Will the Allure of Owning Steve McQueen’s Motorcycles Ever End?
Two motorcycles and a moped affiliated with the King of Cool are up for grabs at Monterey Car Week
There’s plenty of star power hitting the auction block at Monterey Car Week, which is officially on through the weekend. On that little blip of a peninsula on the California coast, a selection of vehicles (and one Airstream) from actor Tom Hanks will likely fetch a good chunk of change, while those who prefer their collector cars with old-money pedigrees can bid on one owned by a Rockefeller and a Brown (as in Brown University). Then there are the vehicles from Hollywood’s number-one automotive spokesperson, the one name that never fails to attract press and paddles, Steve McQueen.
This year, RM Sotheby’s is auctioning off three lots with ties to the King of Cool, including two motorcycles, a 1968 Husqvarna Viking and 1970 Triumph Bonneville, and a 1970 Solex moped. None of them have especially seductive stories behind them. There are no documentation showing McQueen ever rode these in career-defining movies like Bullitt or The Great Escape; in fact, there’s no documentation proving he rode them at all (it’s almost guaranteed he did, but it is important to note that none of the listings state it as a matter fact). Nonetheless, all three of these vintage bikes are set to sell for anywhere from four to 33 times as much as they would cost without McQueen’s affiliation.
That’s the way it’s been for years, a kind of unspoken pact among moneyed collectors. If McQueen rode it, wore it or simply bought it through his production company, then it’s worth spending an absurd amount of money on. There are the six TAG Heuer Monaco watches McQueen wore in Le Mans, one of which sold in December for $2.2 million, making it the most expensive TAG Heuer ever sold. There’s the 1968 Mustang GT used in the filming of Bullitt that sold last year for $3.74 million, blowing away estimates and becoming the most valuable Mustang in existence. Whatever McQueen touched turns to gold, it seems, but gold may even be selling his affiliation short.
Last year marked the 40th anniversary of McQueen’s untimely death, which begs the question, how long will his influence last? At the moment, it shows no signs of flagging, with outlets of all types ranging from Fox News to automotive blog Silodrome writing up these three Monterey lots.
But the outcome of these particular auctions will be a bellwether for the King of Cool. The Husqvarna motorcycle, which could normally run as high as $7,300 or even $14,000 according to valuation sites, is set to sell here for as high as $100,000. Meanwhile the Solex moped, which was reportedly driven by McQueen on the set of Le Mans, and Hagerty describes as a machine that runs at speeds “marginally faster than walking,” could sell as high as $50,000, despite standard models selling for as high as $1,500 without a celebrity connection, and that’s being generous.
We certainly won’t dissuade anyone from slicing off a hunk of their savings to keep the King of Cool’s legacy alive. But if you really want to feel close to McQueen, maybe skip the collector’s items and get yourself an affordable bike you can beat up yourself. It’s what he did, after all.
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