Steve McQueen became famous by staring blockbusters such as 'The Great Escape', 'Bullit' and 'Le Mans' among others between 60`s and 70`s. He was known as 'The King of Cool', not only for being a great actor but for exceling as motorcycle and car pilot. McQueen participated in numerous motorcycle competitions in Enduro and car races too.
“I`m not sure whether I´m an actor who races or a racer who acts”.
He was born in Beech Gove in 1930 and did not have an easy childhood. His father, who worked as a stunt pilot, tragically died in a plane accident when Steve was only a few months old. He was then abandoned by his mother and consequently on of his uncles welcomed him into his home in Missouri. He got involved with gangs and crime at an early age, but at the same time he discovered his great passion: the speed. He was only 12 years old when he first built a racing Ford together with a friend.
McQueen first joined the army and then decided to study to become an actor. Rumor has it that he used his first paycheck as an actor to buy himself a car. His strong passion for bikes and cars encouraged him to take part in several competitions. He represented the United States of America at the 1964 International Six Day Trials; Baja 1000 and Mint 400 among others. Also, he drove a Porsche 908/2 in 12 Hours of Sebring and finished in second place, this experience helped him prepare himself for the big hit “Le Mans”. One of his most famous quote from this movie is:
“Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting”.
One thing that clearly portrayed Steve McQueen’s character was the fact that he did not liked having a stuntman to do his actions scenes, especially if those included cars or bikes. In his movie, “The Great Escape” the actor performed most of the scenes driving a Triumph TR6 Trophy modified and tuned in grey-green Wehrmacht camouflage (German Army). The producers did not allow him to perform the last scene of the movie, the epic jump over hurdle. Instead, his friend and fellow rider Bud Etkins was the one who did it. Nowadays we can all find the TR6 Trophy exhibited in the Triumph Museum in Hinckely.
During his last years, McQueen financed the documentary “On any Sunday” in which his famous Husqvarna 400 Cross appears. This film created a huge impact in the motorcycling world and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1972. Bruce Brown (the director) tried to show the unique talents needed for the different forms of racing. For instance, the motocross riders were typically free-spirited types, while desert racers were often loners.
It is said that McQueen owned more than 200 motorcycles such as Indian, Triumph, Harley Davidson, … However, his favorite brand was Husqvarna. His love for the Swedish brand ignited in 1968 after watching the Motocross World`s Champion, Bengt Aberg riding in his brand-new Viking 360cc 1968 model in the Inter-Am serie in Santa Cruz, California. McQueen bought the motorbike directly to Aberg. The Husqvarna 400 Cross from the movie “On any Sunday” was eventually sold for $230.500 and the Triumph Speed Twin for $175.500.
Despite being a sportsman, it is said that the actor was an intense smoker and cocaine consumer. In 1980, at the age of 50, he unfortunately lost his race against lung cancer.
“Sometimes you have to say goodbye to the things you know and hello to the things you don´t”.