Since itʼs his birthday this month we honor automobile and motorcycle racer, and of course highly accomplished stage and screen performer, Steve McQueen. By the end of his 50 year life, McQueen really had done it all. He was one of the most famous movie stars on the planet, and his remarkable collection of bikes and cars was expansive enough to fill his airport personal hangar; his auction in the 1980ʼs was well attended.
And McQueen was the real deal on the race track. When he went motorcycle racing, “Harvey Mushman” was a pseudonym he used to hide from fans and keep secret from his film studio his on-track exploits.
But as a busy actor he also escaped from his hectic world when he rode this great 1947 Indian Chopper he nicknamed The Blob, after the 1958 film in which McQueen made his breakthrough performance. The Chief, a few pieces of art and a variety of movie posters are currently on display at the National Motorcycle Museum.
Much of the grace of a standard Indian Chief is gone through removal of the front fender, but the earlier rigid frame, an 18″ front wheel, high-rise bars, the flowing exhaust and sissy bar with Harley-style rear fender combine to make a surprisingly good looking bike, one in motion sitting still. In its comfortably scruffy state, it’s not a machine that would attract much attention. But with a bedroll strapped on, it was a great escape machine; an opportunity for some time away from the craziness that surrounded the hottest motion picture hero of his time.
McQueen played the lead in 1963’s The Great Escape, Hollywood’s depiction of the true story of a historical mass escape from a World War II prisoner of war camp. Insurance concerns prevented McQueen from performing the film’s thrilling motorcycle leap. Bud Ekins, McQueenʼs professional stunt riding friend, who resembled McQueen from a distance, was the rider for the jump.
In 1971, McQueen’s Solar Productions funded the Bruce Brownʼs classic motorcycle documentary On Any Sunday, in which McQueen is featured, along with racing legends Mert Lawwill and Malcolm Smith. McQueen also appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine riding a Husqvarna motocrosser in 1971, his old Huskys bring a premium price!
Steve McQueen died in November of 1980 at 50 years of age. But for his huge world-wide fan base McQueen lives on through the dozens of films he starred in. McQueen was cremated, his ashes spread over the Pacific Ocean.
Visit the National Motorcycle Museum to see all the details of the Steve McQueen exhibit.