Sunday, June 5, 2011

2011 Friends of Steve McQueen Car Show

The 4th Annual Friends of Steve McQueen Car Show was held on Saturday, June 4 to support Boys Republic. Although I had been meaning to get out there the past few years, other events have always gotten in the way. The Huntington Beach Concours, which is held literally down the block from me on the same weekend, has usually been the main culprit, with a longer list of top concours entries, a longer history and a shorter commute. Well, I'm glad I decided to split my weekend this year and make the 40 mile hike out to Chino Hills, because it was a truly wonderful show.

In case you haven't heard of Boys Republic, it is a private, non-profit, nonsectarian community for at-risk boys (and girls) ages 13-17. At its school and farm in Chino Hills, and in residential and day treatment centers in other communities, Boys Republic and its companion program, Girls Republic, help at-risk children build the skills and confidence they need for life on their own. The connection here is that a 16 year-old Steve McQueen spent time here as a student back in 1946.

Established in 2008 by members and friends of the 356 Club of Southern California, the Friends of Steve McQueen Car Show attracts automobile, motorcycle and off-road motorsports enthusiasts from throughout the U.S. And after just one visit it is on my short-list of must-attend events now.

Sure the cars were great, but I see similar cars at other shows. Granted, it is cool to see cars chosen specifically because of their association with McQueen, the racer/actor responsible for the car guy classics Bullitt and Le Mans among others. But what makes the show unique is its setting, its environment and its people. It just has an aura of "cool" about it.

When you mention McQueen, many people will automatically think of Le Mans, or Bullitt or Steve riding one of his bikes - and those are the vehicles on display here. So seeing a group of 40 or so Bullitt Mustangs was to be expected, but still quite impressive. Having over 100 Porsches in one place at one time was also no surprise. The 20 odd vintage bikes were similarly expected. What was a surprise were the small, easily walkable setting, the decorations to bring a bit of Le Mans to SoCal and the honored guests.

Seven days before the official start of this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, the show celebrated that historic race, and the one person most responsible for driving the event into America's consciousness during the 1970s . . . Steve McQueen. The roads into the grounds were lined with Le Mans street signs and banners, and the first thing visitors encountered in the show area was a small French village, complete with flower and fruit stands and a number of classic French cars. These were some of my favorite vehicles at the show.

Right next to that display was a collection of vehicles that stole the show. Race cars with connections to Steve, some of his personal Porsches, a simulation of the classic Mustang and Charger chase from Bullitt, and a number of vintage tractors filled the area between the gates and the main show area in the infield of the school's running track. Take a look at the photos and you'll see everything from a Porsche Junior tractor to a Porsche 917. Steve's personal Speedster and 911, the best of show 904 owned by Don Murray, Tony Adamowicz's 911L, a '73 Carrera, Mercedes 300L and Lola race cars, were balanced by the more farm-appropriate McCormick-Deering aero tractor, the oddly offset IH Farmalls and the two Porsche tractors - the aforementioned Junior and the magnificent Allgaier.

Earlier I mentioned some honored guests as well, and the list was long and impressive. Co-chaired by Ron Harris and retired racecar driver, producer and show-namesake's son Chad McQueen, with the help of auto-designer Freeman Thomas, auto-collector and inventor Peter Dunkel, and automotive fine artist Nicolas Hunziker, the 200-acre Boys Republic campus was transformed into LeMans circa 1971, the year of Steve's film. There were also dozens of vendor tents, a silent auction, a raffle and a Literature Expo with unique art, literature, photography, and memorabilia to keep visitors entertained.

From the film and the surrounding world of McQueen the organizers gathered former Le Mans driver Vic Elford, three-time Monza Lottery winner Jonathan Williams, racer/actor Hal Hamilton who landed work as a Ferrari driver in the film, SCCA, IMSA and three-time Le Mans competitor Michael Keyser, documentary maker Jack Klawitter whose Le Mans: The Race, The Movie was screened at a benefit dinner the night before the show, racer and team owner Tony Adamowicz, along with Master of Ceremonies Matt Stone, senior editor at Motor Trend and editor of Motor Trend Classic, and Marshall Terrill, author of "Tribute to the King of Cool" and "Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon."

A new highlight this year were the trophies handed out to the class winners. Uniquely, the Friends of Steve McQueen Car Show trophies were each hand-crafted by students at the Boys Republic. The "Best of Show" trophy for example, was a perpetual trophy featuring a piston from a vehicle formerly owned by McQueen. Other awards included "The Getaway" Trophy, awarded to the best unrestored truck; the "Le Mans" Trophy, awarded to the best competition race car; "The Great Escape" Trophy, awarded to one classic motorcycle; the "Bullitt" Trophy, awarded to the best Bullitt Mustang; the "Thomas Crown" Trophies, awarded to one Rolls- Royce and one off-road vehicle, and the "Cool Style" Perpetual Trophy, awarded to the automobile that best evokes Steve McQueen's style and passion for automobiles.

It was a very cool event, honoring a very cool guy, in a very cool setting, to support a very cool cause. I think the cool thing to do would be to add this to your list of car events next year.

Link to photos

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