Yes, it’s our all-stars in cars Hollywood special bumper collector column celebrating the 50th anniversary of Bullitt the movie, the release of Bullitt the car in Australia, the release of the top James Bond cars of all time, the sale of Steve McQueen’s Husqvarna 400 Cross (that’s a motor bike), 50 years of Ralph Lauren, South Australian Governor Hieu Van Le unveiling a monument to Kenny Blake (who was Australia’s greatest bike racer) in Strathalbyn, and even more.
Ring, ring. That’ll be the sixties calling.
Terry Steven McQueen would be 88 (just eight weeks older than Clint Eastwood, who I am reliably informed is still alive) this year. He’s dead, but that hasn’t stopped him being one of the top 10-earning deceased stars of all time.
Steve was dyslexic and partly deaf and was violently abused by his stepfather. If you haven’t yet, you need to read one of the five bio books on his short but incredible life. He was a thief, spent time in the slammer, a Marines hero and brig guest and a member of the honour guard for president Harry Truman.
As David Thomson said reviewing one of Steve’s bios: “He was street smart, but not thoughtful; he had abiding habits with sex and drugs and cars, but none of them seemed to require soul-searching.” None of the books about him are really great, but the easiest to read is Marc Eliot’s Steve McQueen: a Biography.
Steve’s importance for us is his absolute love for bikes, cars and racing. Unlike the Bond actors, Steve was a working-class James Bond. He genuinely lived a life as a rebel, a loner and he performed nearly all his own stunts including some of the 10 minute 53 second pursuit of a Dodge Charger (Ford wanted a Galaxie in the movie but it couldn’t take the punishment) in Bullitt. The reality was the Charger was faster than the Mustang and had to back off occasionally to let Frank Bullitt’s Mustang catch up. Steve helped pay for his acting classes with his motor bike wins.
As I have advised you many times, the best way to make money in the arts is to die.
Last week, Bonhams sold the Husqvarna 400 Cross Steve rode in the dirt bike doco, On Any Sunday, for $324,000, the highest priced Husqvarna ever.
Ten years ago restorer Rob Phillips paid $2K for the Husky without knowing its history. In 2013 it didn’t make its $80K reserve at Bonhams’ Las Vegas auction. Anything vaguely related to Steve is worth $40K.
Last Saturday was James Bond day. Of course, the top Bondy car of all time has to be his own. He actually preferred a 1931 Blower Bentley to an Aston. But the movie Bondy liked an Aston DB5; weirdly, a yellow Citroen 2CV; Little Nellie, a Wallis WA-116 Agile autogyro and Wet Nellie, a Lotus Esprit S1.
Schmutter star Ralph Lauren started a tie business 50 years ago. He actually wanted to be an actor. Today the Duke of Denim has a business worth $10 billion and the most exquisite classic car collection in the world. It’s worth at least half a billion.
How good is it? Seven years ago, the Louvre (a painting museum in Paris) exhibited 17 of his cars. One of his design inspirations is, of course, Terry Steven McQueen. Ralph is one of us.
Over the psychic internet Ralph told me that: “I’ve always seen cars as art. Moving art. While friends of mine were into paintings, I somehow felt that the real beauty of owning a rare and magnificently designed car was the fact that you can use it. You can look at it, enjoy its visual qualities, as with a painting, but you can also get inside and drive it — which means both enjoying the drive itself and going somewhere with it.” Yup, paintings are for walls, cars are for driving.
And there’s a movie soon to come out of what has traditionally been a Toyota Land Cruiser-only country, our near north neighbour Papua New Guinea. Honorary WART member, Australian political reporter Ben Packham, this week revealed that the PNG government bought 20 Maserati Quattroportes to ferry APEC leaders around Port Moresby next month. Best of all, Ben tells us, the $300K sedans were delivered to Port Moresby this week from Milan, Italy, on two privately chartered Boeing 747 cargo planes.
Readers tell me this isn’t what all countries that are struggling to pay school teachers and deal with a worsening polio outbreak should do. PNG is APEC’s poorest member.
What better way to say to the world, we’re like Steve McQueen. We are rebels. Poor doesn’t mean bad taste. It means Italian design with Fezzer V6 engines. It’s a statement. And who is suggesting there may have been a bit of car industry hanky-panky going on here with a few trailing commissions and tinted windows? Not me, and certainly not Rod Sims or Sarah Court. No, the ACCC has no coverage in PNG.
Finally, there’s a movie to be made about Strathalbyn’s own Kenny Blake. These days you need a lot of money to be successful in motorsport. Kenny had none but went on to be “the man who beat 15 times world champion Giacomo Agostini”. Kenny tragically died in his retirement race, the 1981 Isle of Man TT. Get down to Strathy on Sunday, October 28 when Hieu Van Le will unveil a monument to Ken.