Interview: Chad McQueen
Like his famous father, movie legend & automotive icon Steve McQueen, Hollywood film producer and race car driver Chad McQueen has lived an exciting life, racing and driving many cars and motorcycles. In 2010 Chad formed McQueen Racing, to develop automotive, motorcycle and film projects, including the highly acclaimed documentary “Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans”, which debuted at Cannes Classic in 2015. Recently he headed down under to be the 2016 Ambassador for Motorclassica, the Australian International Concours d’Elegance & Classic Motor Show.
This article, the first of a three part special on the event, features a one-on-one interview conducted with McQueen by Stuart Kortekaas at the show, discussing everything from sports cars and style to James Bond, and his famous father.
Chad officially started Motorclassica 2016 by leading a convoy of classic cars through the streets of Melbourne in a Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang (a homage to the famous car seen in “Bullitt”) through to Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building, where they remained on display together with many others, between 21-23 October.
Once at the show Chad took to the stage twice daily to discuss his career and his father, as well as being a judge in the Concours d’Elegance, and handing out the Best in Show and Restoration of the Year awards to the winners.
Your dad had a love for pretty much everything on wheels and owned some very cool cars. Do you have any memories of them?
Oh of course. In fact I still own the first new car my dad ever bought, a 1958 Porsche Speedster [356 Speedster 1600 Super] with knock-offs, I still have that car. [Worth noting for any keen Porsche/McQueen fans, or anyone looking to give the perfect Christmas gift to one, quality die cast manufacturer AUTOart makes a 1:18 scale model of this very car, as raced by Steve McQueen]
And I’ve got a ’69 2 litre Porsche, slate grey like the movie car [the 911S driven by his father in “Le Mans”], but yeah, growing up my dad owned the XK-SS, and he’d take me to school in that car. I mean, he had so many bitching cars, you know! I remember seeing a Lotus 11 for the first time… and I didn’t know what the fuck it was! Yeah, there was always cool cars around.
What car did you get taught to drive in?
My dad had a Ford Econoline van, that off-road legend Bill Stroppe built for him, that had a big, big motor in it [351 ci], so that’s what I got taught to drive in, and it was lowered and it really handled good – but my first car was a 49’ Chevy truck. My dad used to let me drive, once I’d gotten my licence at sixteen, he would let me drive his speedster.
Speaking of Porsche your father both owned road-going cars and raced them on the track [Which included coming in second place in the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1970, driving a Porsche 908/02]. Was there something about the brand he particularly liked, or was interested in?
My dad was a fan of good engineering, and Porsche are the best engineered cars I believe – still – to this day.
I noticed that his interest in Porsche seems to be quite mutual – The Friends of Steve McQueen car show – it was nice to see this was started up by a Porsche club [The 356 Club of Southern California].
Yes, I am co-chairman [of the car show]. This will be our tenth anniversary – you should try to make it out. Last year Classic Porsche came out, they gave us a good write up. Since we’ve started the show we’ve raised over a million dollars, and it goes right directly to the kids [The Boys Republic].
Your father also supported them a lot over the years.
The school, yeah, he did a lot. My dad, in fact he told me “son, this place turned my life around”. [His father stayed with the Boys Republic between 1944 to 1946]
I noticed there was a comment on the official Steve McQueen website about the school, about trying to inspire hope. [“Somewhere, right now, there are kids going through what I went through. Maybe if they know I survived, they can find hope. I can’t promise they’ll ever forget what happened to them. But if they hold out, they’ll get through okay and learn to live with the bad memories…and still learn to love.”]
Yes, it’s a great program. It started in 1906 and has saved over 33,000 kids, that are [now] tax payers. To take troubled youth and get them into a good job, good paying job, paying tax, it’s a good program. He had a rough childhood.
I’ve read a number of things about your dad over the years, and was just wondering whether they were true.
When your father was in the US Marine Corps [between 1947 to 1950] he saved the lives of five marines during an arctic exercise, pulling them from a tank before it broke through ice into the sea. Did this actually happen?
Yeah, when it exploded. He only made mention of it one time – I don’t remember, you’d have to ask my mom. I do remember there was something – he told me that when he first started to get sick he thought that maybe that was it, ‘cause he inhaled when the battery blew up, and he said he felt burning, but that wasn’t it, it was asbestos. [Regarding saving the lives of five marines] I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but knowing my father, it probably is.
I also read during this time that your dad was assigned to the Honour Guard, which was responsible for guarding the US President’s yacht.
Truman, right? [Is that true?] Yes. Ain’t that cool?
He’s done some very cool things, and not just in the movies!
Yes – [he was in] right place at the right time!
Your dad has been referred to many times as being ‘The King of Cool’, and a cultural icon, a source of inspiration for fashion to this day. [Such as the tribute to him on Tag Heuer’s website] In the last Bond film there’s a sequence when 007 visits Morocco and the clothing he wears clearly seem to have taken inspiration from your dad. Was he a fan at all of the Bond movies?
I think he liked Sean Connery as an actor, but – you know, you’ve got to remember it was different, that was the only franchise back then – my dad was very opposed to doing anything that was similar or a franchise – after “Bullitt” they wanted him to do “Dirty Harry”, but he said no, it’s too similar to Frank Bullitt, and he told them to go talk to Clint.
That was nice of him to do. it makes a lot of sense, it’s very easy to get type cast.
Right. He was smart enough to avoid that.
Did he ever give you advice on style, and things like that?
He would – I remember before school would start, I had to go get my five pair of jeans – and he would always take me to the cleaner to have them hemmed and tightened, that’s what he’d do with his clothing. It’s amazing, Nov 7th he’ll be gone 36 years and he still resonates today, and people still talk about his fashion. Like you said – costume people, in movies today, they go back and look at what was cool, and obviously – Daniel Craig, with the blue eyes – from a hundred feet maybe could be mistaken for my dad… yeah they copy it.
Have you had a look around at the cars on display at Motorclassica? Were there any that caught your eye?
There’s a 1936 540K Mercedes here that’s gorgeous, rare car – the studio chief Jack Warner had the exact car in black, same coachwork and everything…
There’s always nice cars here, that’s for sure.
You know, I go to a lot of car shows around the world and this is so unique, being inside like this!
For further information about this must-attend event, which will return on 13-15 October 2017, visit www.motorclassica.com.au.