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Hope you had a happy Xmas, having a great Boxing Day etc, etc, blah, blah. But in more important news we’ve found the best money making rort, sorry, investment of all time. Yes eighteen readers and one friend but not my family (can you please not email in saying you are a reader so now you have nineteen: I’ve already counted you since we regularly have readers who drop off the twig/slip their mortal coil/pass on/are no more/ceased to be/ expired and gone to meet their maker or have been locked up again) this is the gold plated, 100 per cent guaranteed way to easy street or my name’s not John Smith.

Folks it’s been sitting under your nose, well on your wrist to be exact for all this time (warning, watch for really bad puns today). Our red-hot investment tip: watches owned by race car drivers. Here’s the story: you buy a Rolex Daytona in 1968. You inscribe on the back ‘Drive carefully me’, give it to hubby, Paul Newman (a race car driver and actor), wait 49 years and sell it for $22 mill! Then this month, another Daytona, a 1984 model that Joanne Newman (actor) bought for $940, inscribed again with: ‘Drive carefully me’, gave it to hubby again, sold for $7 mill at Phillips New York auction.

Same with Steve McQueen (race car driver and actor). As he said: “I’m not sure whether I’m an actor who races, or a racer who acts.” But having a watch that was anywhere near him is like owning the Mona Lisa.

In 1971 Steve made a movie, Le Mans, that one reviewer (me) called the world’s most boring movie. “Boring unless you do have petrol running through every part of your body, or some illegal substance. Le Mans was a movie made without a script.” Even McQueen called it ‘a bloodbath’. The film’s prop master, Don Nunley, author of the book ‘Steve McQueen: Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror’, says: ‘there was nothing positive to say about the 106-minute motion picture at the time we started making it in June 1970. Six months later when filming mercifully ended, there was no wrap party, no toasts, no grand farewells; everyone just quietly went away, thanking God their ordeal was finally over’.

Steve McQueen in poster promoting 1971 film Le Mans

Steve McQueen in poster promoting 1971 film Le Mans

Preparing for the movie, Don asked Jack Heuer (as in Mr Tag Heuer) for some stopwatches, timing boards, patches and several models of the Monacos (which retailed for $400 in 1970). Jack certainly knew the promotional possibilities for a watch that most potential buyers found too bulky so were piled up (as much as watches can be piled) in the warehouse. He sold Don six Monacos. Steve chose to wear the Heuers (later to become Tag Heuers) in the movie because it was the logo the top racers had on their suits.

McQueen was a nightmare on and off the set.

No wonder.

Soon after his birth on March 24, 1930 in Beech Grove, Indiana, his circus stunt person father walked out. Not long after his alcoholic mother who was a sex worker did the same, leaving Steve in the care of his grandparents who then moved into his great grand uncle’s farm.

Mum turned up again at when Steve was 12 with a new husband, the family moved to Los Angeles and as expected, for a boy was partly deaf, dyslexic and regularly beaten by his stepfather he joined a few local gangs, got pinged for stealing, had a couple of stints at reform school. He joined the merchant marine, became a towel boy in a brothel, became a hero in the marines during the war and in 1952 began studying acting and bike and car racing. He was obsessed by Paul Newman and in thrall of the top race drivers of the time.

Le Mans was a disaster critically (at the time), financially and personally. It cost him whatever assets he had left and his marriage. This was a good thing. McQueen regularly beat his wife, usually after a barrel full of coke topped off with some dope.

Haig Altounian, a legend of both cars and bikes, was his personal mechanic. At the end of the movie, McQueen got out of his Porsche 917 and handed his Monaco to Altounian saying “Thank you for keeping me alive all these months”. Haig said no but then Steve showed him the back of the watch. It was inscribed with “To Haig Le Mans 1970”. Evidently in the watch caper inscriptions are a thing. Haig is just a delight. He and McQueen remained friends, Haig’s still alive and still fixing bikes in a small workshop outside LA. But he’s doing it very tough. His landlord was threatening eviction. He’s been selling bike parts and some restored bikes to survive. He’s being doing it so tough that he reluctantly put the watch McQueen gave him to auction this month. Phillips thought it would go for around a mill, I’m really glad he got $3 mill for it.

Look if you can’t find any watches owned by race car drivers then the next best thing are watches owned by octopus wrestlers. As they say eight hands on a watch are better than etc. But there’s nothing fishy about the punter who paid Phillips $170k for a 1953 Rolex Explorer. The seller was believed to be three-time world octopus wrestling champion Gary Kefier who with his brother Peter basically created the then televised sport. Octopus wrestling was huge, well 5,000 people would turn out to watch it, during the 1950s and 1960s, on the West Coast of the US and Canada. Divers with no tech gear would dive down to 18m metres, shove their hands in octopi homes and pull out 30kg eight-limbed molluscs.

jc@jcp.com.au

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