Not so long ago, when I was broke but studying Stanislavsky in New York and trying to be an actor, I read a story in a fan magazine about a Hollywood star who had a terrible time deciding which of his cars to take to work. I got mad. Up to then the fanciest car I had owned was a hot rod that a pal and I had put together as teen-agers. In those days in southern California we had rods with Model A frames and Ford 60 engines with Edelbrock manifolds, and they accelerated like the J-2 Allards that some of the sports car people owned. Mine didn't handle, but it did have stark acceleration—when the engine stayed in it—and I always got goose pimples hearing one go up the street. Now that I can afford something better I don't get sore at stories about all the automobiles the stars own and the choices they have to make. But I still get the goose pimples.
Not from every car. To me there are cars, and then there is transportation. I don't have a lot of interest in cars that won't go fast and stop well and corner a little. History is against me, but I prefer a stick shift to an automatic transmission. I'd rather sink my fanny into a bucket seat than park it on a bench. I won't sue if you spread the word that I like to drive flat out whenever the road and the law let me.
Understand that I am an actor, not a racing driver or an automotive engineer, but I've raced some and I ain't a bad driver. The cars you see in these pages are my kind of automobile. They go and they stop and they handle. They are drivers' cars, and most of them have been developed from racing cars. It was a kick driving them at Riverside; a little later I will give my impressions of each.
You will see that only two of the eight are American cars, which is a realistic ratio. We have been a little backward about building sports and Grand Touring cars, just as we have been backward, until recently, in international racing. I am proud for my country that Fords won at the Le Mans race and that the Chaparral won at N�rburgring, but I think those wins were overdue. We make very strong engines and chassis in America, but, let's face it, our production-line cars are old-fashioned. The Europeans make driving cars, handling cars. True, there are a lot of narrow roads and mountains and plenty of driving in the wet in Europe, and so European cars are built for those conditions. Build a car over there that won't handle in the wet or has brake fade and you won't sell any. But our cars, man, you hit the brakes four or five times from 80 miles an hour and you've got no brakes. Drive our cars in the mountains of Italy and they are going to be wish-washing all over the place. You are going to be sliding from one side of the seat to the other.
What does that have to do with McQueen? Well, I'm prejudiced. I think we ought to have more cars for drivers. Most married men have to compromise by having a car that handles pretty well but still is able to take care of the wife and the kids. I am selfish enough as a male that I like my own car, and I am lucky enough to have a couple that I haven't had to make compromises with. One is a Jaguar XK-SS and the other is a Ferrari Berlinetta.
The XK-SS is a development of the D-types that won Le Mans four times. Jaguar made 15 of them, and then the factory caught fire, and that was that. The cars have become collectors' items. I have tracked down seven in the world, and I have one of them. I dare say, with the skinned knuckles I have gotten working on it, mine is probably the most cherry. I have reengineered the combustion chambers and the cams; I have dropped the oil sump, the radiator and the 46-gallon neoprene gas tank and worked them over. The disk brakes alone are worth $2,400 if you buy them across the counter, with six pads on each leading shoe and four on each side in the back—that's 20 pads in all. The body is magnesium and so are the wheels—and that's my baby. Sometimes when I come home from work and I'm up tight I work on the XK-SS. Bushing the front end is my therapy. That's what I do instead of stealing hubcaps. The car has an old, rigid rear end that makes it bounce around a lot, but it still looks good, and I think it's a fine piece of machinery.
My wife, Neil, bought me the Ferrari, a 3-liter Berlinetta Lusso. It is dark brown and has 15-inch Borrani wire wheels on it, and it's kind of a keen car. It would take a lot of persuading to convince me that Enzo Ferrari can do anything wrong. To me, he is one of the finest engineers in the world. When I am not working on the XK-SS or driving it, I drive the Ferrari. I do my thinking behind the wheel of a car. I find it relaxing. The concentration that I put into acting is the same kind that applies in motor racing or motorcycle racing. If you are locked in on your concentration in racing it makes everything else look like a dish of skimmed milk. In acting it is the same thing. There are six, seven, eight things that you must be able to do instinctively and with simplicity. You have to be perfectly relaxed. You must never get tight and bugged—you know, wound.
The first sports car I owned was a TC-MG. I found it in Columbus, Ohio when I was touring in a play called Time Out for Ginger. I wasn't getting much money, but we were playing poker every night, and I was winning. They wanted seven and a half for the MG. I left $450 with the man, and every week I sent money until I had it paid for. It was delivered to me in Chicago. Then I got fired from the play and took the car back to New York with me. I thought I was kind of Jack L. Warner's son, you know. I didn't have any dough and lived in a cold-water flat, but I had that MG parked outside. Finally I sold it to pay the rent.
Next, I bought an Austin-Healey, after I was married, and after that a Corvette. I shined the Corvette three times and drove it twice while my wife was working in Vegas as a dancer. Then I went back East for a job, and Neil, who was just learning how to drive, stuffed the Corvette into a used-car lot and came out with a Lincoln Continental. So that wiped out my Corvette.
With my next car, a black Porsche Super, I started going out to practice for club races in southern California and got very interested in competition. My first race was Santa Barbara. Everybody was growling at me. They'd all seen the actor who sat in a racing car for publicity, you know, and I understood that. But I was very earnest about it. I was sitting there trying to look very relaxed. Guys were yelling. One said, "Hey, McQueen, you better make a hole when they drop the flag, because I'm coming through." But I won the race. And I was hooked. The fellows accepted me when they discovered I wasn't a know-it-all, that I was willing to learn.