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Book Review - McQueen's Machines

The Cars and Bikes of a Hollywood Icon

by Matt Stone

"McQueen's Machines" by Matt Stone

They don’t make 'em like they used to: not cars, nor, one could argue, movie stars. Where today are you likely to find as dynamic and irresistible a pairing as a 1968 Ford Mustang GT fastback with Steve McQueen behind the wheel? Together, car and driver executed perhaps the most famous car chase scene in movie history: the roaring, bouncing (occasionally literal) flight down the hills of San Francisco in 1968’s “Bullitt.” McQueen was also involved in one of the best known motorcycle stunts the screen has ever seen, flying over fences on his Triumph TT special in “The Great Escape” (1963). On four wheels or two, “The King of Cool” was clearly more than just a pretty face. He was a true motorhead.

In McQueen’s Machines: The Cars and Bikes of a Hollywood Icon, “Motor Trend’s” executive editor Matt Stone celebrates both the man and his love of motorsports—not just with the book's more than 200 photographs of the actor in, on and around a wide array of motorcycles and automobiles, but with ample other evidence of pure engine-love. Ride along with excerpts from a road test article McQueen wrote for “Sports Illustrated” in 1966 (“Ferrari gearboxes shift like a knife through butter,” he pronounced). Go back in time with newspaper clippings from the races he somehow managed to make time for in his not-exactly-relaxed schedule (including the 1970 12 Hours of Sebring event in Florida, in which he took second place behind the legendary Mario Andretti—despite having a broken foot from a previous motorcycle race!). Get an intimate look into his life both on and off the road with anecdotes from co-workers, friends and family members (including son Chad McQueen, who provides the book’s introduction). You can feel McQueen’s passion on every page.

“I’m not sure whether I’m an actor who races or a racer who acts,” McQueen told his biographer, William F. Nolan. Even when United Artists, the studio he worked for, tried to get him to stop racing because they were worried about the safety of their star, McQueen always found a way to keep motorsports a part of his life. (Guess who convinced the higher-ups to write that motorcycle chase into “The Great Escape”?) The true affair of the man who played Thomas Crown was obviously his lifelong romance with the road and the track, and anything that might be made to run on them. McQueen’s Machines is really a portrait of an obsession, and reading it, it’s impossible not to feel the love that McQueen felt.

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(Updated: 12/12/11 NW)

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