My Car Quest

August 10, 2020

Event Report: Friends of Steve McQueen Car and Motorcycle Show, Chino Hills, CA June 1st, 2019

by Wallace Wyss –

Photos by Richard Bartholomew –

Now I gotta admit, I as much as anyone in my age group (over 50 is all I’ll admit to) I am a fan of Steve McQueen.

Not so much for his acting chops but for the purposefulness of the characters he played. His nickname was “The King of Cool,” and that was the characters he played, nonplussed no matter what’s happening, not ranting and raving, just quietly getting revenge.

I especially liked him in Bullitt, where he was a detective in San Francisco.

Bullitt Mustang

As to why the Friends of Steve McQueen Car and Motorcycle Show exists, it’s all a fund raiser for the multi-acre school and home for youngsters next to a shopping center in the Inland Empire. The show was established by some Porsche 356 owners in 2008 and grew from there.

Porsche 917

Early on they discovered that, Holy Moly, back in 1946, Steve McQueen, then a 16-year old teenager, was one of the wayward youngsters sent there to be reformed (they used to call them “reform schools”). It must have worked because McQueen straightened out and became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. He was grateful to the school for giving him a path to follow and later donated to the school and in turn they decided to honor him as one of their most famous graduates.

I can’t really call it a “concours” in the sense of judges walking around toting up scores on how well cars are restored because most of them are modified. It’s a real eclectic grouping of cars, with one main rule—if it has a connection to a McQueen movie, it’s in.

Mercury

For instance, there was a whole lot of recent model Bullitt Mustangs. Turns out that Ford realized several years ago that, though the movie was decades in the past, there was a market for Mustangs that looked and sounded like the one in the movie, which has a fabulous chase scene (but oddly there is no corresponding Dodge Charger model for the villains, maybe because their part of the chase ended badly).

What really impressed me in the display of recent Bullitt Mustangs was the current brand new Bullitt Mustang. Something about the rear flanks and the chrome trim around the entire side window really seemed so much higher quality than I’ve seen from Ford in recent years. It’s like they really wanted to make this model memorable. I think that the car achieves precisely what Ford wanted, it’s an understatement, no fancy stripes, so big lettering, just a type of domestic hot rod under the surface that a real enthusiast would buy, one who knows European cars but prefers something American, thank you very much.

The car is almost the opposite of the Shelby Mustang. The Shelby represents power and handling but still screams a little too much “Look at me” where the Bullitt, if you had never seen the movie, looks discreet but muscular like a Ferrari 250GT Lusso Berlinetta.

Then of course, also representing cars from McQueen movies were the dune buggies. I think the one in the McQueen movie The Thomas Crown Affair had a Corvair flat six. That may have been the actual car in the building there at Boy’s Republic, a cut above the VW-powered ones. Sort of a Cadillac of beach buggies.

And Porsches, boy were there a lot of Porches. Now from a distance I admit I can’t tell the real ones from the replicas. I am going to go out on a limb and say the 917 was real, but boy was it small, seemed like a 6-footer like me would never fit. And several 356 Porsches, he drove those in movies too.

Dodge Charger

This show really expanded what could be at a car show and then some. For instance, there was some sort of fire truck from, had to be around 1900 where they lifted off the body to show the drive train. And then there was a WWII Jeep and I was impressed how the owner, dressed in desert garb like Lawrence of Arabia, could tell you chapter and verse on Jeep history and even about the origin of the tent he had erected. He said there is a club of war re-enactors that goes out on maneuvers. I told him I’d only go if they would make me a general (considerably above my actual Army rank).

Then there were airplanes. Yes, this school even has a field big enough to land airplanes on and I believe they might have been taking people for glider rides, and saw at least two airplanes.

Now you would expect a jaded guy like me—going to a car show a month–not to be impressed by anything, but it all depends on where you’re coming from. As a former Karmann Ghia owner I was flat blown away by this early ‘50s Karmann Ghia coupe that seemed to have hand-fitted vents in front and hand fitted taillights. My later 1971 model was more off-an-automated-assembly line but I saw that in the early days of the Karmann Ghia they were really handsome examples of Italian design, even though built by Karmann in Germany.

Then there was an Austin Healey Sprite where the owner admitted that he had spent over $100,000 on, including a supercharger. Every inch of the car was better than brand new. I can’t fathom spending as much on what was once a throw away car but hey, maybe it has memories.

Chad McQueen, the son of Steve McQueen was there, and now, with grey hair, he resembles his father more than ever (though I think Steve McQueen died before his hair turned grey).

Chad McQueen

Chad McQueen

He fully supports this show and appears there every year and this year was no exception. I shot a picture of him inside a building where there was a display of some memorabilia from his movies, like the lever action rifle, sawed off at both ends, that he used in Wanted: Dead or Alive, his first TV series. They also had T-shirts commemorating the show and I was a little blown away by the price of $40 for last year’s shirt, but I guess some people buy one every year.

Also on display inside was the Jaguar SS that McQueen was lucky enough to buy off someone at a studio. That was where Jag was making the D-type race car and decided to make a few with street trim and make it a road car and McQueen bought one from the first owner. It is now in the collection of the Petersen Museum.

Studebaker Avanti

Another car on display that blew me away was an intensely orange ’58 Corvette that had its own hand built frame and an all new interior and, under the hood, a modern V8. I figure this had to set the owner back a bunch more than a perfect ’58 resto would have but hey, this way he has the power and handling and driveability of a modern car but one that looks 60 plus years old.

Sometimes it’s the little things that impress you at a car show. There was an old Rolls Royce Silver Shadow (again there was one in The Thomas Crown Affair) only I enjoyed talking about their picnic set which included these tiny wicker chairs and a unique container to carry the food. Those Rolls’ folks, they really know how to party!

Motorcycles were a key part of the show. Now I don’t ride them, but I realize they are an important part of the McQueen legacy, McQueen collected them, and rode them in at least one movie (The Great Escape, where he leaps the fence of a prison in one).

Overall it was a pleasant show to go to and is one that’s nominally priced for spectators at a mere $10 (added fee for parking). So in sum, it’s more of a fan show for McQueen fans tied to a car show, and that makes it unique. Paul Newman was also in a few movies with cars but somehow I don’t think a similar show honoring him would work; this one’s unique because Steve McQueen was a gearhead from the word “go.” And it’s good that his son inherited this passion….

More photos are in the slide show below.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

Wallace Wyss

 
 
 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of 18 car histories. As a fine artist, he has painted over 100 portraits of cars. For a list of prints available, send your email address to mendoart7@gmail.com

 
 
 
 
 

THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Richard Bartholomew is an artist and photographer based in Southern California. He is open to interesting consignments and can be reached at zeroagenow@aol.com

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Steve McQueen in Bullitt

Steve McQueen in Bullitt

Summary
Event Report: Friends of Steve McQueen Car and Motorcycle Show, Chino Hills, CA  June 1st, 2019
Article Name
Event Report: Friends of Steve McQueen Car and Motorcycle Show, Chino Hills, CA June 1st, 2019
Description
What really impressed me in the display of recent Bullitt Mustangs was the current brand new Bullitt Mustang. Something about the rear flanks and the chrome trim around the entire side window really seemed so much higher quality than I’ve seen from Ford in recent years.
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