I’m sure it won’t be up there long, but a hearty “thank you” to the enterprising pirate that posted McQueen’s LeMans to YouTube. Cancel the rest of your meetings; pop on your headphones; and watch 917s battle 512s.
Let’s take a moment to set aside the provenance of Steve McQueen’s car collection and the fervor that the mere mention of his name seems to send rippling through the racing community. Let’s ignore that baggage for a moment: that baggage that makes people spend one-and-a-quarter million dollars on a bone stock 911S; that baggage that makes people spend 150K on a well-worn old husky 400. Let’s ignore all that… Just for a moment. Let’s simply look at this beautiful little Cooper T56 and let her hold her own without the Hollywood associations.
Let’s just look at it for what it is, because—like the 1970 911S and the 1970 Husqvarna 400 Cross—this Cooper is a piece of motoring perfection that stands on its own just fine, thank you very much. Iconic design and racing lineage? Yep. There aren’t many machines with as close a familial tie to the rear-engined revolution and the Owen Maddock-designed T43 that shook open-wheeled racing to its very core when Jack Brabham took her to the 1957 Monaco Grand Prix.
Imagine the joy you would get walking up to this little piece of fantastic in your garage. Walking past that little ridge that flows along the engine cover that harkens to it’s larger cousin on the D-Type Jag and certainly to the mighty T51 that gave Cooper the constructor’s championship in 1959. Sure, you might not beat Jack Brabham’s 1959 Monaco GP fastest lap time of 1:40.4 with a 994cc BMC formula junior engine in place of the T51’s Cooper Climax. Then again, with the better tires you’d be running today, you might get close.
Ok. Let’s face the inevitable and bring Mr. McQueen back into the discussion. The truth is that this example of the T56 has a remarkable history even without the Cooler King. The car was one of the two Cooper Works cars campaigned by Team Tyrell in 1961. With Tony Maggs winning at Goodwood, Magny-Cours, Monza, Kalskoga, Rouen, Zandvoort, Oulton Park, and Montlhery this car won Tony and Team Tyrell the European Formula Junior Championship for the season. After the season, the car was returned to Cooper and subsequently snatched up by McQueen while Steve was in Europe pickup up a Mini Cooper and attending John Cooper’s racing school. After taking the T56 back to the States, Steve captured a few wins with her in California. Indeed, this may be the car and the string of races that finally alerted the studio to Steve’s dangerous extracurriculars that famously resulted in the ultimatum that continuing to race would be the end of his acting career. The bastards.
After Steve and this Cooper parted ways, the car continued on to greater successes stateside with Al ‘Buster’ Brizzard winning SCCA championships with this car (fitted alternately with the BMC, Alfa, or Cosworth engine). The car eventually made its way back to Steve McQueen’s racing mechanic, Skip McLaughlin, for many years before its magnificent restoration by Hardy Hall. Today the car is on offer from the Canepa Collection and looks ready to grid up at the Goodwood Revival.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
Not much information available on these photographic lots from the upcoming Heritage Auctions Vintage Movie Poster and Signature Auction in Dallas next month.
Whether McQueen was taking in (what looks to me like) the 1965 Monaco Grand Prix as research for his potential role in Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix, or—more likely—just because he was a fan, I don’t know. But since this workshop photo is from ’63, and they were photographed together at Brands Hatch in ’62, it seems to me more like a couple of pals taking in the races.
Speaking of early 911s, let’s hear what Sports Illustrated’s guest sportscar reviewer, Steve McQueen, thought of the 911 in 1966. This is excerpted from a larger article in which Steve drove the latest sportscars from Porsche, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Alfa, Mercedes, Jaguar, and the latest Cobra and Corvette.
Steve Says: “Like the 230SL, the other German car, the Porsche 911, was a six. The Mercedes straight-six is in the front. The Porsche flat-six, with horizontally opposed cylinders—an engine developed from the Grand Prix car of a few seasons ago—is in the rear. I was curious to see how much the Porsche had changed since I raced my Super, which had the four-cylinder engine. Boy, it’s changed. Road noise used to be a problem with that rear-engine location, but on the 911 I got very little noise. The old Porsches had that violent oversteer tendency, and they would get out of whack with no warning. You’d be hung out and locked in your steering with nowhere to go. We used to decamber the rear wheels 2½° to 3½°, so they kind of looked like somebody had sat on them, and toe them in half a degree to get a certain amount of stability. Now the problem has been corrected. The 911 was a very neutral-handling car, very docile, very pleasant to drive, and the five-speed gearbox sure was easy to use. The brakes were just fine. Once a gust of wind caught me on the back straight and slid me over a few feet, but the car didn’t get radical in its handling.
There is a four-cylinder Porsche—the less expensive 912—and I imagine it has a little more snap at low RPM than the 911 but not as much top speed. With that six the 911 honks right along.”
There you have it, the cooler king’s impressions reacquainting himself with Porsche, which of course worked out splendidly for the next few years. After all, like the poster says, McQueen drives Porsche. All that and a bonus handling modification tip for 356 drivers. Thanks, Steve.
Hoo Boy! This one leaves me almost speechless. I do love a Siata 208. I love any Siata 208; but a Siata once owned by Steve McQueen — now that’s a show stopper. This Siata was the sportscar that McQueen bought himself shortly after his film career began to take off. This was in Hollywood’s studio era, and when studio management saw it, they forced him to sell it. They said it was too flashy. You know a car is something very, very special when it’s too flashy for a movie star to drive around in. I can’t image what would be more eye-catching, seeing this little grey barchetta (before it’s respray) bombing through Topanga Canyon, or seeing “The Cooler King” behind the wheel. Today, Fantasy Junction in Emeryville, CA has this stunner sitting in their showroom.
Famous ownership aside, it’s impossible to not fall in love with the details of the car. Everything from the braided leather door strap and hinge, to the chrome door jams, the original Ernie McAfee Foreign Cars sticker in the window, the Heuer clock and chronograph on the dash, the recessed door handles — you can get lost in every square inch of this magnificent machine.
There were some small sacrifices made for reliability when the engine was rebuilt in 2008, opting for a modern distributor and generator (the original parts come with the car). These modern upgrades certainly won’t keep you from entering this car in any event I can think of. Even the notoriously difficult to enter Mille Miglia would certainly accept a Siata 208S of any provenance. At 137hp, there aren’t a lot of places you can’t drive this car. 137 is a huge number for horsepower in 1953; a ’53 Cadillac had 210hp, and weighted 4800 lbs. This little Siata 208S weighs less than half that.
There’s no question that this is a tremendous car. Sure it’s $1.3Million, but then modern Ferrari Enzo’s have been known to trade at those kinds of prices, and I know which I’d rather have. Don’t worry though, popping over to the dealer’s detail page and basking in the photos is free. You can also read more about this Siata 208S in the marvelous book, McQueen’s Machines: The Cars and Bikes of a Hollywood Icon, which I highly recommend.
In May of 1959 Steve McQueen drove his little ’58 Porsche Speedster 1600 Super up to Santa Barbara to compete in his first race. Now we tend to merge the legend of McQueen as an actor with his racing exploits. But that had to start somewhere; and it started in the E-Group Production Class at the airport. Starting from the middle of the pack, he leapt up several positions on the first lap, and by the fourth was in the lead. Amazingly, he won the first race he competed in; cementing the reputation that would define him among racing fans long after his death.
This weekend, Bonhams will offer lot 177 at their annual Petersen Auction. The pewter goblet that served as his trophy for that first race. I’m sure this little tankard was filled and refilled as it was passed around many times the table at wherever Steve celebrated that night.
Steve sold the Speedster that he won that event with, returning to Santa Barbara later that year in a Lotus XI. He finally bought back the Speedster in 1974. Chad McQueen still owns it.
There’s a brief writeup of the race on this McQueen site, and here’s a photo of the Porsche Speedster from the “Friends of McQueen” car show held earlier this year.
This lovely piece of McQueen history SOLD for $6,600. Sounds like a lot of loot for a pewter goblet. “Well bought”, I say.