Yestersay March 24, Steve McQueen would have celebrated its 84th birthday. And it’s 60 years ago that he rode his first new Triumph motorcycle. It was sold to him by Johnson Motors in Pasadena, California and delivered to him at the Los Angeles’ Universal Studios. McQueen became good friend with Bud Ekins who teached him how to race in the desert, then both participated to an endure in Northern California. But it was the 1964 International Six Day Trial that went a long way to creating the enduring image of McQueen the great motorcyclist.
The actor rode in the American team and, by chance, French photographer François Gragnon captured him in competition and hanging out with other bikers, rare moments of a Hollywood superstar being just one of the lads in a far less contrived age.
Then, McQueen shot “The Great Escape”, and the world over, there are posters of the immortal scene of the leap over the wire. Very few knew that it was Ekins who rode the scene. (It was also Ekins who piled the motorcycle towards the end of the famed car chase in the movie “Bullit”.) McQueen’s career went stratospheric and he became the highest-paid actor in the world.
By the mid-Seventies the British motorcycle industry was in free fall. But one brand was too “cool” to go the way of Norton, BSA and all the others. The designs of Edward Turner and the “King of Cool’s” patronage ensured that the Triumph name would rise from the ashes. But McQueen would not live to see it.