQueen began shooting the scenes. I had long dreamed of making the ultimate racing movie. Le Mans was his favorite project. The film was on the brink of collapse several times, nearly ruining him, and eventually ending his marriage to Neile Adams.

He fired the first director, John sturges, because the latter wanted to film a love story against the backdrop of the twenty-four hour race. For McQueen, the race itself was a love story. The second director, Lee H. Katzinfinally relented. There was no coherent script and the dialogue was limited. Le Mans would only achieve its cult status many years after its premiere in 1971.

For the action scenes on the circuit, McQueen brought in the best professionals from Le Mans, including Derek bell, who would then win the test five times. It wasn't long, Bell recalls, until McQueen hit the track with a roaring 917. "Steve's passion for speed was obvious - he always wanted to go deep." The movie was "Almost an afterthought" for McQueen, recalls Bell. "That's probably why we all got along so well.". Richard Attwood, winner in 1970, made it clear: “He wanted to be one of us. And it was one of us ”. Steve McQueen died of cancer at the young age of 50, on November 7, 1980.

Article published in # 395 of Christophorus, the Porsche customer magazine.

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Automundo is the blog about news from the automotive industry, motorsport and the culture of the region. Director: Diego Durruty.

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