Movie Cars: Five Facts About Steve McQueen's Classic Film, Le Mans

Before Ford v Ferrari, there was Steve McQueen's great obsession

Before Shelby’s Ford GT40 took on Enzo Ferrari in Ford v Ferrari, there was Le Mans, starring Steve McQueen. To movie fans, the 1971 film is a certified cult classic that is as dark and brooding as its star. The filmmaking itself had a dark history – after a troubled pre-production and partial production, original director John Sturges quit the film and the studio brought in Lee H. Katzin to finish the project. Financially, the movie ended up being a disappointment for the studio and also for McQueen, who gave up his salary and share of the gross receipts to help finance the filming of his great obsession.

Here are five facts about Le Mans you may not know, or perhaps have forgotten:

1.  Le Mans was filmed on location on the Le Mans circuit in France between June and November 1970 – including during that season’s actual 24 Hours of Le Mans race in mid-June.

2. Steve McQueen intended to race a Porsche 917 himself with the legendary Jackie Stewart, but instead is depicted starting the race in the blue #20 Gulf-Porsche 917K driven by Jo Siffert and Brian Redman. The race-leading white #25 Porsche 917 “Long tail” was piloted by Vic Elford and Kurt Ahrens, Jr.

3. Though depicted as the factory-backed Scuderia Ferrari team, the Ferrari 512s used in the film had to be brought in from a Belgian Ferrari distributor after Enzo Ferrari refused to supply cars due to the script’s (spoiler alert) Porsche team victory.

4. For the crash scenes, comparatively expendable Lola T70 chassis were fitted with replica Porsche and Ferrari bodywork.

5. The Porsche 908/2 that McQueen had previously co-driven to second place in the 12 Hours of Sebring was entered in the race by McQueen’s Solar Productions, complete with heavy movie cameras that captured actual racing footage. This #29 car can be briefly seen in the starting grid, covered with a black sheet (at approximately 17:51 minutes) and again at just before the 79-minute mark (at 1:18:42), racing past the starting line.

The “camera car” was driven by Porsche’s Herbert Linge and Jonathan Williams. The car traveled 282 laps, or 3,798 km (2,360 miles), and finished the race in ninth position. It was not classified, however, as it had not covered the required minimum distance due to stops to change film reels. It did, however, manage to finish second in the P3.0 class.


Thanks to Jay Gilotti, author of Gulf 917 (Dalton Watson) for help on this article. – Peter Jurew, managing editor