STEVE McQUEEN’S MEAN MACHINES | THE 1957 JAGUAR XK-SS “GREEN RAT”

steve mcqueen 1957 jaguar green rat bw

Jaguar’s epic 3.4 liter, DOHC inline-six powered D-Types were originally built for competitive racing– with a few also falling into the hands of privileged private owners. But by 1958, the D-Type had become obsolete– new racing mandates now called for smaller 3.0-liter engines, which would hurt the D-Type’s performance on the track. Ferrari had proven themselves to be the masters of small-displacement, high-performance racing, particularly with their iconic Testa Rossa that could handily eat the 3.0 liter D-type’s lunch. Jaguar found itself needing to unload 25 of the 3.4 liter D-Types.

Jaguar execs decided to convert the old D-Types to street legal sports cars and sell them to the public as limited-edition GTs. The Jaguar was subjected to a series of street-legal retrofits, including– a full-width windshield, and a bare-bones top and luggage rack added to the rear deck replaced the original racing dorsal fin. Removable fixed-pane side curtains were then mounted to the Jaguar’s doors. A vestigial exhaust system was devised by engineers– complete with a guard to prevent laymen from burning themselves on the Jag’s exposed, aggressive sidepipes. The roadster’s lighting was converted to meet street specs, two nicely-appointed seats were added, a passenger side door and sleek bumpers were tacked-on, and they were ready to roll.  Tragically, 9 of the 25 XK-SS D-Types were destroyed by a fire at the Jaguar factory in 1957, making the remaining 16 all the more special.

One of these iconic roadsters would find its way into the hands of Steve McQueen– who enjoyed an on-and-off love affair with this special Jaguar up until the very end.

Perhaps no other car is more strongly identified with Steve McQueen, aside from the iconic Highland Green Mustang GT from the epic Bullitt, than his 1957 Jaguar D-type XK-SS.  He had his buddy Von Dutch custom craft a locking glovebox for the Jag to keep those Persols from flying out when he punched the gas. via

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Steve McQueen first saw his Jaguar XK-SS parked on a studio lot on Sunset Boulevard, back when it originally belonged to Bill Leyden (a local LA radio/television personality).  McQueen bought the Jag from him for $5,000 in 1958– though some historians claim the purchase price was $4,000. Wife Neile recalled, “I know exactly how much we paid for it– I signed the check.” Once, McQueen was pulled over for speeding with Neile, 6 months pregnant at the time, sitting beside him.  He lied and told the cop that she was in labor.  They got an official police escort to the hospital, where nurses were waiting to rush Neile in. After the police left, McQueen told the staff that it was just ‘false labor’, and off they went. He was later quoted as saying, “Neile was pissed. She didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day. But, by God, it worked. I didn’t get the ticket!”

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The 1957 Indianapolis 500 | A Sideways Step into the Unknown of Auto Racing History

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Pit action at the 1957 Indianapolis 500– the Belond Exhaust racecar represented a new dawn in auto racing engine design.

After 12 years of chasing victory at the Indianapolis 500, Sam Hanks finally realized his elusive dream in a screamin’ roadster sporting a near horizontal engine designed by George Salih, chief mechanic on the winning #99 Belanger car of 1951. The world was introduced to the “lay-down” style with this history-making roadster chassis design– fitted with an Offenhauser engine that was tilted 72-degrees to the right, giving the racer a very low profile of just 21 inches off the ground. Advantages of this design were a lower center of gravity, a reduced frontal area, and improved counter-balance in the turns.

Salih found no financial backers for the revolutionary design, so he went it alone and built the innovative engine at his California home. Sandy Belond (legendary for his line of performance exhaust systems) was the racing sponsor, and now all that was needed was the perfect driver– 42 year old veteran Sam Hanks, the legendary driver who’d come very close to winning the Indy 500 several times joined-on to take a shot at history. As it turns out, this would be Hanks’ last chance to leave his mark in history. The vintage video is rich with amazing sights, sounds, and insider detail that make you feel like you were there– definitely not to be missed.

Sam Hanks at work behind the wheel of the horizontally mounted engine roadster in 1957's Indy 500.

Sam Hanks at work behind the wheel of the horizontally mounted engine roadster in 1957′s Indy 500.

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