McQueen's mean machine

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The King of Cool’s most famous motorcycle could break new ground when it goes on sale this month

Mention Steve McQueen in the same breath as movies about racing and most people’s thoughts turn to the mind-numbing Le Mans of 1971, which succeeds admirably in making 106 minutes feel like all of 24 hours (if not longer).

But many – especially motorcycle types – would say that McQueen’s involvement in a considerably lower-budget film for petrolheads produced something far more interesting – and considerably more entertaining.

That film is On Any Sunday, a documentary from the same year that was directed by Bruce Brown and partly financed by McQueen’s company, Solar Productions. It succeeded in providing a brilliant, behind-the-scenes look into the various forms of motorcycle sport that took place across America ‘on any Sunday’, ranging from dirt track to motocross, from desert racing to road racing and from trials riding to enduro.

The stars of the film – which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1972 for best documentary feature – were top-tier motorcycle racers in real life, such as Dave Aldana, Mert Lawwill and the effortlessly brilliant enduro rider Malcolm Smith. They all operated on what, by modern standards, appear to have been shoestring budgets with Lawwill, for example, being filmed driving himself hundreds of miles in a battered van in order to compete in the Grand National Championship, despite being one of the top competitors of his era.

McQueen, of course, was a mad-keen motorcyclist, racer and desert rider, as well as being a friend of many of the professionals – so, inevitably, he appears in the film astride one of his favourite off-road machines, a 1970 Husqvarna 400 Cross. And that very bike is now set to go under the hammer at Bonhams on October 6, as one of the star lots of its sale at the Barber Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Alabama.

Seven years ago, Bonhams achieved a then-record $144,500 for a 1971 version of the same machine that had also belonged to McQueen and on which he was pictured, shirtless, on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

But that was then (ie before the market for the ‘right’ motorcycles had really started heading for the stratosphere) and, of course, the example now on offer is not just any old ex-McQueen machine but the ‘Husky’ that appeared in what is often referred to as “The greatest motorcycling documentary ever made.”

Bonhams has not revealed who is selling the bike, but it will be offered with an impressive wad of documentation, including the ownership card from the California Department of Motor Vehicles bearing the name of Solar Productions, an entry form for the Saddleback 500 senior race and what has been deemed a ‘lucky’ one cent coin from 1960 (the year McQueen’s son, Chad, was born). This is said to have been found inside a plastic case, wedged between the engine and frame.

Offered in complete, nicely patinated and clearly unrestored condition, the bike will go to auction with a pre-sale estimate of $75,000-100,000 (£58,000-77,000). Our bet, however, is that it will reach close to 10 times the lower estimate. Watch this space.

For a full list of upcoming auction dates go to www.motorsportmagazine.com/news/auctions


Three auction lots worth watching

Bonhams

October 5. Knokke-Heist, Belgium

If you missed the cut for one of the 1,955 ‘premier edition’ examples of Renault’s revived Alpine A110, you might be able to obtain one after all. Bonhams will offer ‘number one’ during its annual sale at the Belgian resort of Knokke and, with no reserve, it will be sold to the highest bidder. Don’t count on it being a bargain, however.

Bonhams

September 8. Stafford, Staffordshire, UK

One of the most remarkable pieces of motorcycle racing history appears at Bonhams annual Stafford bike sale – the hip flask and leather case awarded to ‘Rem’ Fowler following his victory in the twin-cylinder class at the 1907 Isle of Man TT. Fowler completed the 158-mile race despite crashing at 60mph, after a tyre blew.

RM Sotheby’s

October 17. Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Said to be among the most original 956s in existence, this is one of nine privateer versions and was originally Fitzpatrick Racing’s lead car in the 1983 Le Mans 24 Hours. It retired with fuel pump failure, but went on to win that year’s Road America Can-Am event and took podium finishes in endurance races at Brands Hatch, Silverstone, Mugello and Imola.

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