About Steve McQueen, actor and motorcycle racer
February 24, 2011 at 3:21 am #4344
A few parts from the book McQueen by William F. Nolan:
Steve McQueen (1930 – 1980) started racing motorcycles when he was 21, on a used Harley. During a drag race on the streets, “I got as far back on the bike as I could- weight’s the important thing- and I hit the brakes. It was hairy, and I was coming right at this big Lincoln stopped there. Laying rubber all the way, I skidded up and barely tapped his back bumper with my front wheel. It was that close.” He often won 2 races a weekend, and the $100 prize money helped support his struggling acting career at the time.
In 1956, “I had my 650 BSA cycle, and we headed down to Key West and took the TMT ferry across to Havana. Castro and Batista were shootin at each other then, and things were a little tense…I ended up in jail for selling my American cigarettes, and had to sell my crash helmet and some parts off the BSA to bail myself out of there and get back to New York.”
During the Great Escape movie filming in 1962, he had a TT Special 650 Triumph painted olive drab and made to look like an old wartime BMW- the old BMW rigid suspension and less powerful engine would not take the speeds they were running. McQueen played both the escaped prisoner and the Nazi chasing him on a sidecar motorcycle, with the scenes intercut. The big jump was done by his friend and expert rider Bud Ekins, with McQueen entangled in string with rubber bands tied to it to look like barbed wire.
In 1964 he was selected as one of five American riders for the International Six-Day Trials in Germany, a 1,200 mile race to stay as close as possible to an average speed for 200 miles a day on difficult dirt trails. The Americans rode Triumph parallel twins. The British had BSAs, the Swedes had Husqvarnas, the Austrians had KTMs, the Czechs had CA 250s, the East Germans had MZs, and the Russians had Jawas. Bud Ekins broke his leg, and McQueen crashed hard enough to bend the front wheel, flatten the front tire and bend the forks back until they were against the front of the frame, so these two did not finish. The other three Americans won two gold medals and one silver medal.
He said “A Husqvarna 405 at 12 thousand revs…that’s music!”
He provided $313,000 to make On Any Sunday, a 1971 documentary that included footage from a race at Lake Elsinore, when McQueen came in 10th place out of more than 500 riders, and some of his joyriding with friends. The film made 24 million dollars at the box office, and helped change the image of motorcyclists from only gangs and hippies to include ordinary people.
He died when he was 50 years old, from a type of lung cancer caused by breathing asbestos dust, widely used as an insulation and fire retardant at that time, and possibly worsened by smoking tobacco and breathing in large amounts of desert dust. He had a collection of about 100 classic motorcycles, along with a car and plane collection.
Some of his other movies include The Blob (1958), The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Sand Pebbles (1966), Bullitt with its custom Mustang car (1968), Papillon (1973), and The Towering Inferno (1974).February 24, 2011 at 3:04 pm #29289eonParticipant
I heard he only agreed to do that movie if they included that bike scene. There was no escape on a motorcycle, that part was pure fiction. Made great viewing though.February 24, 2011 at 11:02 pm #29290
from the third paragraph in the first post:
During the Great Escape movie filming in 1962, he had a TT Special 650 Triumph painted olive drab and made to look like an old wartime BMW- the old BMW rigid suspension and less powerful engine would not take the speeds they were running. McQueen played both the escaped prisoner and the Nazi chasing him on a sidecar motorcycle, with the scenes intercut. The big jump was done by his friend and expert rider Bud Ekins.February 24, 2011 at 11:08 pm #29291bigguybbrParticipant
wasn’t reading, was more skimming there , time to edit…February 24, 2011 at 11:11 pm #29297bigguybbrParticipant
You DID NOT forget The Great Escape!!!!
I read your entire post with intrigue and did not miss a word…
Yup, he was good on a bike. Auto racing wise, he was no Paul Newman…February 26, 2011 at 9:05 pm #29309
McQueen’s best movies to me were The Great Escape, Bullitt, and Papillon- the Papillon book is a lot better than the movie. Here is the motorcycle jump scene from The Great Escape:March 1, 2011 at 1:59 am #27720kirkParticipant
Bullitt, now that is one awesome movie. I live across the border from Juarez, MX and there is still a little bar across the river where he used to go. I’ve been there multiple times, before all the violence came up, and its a great little bar. I can just imagine him there knocking back a few cold ones.
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