THE HOUSE ON CANAL ROAD & ISDT, 1964 | LEGENDARY TALES AS TOLD BY DAVE EKINS

DAVE EKINS

Dave Ekins, 1954 class win at Catalina Grand National Race, on a 250cc NSU Renn Sport Max. Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection. “Blister goop, castor oil, and blood were soaked into what had been a new pair of gloves. I never rode that motorcycle again. They sent it back to Neckersolm, Germany.” 

The anniversary of Steve McQueen’s passing is on my mind, as well as the Ekins brothers and the incredible motorcycling history that they forged separately and together. May their tales and achievements be retold and marveled-over by many generations to come. It’s that rich. Stories like this one (via budanddaveekins.com) from the lips of Dave Ekins himself, unpacking in firsthand detail what it was like to be on the first American ISDT racing team with Steve McQueen, Cliff Coleman, John Steen, and his brother Bud Ekins as they traveled, prepped, and raced together are utterly priceless.

“When the Erfurt trials was over and the British had finished second to the all conquering East Germans because some ‘Yanks’ had outdone the Limeys in a few of the special tests, an English journalist aired his views of the U.S. Vase team: ‘Those Yanks just came to have fun and were not a bit serious about winning. They were a bloody nuisance to our boys.’ But from Sid Chilton, public relations manager of Triumph of Coventry, came the reply: ‘I think the Yanks had the right idea. After all, nobody paid them to ride the International so why not make a holiday out of it? Even so, two of them won Gold Medals and one a Silver. The only objection I have is that they are all so bloody handsome!’ –Dave Ekins

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THE SIX DEGREES OF SHARON TATE | MAO, McQUEEN, MANSON & MAD MEN…

Sharon Tate esquire mao

1967– Sharon Tate for a spread in Esquire Magazine, 1967, in a t-shirt printed with the Vietnam Star. –Photo by William Helburn

So this is what the internets are recently abuzz about– The Mad Men costume designer channeling the essence of Sharon Tate, circa Esquire magazine 1969, by placing the same Vietnam Star T-shirt on Megan Draper. Which, mind you– was probably not for sale at your local Hot Topic, head shop, or Amazon.com back then, so kinda random and creepy. It’s a pretty good ploy to generate some buzz– made me look twice, and I haven’t watched the show in a few years now. Probably exactly what they were going for. I will say, for the record, that the original photography by William Helburn is amazing– downright titillating, even.

But if you find this kind of stuff remotely interesting, the real tingler is how Steve McQueen himself almost ended up a part of the Manson massacre, and could have shared in Sharon Tate and the other’s gruesome fate…

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STEVE McQUEEN AKA HARVEY MUSHMAN RIDES AGAIN | VINTAGE SI

A great article from 1971 unearthed from the Sports Illustrated archives– Steve McQueen discussing desert bike riding with Bud Ekins & Malcolm Smith, Racing in the 12 Hours of Sebring with Pete Revson, The Great Escape, his son Chad, and much more.

McQueen even recalls exactly when he was bitten by the off-road bug– “Well, I was riding along Sepulveda with Dennis Hopper when we saw these guys bopping and bumping through the weeds near there, off the road. It was Keenan Wynn and another guy on these strange machines, dirt bikes they called them. We asked Keenan if he could climb that cliff. ‘Watch this,’ he says. Varoom! Right up to the top. Dennis and I were standing there with our eyes out to here. The very next day I went out and bought me a 500-cc Triumph dirt bike.”

Read on friends, read on.

Steve McQueen riding his Husqvarna 400 motorcycle. Below is an article from SI magazine, 1971.

HARVEY ON THE LAM

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By Robert F. Jones

By any name, Steve McQueen gets all revved up over dirt bikes.

Slamming one across the California Desert is now his Great Escape.

*

The opening scene: California’s Mojave Desert at high noon. Dead silence. Through the shimmering heat waves, Mount San Jacinto seems to writhe on the horizon like a dying brontosaurus. The spines of the cactus at foreground right are in sharp focus, the gleaming spearpoints of a vegetable army. In the shadow of a boulder, sudden movement. A Gila monster raises its beadwork head and flicks its tongue, alert to the distant sound that is just beginning to insinuate itself into the desert’s quiet. A sudden, ululating whine, the invading noise rapidly gains strength as four distorted dots on the horizon weave closer. The dots take on color and shape s they approach: a quartet of red and chrome motorcycles, stunting and racketing through the puckerbushes, their riders vaulting the ridges and slaloming through the cactus at 70 mph. Their ominous, mechanical verve sends the Gila monster– descendant of the dinosaurs– scuttling for shelter. The camers zooms in on the lead rider’s face, sun-blackened and jut-jawed under his helmet. Up music and credits: hold onto your popcorn, folks–

Harvey Mushman rides again!

That scenario, or one like it, takes place nearly every weekend in the desert surrounding Palm Springs. Harvey Mushman is the ocassional pseudonym of Steve McQueen, movie actor and motor sportsman, when he goes a-racing. His companions on those fast, racking transits of the wasteland often include the best of the desert-riding breed: Bud Ekins or Roger Riddell, Mert Lawwill or Malcolm Smith. Now and then a smaller figure on a smaller bike trails behind, slower but only a touch less skillful in his handling of the desert’s harsh nuance– Chad McQueen, the actor’s 10-year-old son.

June 13th, 1971 – Steve McQueen riding his Husqvarna 400 motorcycle in the Mojave Desert — Photo by Heinz Kluetmeier/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

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STEVE MCQUEEN REMEMBERED | FORMER LOVER, FELLOW RACER

1960 Lime Rock Nationals– Denise McCluggage sits on the grid  while SCCA gets things straight.

Back in 1955 or so, a young Denise McCluggage had a chance encounter with a then unknown Steve McQueen which led to a brief affair and a long-lasting friendship. They would be separated by their own career ambitions, and the many demands and erratic schedules that come with the territory. That said, McCluggage managed to stay in touch over the years. She herself would go on to become a legend in the world of auto racing– a renowned driver, writer, and photographer for over 50 yrs. McCluggage has won trophies around the world and raced for Porsche, Jaguar, Lotus, Mini Cooper, Alfa, Elva, OSCA, Volvo, among others. In 1961 she won the grand touring category at Sebring in a Ferrari 250 GT, and in 1964 McCluggage scored a class win in the Rallye de Monte Carlo for Ford. She shared her remembrances of McQueen and their relationship years after his passing, published in AutoWeek magazine back in 1981. She recalls a young, lean McQueen who was already obsessed with cars and racing, who swept her off her feet with his searing looks, charm and well… incongruity, as she puts it.

1955, Steve McQueen as he looked back in the day, running around the Village w/ Denise McCluggage – Image by © Roy Schatt

Shortly after our reunion he had sidled up next to me and whispered in my ear: “I’m falling in love all over again,” and given me the full brunt of the smile. My response had been an instantaneous hoot of laughter. –Denise McCluggage

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STEVE MCQUEEN, RICHARD AVEDON & RUTH ANSEL | HARPER’S BAZAAR, 1965

At first look there are obvious reasons to love this (February, 1965) cover of Harper’s Bazaar magazine– Steve McQueen of course, and the amazing photography of the legendary Richard Avedon. But there is another visionary manifested here, not often spoken of, especially back when this was on the newsstand. Ruth Ansel.

Ruth Ansel was a female pioneer in the world of graphic design. To read Ruth’s tales of her early days working with legends and creating a burgeoning new art form is fascinating– even though I’m not a graphic designer myself, there is so much that I appreciate and admire. An interesting footnote– 22 year old Ali MacGraw (pre-McQueen days) worked under Diana Vreeland at Harper’s Bazaar until she was finally convinced by a bevy of photographers to get out from behind the camera and strike a pose. And the rest is history, as they say…

When Ruth Ansel put Steve McQueen, photographed by Richard Avedon (also the guest editor), on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar in 1965, it was the first time a male appeared on the cover of a women’s fashion magazine. 

“Point to an iconic magazine cover of the last 40 years, and chances are it was designed by Ruth Ansel. Since 1961, when she talked her way into the art department at Harper’s Bazaar, Ansel has defined the look of some of America’s visually influential publications. In the 1960s, her work for Bazaar captured a transitional moment in fashion and society. In the 1970s, she became the first female art director of The New York Times Magazine and in the 1980s she created the look of Vanity Fair.”

–Carol Kino

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STEVE McQUEEN DOIN’ IT IN THE DIRT | TRIUMPH DESERT BIKE BY BUD EKINS

Nostalgia on Wheels posted these incredible pictures (quite a while back) of Steve McQueen and his Bud Ekins’ desert-modified Triumph Bonneville racer from the June 1964 edition of Cycle World Magazine. Original photos by Cal West. I re-typed the original text so it’s legible, great stuff. Hells. Yes.

“Actor Steve McQueen and his Triumph desert bike in their native habitat.”  –Cycle World Magazine, June 1964

“Many modifications make a desert bike. Crossovers, skid plate, giant filters, etc.”  –Cycle World Magazine, June 1964

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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

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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STEVE McQUEEN’s 1971 HUSKY 400 CROSS UP FOR AUCTION | BUY IT NOW!

June 13th, 1971– Steve McQueen riding his Husqvarna 400 motorcycle in the Mojave Desert, get a good look at that old school Bell helmet — Photo by Heinz Kluetmeier/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

On May 14th, Bonhams will auction Steve McQueen’s iconic 1971 Husqvarna 400 cross motorcycle– along with various racing trophies won by the “King of cool” himself.  What’s that?  Husky who?

With its signature red and chrome glistening gas tank, the Husqvarna (or “Husky” as it’s affectionately known) was a stunning beauty of a bike, and a mud-slinging beast on the American motocross circuit. Back in the 1960s, the increasingly popular sport of American motocross was bogged down by clumsily modified (not to mention heavy) Harley-Davidson, Triumph & BSA road bikes.  It was lumbering in antiquity and in dire need of innovation.  Enter Edison Dye.

While on a motorcycle tour of Europe, Dye took particular note of European motocross and the lighter-weight, nimble, two-stroke bikes that were in stark contrast to the American scene.  Swedish maker Husqvarna particulary stood out with their alloy engine components, and distinctive exhaust.  He asked motorcycling legend Malcolm Smith (Steve McQueen’s riding chum in “On Any Sunday”) to take a Husky and put it through its paces for him.  Upon Smith’s glowing review, Edison Dye decided to sign on as Husqvarna’s U.S. importer.  The Screamin’ Swede was about to take American motocross by storm.

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June 13th, 1971– Steve McQueen riding his favorite motocross bike, the Husqvarna 400 Cross, in the Mojave Desert — Photo by Heinz Kluetmeier/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

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STEVE McQUEEN REVIEWS THE HOTTEST NEW GT’s | 1966 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED

From the Blackwatch archives–

The year was 1966, and Steve McQueen was on top of the world. He was the reigning “King of Cool” who had the rest of Hollywood’s leading men eating his dust.  McQueen’s “hard knocks” path gave him an attitude and a lust for life that was flat-out unapologetic. So back In 1966, when Sports Illustrated wanted a Hollywood headliner to review the top new GT’s– Steve McQueen was the clear choice. Make that the only choice. Not Newman, or Garner, or… you get it.

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STEVE McQUEEN ’66 POPULAR SCIENCE | WHAT I LIKE IN A BIKE –AND WHY

A cool piece on Steve McQueen rating six bikes for Popular Science magazine back in November, 1966–

“First of all, I don’t set myself up as an expert on either setting up machinery for racing, or in the actual sport of racing itself.  But after 25 years of desert riding in Southern California, TT scrambles, Hare and Hound, and a bit of racing in the wet Six Days Trials in East Germany n 1964– I sure hope I picked up a little bit about motorcycles and riding along the way.” –Steve McQueen

At the end of the day, McQueen heavily favors his own hybrid desert-rippin’ beast that he put together with the help of the Ekins brothers–

“I used a Rickman-Metisse frame– a revolutionary piece of equipment that does away with the oil tank. The oil circulates through the tubes of the frame, which keeps it cool…I used a 650cc Triumph engine as the powerplant for this bike.  The drivetrain and gearbox are also Triumph.  It has Ceriani forks with 7 1/2 inches of travel for a real smooth ride, and a BSA crown.  The fiberglass fenders and tank hold the weight down to a notch under 300 pounds.  The rig is the best handling bike I’ve ever owned.  And the power– it’s like supersonic.” –Steve McQueen

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“If you can’t cut it, you gotta back out.”  –Steve McQueen

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