The son of the King of Cool discusses things we like most, from sports cars and style to James Bond and his famous father.
The interview was conducted by our great friend, photographer and contributor, Stuart Kortekaas, at the recent Motorclassica show in Melbourne, Australia.
Chad McQueen at the 2016 Motorclassica show
Stuart: Your dad had a love for pretty much everything on wheels and owned some very cool cars. Do you have any memories of them?
Chad: Oh, of course. In fact I still own the first new car my dad ever bought, a 1958 Porsche Speedster (356 Speedster 1600 Super) with knock-offs, I still have that car.
Steve McQueen maintaining his first new car
And I’ve got a ’69 2 litre Porsche, slate grey like the movie car (driven by his father in “Le Mans”), but yeah, growing up my dad owned the XK-SS, and he’d take me to school in that car. I mean, he had so many bitching cars, you know!
Steve & Chad in the Slate Grey 911S which sold for $1.375m in 2011
I remember seeing a Lotus 11 for the first time… and I didn’t know what the fuck it was! Yeah, there was always cool cars around.
Steve McQueen racing his Lotus 11
Stuart: What car did you get taught to drive in?
Chad: My dad had a Ford Econoline van, that off-road legend Bill Stroppe built for him, that had a big, big motor in it [351 c.i.], so that’s what I got taught to drive in, and it was lowered and it really handled good – but my first car was a 49’ Chevy truck. My dad used to let me drive, once I’d gotten my licence at sixteen, he would let me drive his speedster.
Stuart: Speaking of Porsche your father both owned road-going cars and raced them on the track (which included coming in second place in the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1970, driving a Porsche 908/02). Was there something about the brand he particularly liked, or was interested in?
Chad: My dad was a fan of good engineering, and Porsche are the best engineered cars I believe – still – to this day.
Porsche driven by McQueen at Sebring to 2nd place - behind Mario Andretti
Stuart: I noticed that his interest in Porsche seems to be quite mutual – The Friends of Steve McQueen car show – it was nice to see this was started up by a Porsche club (The 356 Club of Southern California).
Chad: Yes, I am co-chairman (of the car show). This will be our tenth anniversary – you should try to make it out. Last year Classic Porsche came out, they gave us a good write up. Since we’ve started the show we’ve raised over a million dollars, and it goes right directly to the kids (The Boys Republic).
Stuart: Your father also supported them a lot over the years.
Chad: The school, yeah, he did a lot. My dad, in fact he told me “son, this place turned my life around”. (His father stayed with the Boys Republic between 1944 to 1946).
Stuart: I noticed there was a comment on the official Steve McQueen website about the school, about trying to inspire hope. (“Somewhere, right now, there are kids going through what I went through. Maybe if they know I survived, they can find hope. I can’t promise they’ll ever forget what happened to them. But if they hold out, they’ll get through okay and learn to live with the bad memories…and still learn to love.”)
Chad: Yes, it’s a great program. It started in 1906 and has saved over 33,000 kids, that are (now) tax payers. To take troubled youth and get them into a good job, good paying job, paying tax, it’s a good program. He had a rough childhood.
McQueen served as Boys Republic Campaign Chairman in 1966 & 1975
Stuart: I’ve read a number of things about your dad over the years, and was just wondering whether they were true.
Stuart: When your father was in the US Marine Corps (between 1947 to 1950) he saved the lives of five marines during an arctic exercise, pulling them from a tank before it broke through ice into the sea. Did this actually happen?
Chad: Yeah, when it exploded. He only made mention of it one time – I don’t remember, you’d have to ask my mom. I do remember there was something – he told me that when he first started to get sick he thought that maybe that was it, ‘cause he inhaled when the battery blew up, and he said he felt burning, but that wasn’t it, it was asbestos. (Regarding saving the lives of five marines) I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but knowing my father, it probably is.
Steve McQueen pictured during his US Marine Corps service
Stuart: I also read during this time that your dad was assigned to the Honour Guard, which was responsible for guarding the US President’s yacht.
Chad: Truman, right? Yes. Ain’t that cool?
Stuart: He’s done some very cool things, and not just in the movies!
Chad: Yes – (he was in) the right place at the right time!
Stuart: Your dad has been referred to many times as being ‘The King of Cool’, and a cultural icon, a source of inspiration for fashion to this day. In the last Bond film there’s a sequence when 007 visits Morocco and the clothing he wears clearly seem to have taken inspiration from your dad. Was he a fan at all of the Bond movies?
Chad: I think he liked Sean Connery as an actor, but – you know, you’ve got to remember it was different, that was the only franchise back then – my dad was very opposed to doing anything that was similar or a franchise – after “Bullitt” they wanted him to do “Dirty Harry”, but he said no, it’s too similar to Frank Bullitt, and he told them to go talk to Clint.
Steve McQueen as Frank Bullitt with the famous Ford Mustang 390 GT
Stuart: That was nice of him to do. it makes a lot of sense, it’s very easy to get type cast.
Chad: Right. He was smart enough to avoid that.
Stuart: Did he ever give you advice on style, and things like that?
Chad: He would – I remember before school would start, I had to go get my five pair of jeans – and he would always take me to the cleaner to have them hemmed and tightened, that’s what he’d do with his clothing. It’s amazing, Nov 7th he’ll be gone 36 years and he still resonates today, and people still talk about his fashion. Like you said – costume people, in movies today, they go back and look at what was cool, and obviously – Daniel Craig, with the blue eyes – from a hundred feet maybe could be mistaken for my dad… yeah they copy it.
Steve McQueen in "hemmed & tightened" jeans
Stuart: Have you had a look around at the cars on display at Motorclassica? Were there any that caught your eye?
Chad: There’s a 1936 540K Mercedes here that’s gorgeous, rare car – the studio chief Jack Warner had the exact car in black, same coachwork and everything…
Stuart: There’s always nice cars here, that’s for sure.
Chad: You know, I go to a lot of car shows around the world and this is so unique, being inside like this!
No surprise that Chad adopted his father's love of cars