Speed Track Tales

The price of fame: Steve McQueen and the ISDT


Steve McQueen‘s ‘star’ shines as brightly as ever these days, and the man is still relevant some 30 years after he left us. You will see his image on the pages of glossy lifestyle magazines promoting sunglasses, wristwatches, jackets and motorcars. Steve’s fan base is global and we know this from experience: when great McQueen property is offered, the telephones light up from Japan to Australia, from Britain to the United States.

While many of his contemporaries slip into obscurity, why does McQueen continue to hold our interest? Well, he starred in some of the most memorable movies of the Twentieth Century, he was an accomplished racecar driver, he was a great shot, he flew vintage aeroplanes, and he was also something of a hit with the ladies. McQueen could ride a motorcycle too; in fact he was bloody good — so good that together with pals Bud and Dave Ekins, Cliff Coleman and John Steen he represented the United States of America at the 1964 International Six Day Trials (ISDT).

the ISDT 1964 would take place in the Communist Eastern bloc during the height of the Cold War. On September 5, 1964 in a packed hall in Erfurt, East Germany complete with a large picture of Walter Ulbricht the then leader of the German Democratic Republic, McQueen — in what has been reported as one of the proudest moments of his life — carried the ‘Stars and Stripes’ for the US team at the opening ceremony.

I’ve got a box full of my old outdated racing licenses probably worth a grand total of £0.00 but Steve’s license a folded piece of card the size of a cigarette packet, Steve’s sold for US$ 42,700 …. the price and value of fame eh!

Photo of Steve McQueen’s FIM race license from 1964 (Courtesy Bonhams)

Photo of Steve McQueen’s FIM race license from 1964 (Courtesy Bonhams)

Many of the great and iconic pictures of McQueen will be seen with motorbikes, many most associating him with the daring motorbike leap across / into a high Barbed wire security fence in the Motion picture ‘The Great Escape’ a world war 2 prisoner escape adventure movie. Part of the stunt crew included his ISDT team colleague Bud Ekins.

In 1964, McQueen substantially funded a team of Americans to travel to Europe to form the first official Team USA to attend the ISDT. McQueen a well qualified racer in his off set time was more than capable as a scrambler and desert racer and easily adapted to the more technical discipline of enduro / trials.

Image of scanned article announcing the plans for a US team to attend the 1964 ISDT in Motorcycle Journal 16 July 1964.

Photo. The US team often shared their time and tea with British Riders. In this photo Steve McQueen is sitting with some green helmeted Brits, one of whom is Arthur Bates, Green Helmet under arm, who is from Rhayader in Mid Wales and part of a dynastic family who have done much to promote the sport. Arthur was the architect of modern Welsh Enduro and for many years was the Clerk of Course for the Welsh International Two Day Trial – ISDT 1964

Photo – Steve visits the Triumph factory in Meridan to pick up his team bike.. note the British registration plate mounted across the fork legs. [BNX 822B]

Photo of McQueen out testing his ISDT ride on the streets of the Midlands clad in his desert boots, denim jeans and a white t-shirt, helmet-less weaving through city traffic with number plate mounted on front mudguard.

Below are some of the many iconic images that abound on the ‘net of his appearance at the ’64 event. I will complete this by classifying and titling them over the next few weeks. The majority however were taken by the great french photographer François Gragnon, these images and many more of his photos of the famous can be viewed here.

Photo of the US Team all blazered up for the opening ceremony ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – Team USA wait their place for their place in the opening ceremony ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – Steve McQueen flying the flag for team USA ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – Team USA in the parade ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – Steve McQueen smartly dressed in team blazer as part of the Team USA ceremony uniform ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – Team USA with McQueen finally join the other teams on the podium ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – Team USA in the ceremonial hall ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – Steve and the team head back to the team area no doubt to check the bikes over ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – The Parc Ferme, secured storage area for bikes restricting access for repairs to the approved maintenance periods only ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – Another fantastic view of the Park Ferme now with other bikes in view #242 – H Lenart 485cc Puch #276 – C Coleman 623cc Triumph #277 – Johnny Giles 650cc Triumph GB Trophy Team #278 – Steve McQueen 333cc Triumph #279 – Ken Heanes 649cc Triumph GB Trophy Team ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – 3 very clean bikes preparing for the start #267 – B Nash 284cc AJS #270 – Arthur Bates 550cc AJS [BGC 978B] GB Vase Team is being prepared whilst #278 – Steve McQueen’s stands with his Triumph for the USA Vase Team  ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – #278 Steve – McQueen with his immaculate 333cc Triumph [BNX 822B] ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – Under some scrutiny #278 McQueen is pushes his now dirtied Triumph ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – #278 Stee McQueen pushing his clean triumph to the start of a days riding ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – Helmet and Barbour International Jacket both showing the evidence of the wet weather of the event with water beading on surfaces ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

If ever there is any doubt in the value of a great star its how they thrive after death. Here McQueen is seen wearing his Bell Helmet featuring the classic blue colour with white skunk stripes of team USA. Bell have re-released the helmet as a replica and you will pay up to £300 for the pleasure, almost twice the price of competitive off road racing helmets. The Barbour McQueen range is a whole new scene. Once working motorcyclist, farmers and huntsmen used to roll around in the mud in this gear but today its more familiar on the streets of Chelsea or Madrid than its original home and a McQueen range to be frank has not only given us multiple renditions of the classical International jacket for him, her and the kids in a variety of treatments there are plaid shirts and comfortable knitted cardigans and jerseys as well as the ubiquitous man bag bearing the McQueen ISDT 1964 logo. Its such a sting brand I’ve seen adverts for rival brand Belstaff bragging McQueen wore their Trialsmaster jacket too. I am seriously surprised Triumph have yet to make a McQueen replica retro six day styled off roader for the US Market.

Photo – A clean Steve McQueen prepares his mind for the days riding ahead of him ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – #278 Steve McQueen’s Triumph now showing marks of use with the worn tank where his knees gripped the tank for stability in technical going ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – One of the iconic images of the ISDT #278 Steve McQueen quite unrecognisable has a breather as he reaches a checkpoint in the ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

This photo is widely considered one of the iconic images of the ISDT and Steve McQueen and in particular as an image of one of the great Triumph twins. The image became the subject of an authorised limited edition print by the renowned Motocross artist Rob Kinsey and the print can be seen below. A limited edition print run copies are still available at Rob Kinsey’s Online Gallery.

Image – painting of Steve McQueen ISDT 1964

Photo – #278 Steve McQueen cornering on loose earth puts out a stabilising leg ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – #278 Steve McQueen making significant pace on sealed roads watched by spectators ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – #278 Steve McQueen grips a bit too much throttle as his Triumph takes advantage to lift its front wheel ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo of Steve McQueen drifting the big Triumph on a climb, leg extended for stability ISDT 1964

Photo of USA Team Triumph Riders #278 – Steve McQueen and #276 – Cliff Coleman ISDT 1964

Photo of #278 Steve McQueen in a paper cutting ISDT 1964

Photo – #278 Steve McQueen checking the time as he sets off in ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – #278 Steve McQueen takes a moment on course to sit down and have a rest with his Barbour suit showing how it excels in holding back the dirt ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – Steve McQueen seated on the ground at a rest point ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – Steve McQueen seated in riding clothes ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – A rest point for Steve McQueen and the US team ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – Steve on a tea break lies on the ground with other riders ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – Steve McQuuen discussing the days happenings ISDT 1964

Photo – Steve McQueen seated with other riders, probably english speaking with a GB registered bike [BUE 110B] behind him ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – Steve McQueen concentrates on the talk from other riders ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – Steve McQueen queues in line with other riders ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Photo – At the end of the day Steve had to od all his own mechanical work which today remains part of the ethos if the ISDT / ISDE for riders to look after themselves, in the background are two Greeves, #127 – RT Snelling of Holland who dropped out on day 3 and #137 – Tristan Sharp of Britain who picked up a gold medal ISDT 1964 (François Gragnon)

Some more images recently submitted by a blog follower

photo – #278 Steve McQueen Triumph 333 [BNX822B] with [BNX825B] rests before start of event ISDT 1964 (Photo. Dieter Demme)

Without competitor numbers they will be preparing forscrutineering and I think Steve might be fixing his entrants ID badge onto the chest pocket of his Barbour, in the rear is another US team Triumph

photo – #278 Steve McQueen Triumph 333 [BNX822B] rests before start of event ISDT 1964 (Photo. Dieter Demme)

Photo – #278 Steve McQueen ISDT 1964 (Photo: Dieter Demme}

photo – #278 Steve McQueen Triumph [BNX822B] with #276 Cliff Coleman having their seals checked at the end of a days riding ISDT 1964 (Photo. Dieter Demme)

Photo – #278 Steve McQueen with #276 Cliff Coleman ISDT 1964 (Photo: Dieter Demme)

photo – #278 Steve McQueen Triumph 333 [BNX822B] ISDT 1964 (Photo: Dieter Demme)

Photo – #278 Steve McQueen ISDT 1964 (Photo: Dieter Demme)

Photo – #278 Steve McQueen ISDT 1964 (Photo: Dieter Demme)

photo – #278 Steve McQueen stands alongside Bud Ekins sat sideways on his Triumph 650 [BNX825B] ISDT 1964 (Photo Dieter Demme)

Photo of Steve McQueen ISDT 1964(Courtesy FIM / Paris Match)

Photo of Steve McQueen with a young Brit MX Star Dave Nicholl on the left, US riders Bud Ekins behind and Cliff Coleman with 2 British ISDT greats Roy Peplow and Johnny Giles to the right ISDT 1964 (Courtesy FIM / Paris Match)

Image of scanned cover ‘Modern Cycle’ featuring Steve McQueen ISDT 1964

Much of the recent revitilisation of the image of Steve McQueen as an ISDT entrant has been driven by the Barbour Jacket company who realise a good marketing device when they see one so as they have plundered all the pedigree they can get out of the traditional International jacket’s association with the ISDT they have identified riders and developed branded components to associate their products with the authority these riders give. Early campaign included Roy Peplow and Olga Kevelos as well as Steve McQueen, below are examples of some of the material this campaign has released

Photo – Barbour brochure image of McQueen walking across the parc fermé and providing an opportunity to see many of the bikes that took part in the event. ISDT 1964

Photo – The Triumph 333 #278 ridden by Steve McQueen in the ISDT 1964

Photo from Barbour Brochure with a view of his International jacket

Photo and a rare glimse of a different view of a famous time check stop where riders awaiting for their time to arrive to enter the check usually stop to chat, tinker with bikes and relive sketchy moments they just avoided. To the left of the picture is #276 – Cliff Coleman and #270 – A Bates AJS of Britain who waits for his minute to come up to get his card stamped. ISDT 1964

Where is it now?

Photo of #278 US Vase Team Triumph Trophy of Steve McQuuen presumably taken during its post event storage

Photo of #278 on display in Johnson Motors shop window Pasadena

Steve McQueen’s ISDT Triumph Trophy is still alive and well and is living in the USA and here seen on display in the window of Johnsons Motors Inc, Californian Triumph dealers since 1937.

photo of #278 in a Steve McQueen display in the Petersen Auto Museum, California

A team from Ace Classics set about restoring a Triumph Trophy as a Steve McQueen replica and a very good job they have down too here is a finished image

Photo – Ace Classic’s replica of the Steve McQueen ISDT Triumph at Stafford on the Barbour stand

Photo – Ace Classic’s replica of the Steve McQueen ISDT Triumph

Photo – Ace Classic’s replica of the Steve McQueen ISDT Triumph

Photo – Ace Classic’s replica of the Steve McQueen ISDT Triumph getting the once over from ISDT Ace – Johnny Giles

The Ace Classic’s web page dedicated to this replica appears to have vanished.. if we ever find it again!

Steve McQueen had a great love of British products which can be seen in his loyalty to Triumph and has come around in full circle with Barbour’s almost cult addiction to naming a range after him.

I certainly will not forget his Triumph Trophy TR6 specially prepared for filming of the great escape 1963

THE GREAT ESCAPE, Steve McQueen, 1963…Mandatory Credit: Photo by Courtesy Everett Collection / Rex Features

Another great escape shot

photo – original film poster for the Great Escape featuring Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen with Solihull’s finest ever chariot – Landrover Series IIa in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Californis May 1963.

Steve and Bud with Steve’s bike pick up

Washing down the dust from desert racing

For more on the history of these images and about Steve McQueens Motorcycling years go check out these links

Photo – original cinema poster for ‘On Any Other Sunday II, featuring Steve McQueen

DVD’s featuring Steve McQueen

On Any Sunday (2 Disc) [DVD]

The iconic 70’s movie dedicated to motorcycle sport in the USA features Malcolm Smith and Steve McQueen

On Any Sunday 3 Disc Box Set [1971] [DVD]

This is the 3 DVD edition of the above

Books on Steve McQueen featuring his bikes

McQueen’s Machines: The Cars and Bikes of a Hollywood Icon

Steve McQueen 40 Summers ago….

Steve by Francois Gragnon

Steve McQueen at the Selvidege Yard Blog