Steve McQueen’s Quest to Find a 1915 Indian V Twin

A tale of the late motorcycle enthusiast’s adventurousness on a journey with his wife, Barbara McQueen.

| January 2013

  • Steve McQueen: The Last Mile
    Written by Barbara McQueen and Marshall Terrill, "Steve McQueen: The Last Mile" is a long-overdue, brilliantly constructed glimpse into the life and mind of the film and motorsports icon in his final years.
    Cover Courtesey Dalton Watson
  • Barbara McQueen and Steve McQueen
    Barbara McQueen riding on the back seat of an Indian with her husband, Steve McQueen.
    Photo Courtesey Dalton Watson

  • Steve McQueen: The Last Mile
  • Barbara McQueen and Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen: The Last Mile (Dalton Watson, 2012) weaves Barbara Minty McQueen’s personal history during the couple’s three-year relationship with candid photos she took from 1977 to 1980—his years out of the spotlight—plus the stories behind them. In this excerpt, Barbara tells of Steve’s aptitude in motorcycle repair and of one of their spur-of-the-moment 700-mile roadtrips. 

Buy this book in the Motorcycle Classics store: Steve McQueen: The Last Mile.

I don’t know what Steve’s I.Q. was, but he had a natural aptitude for motors and guns. He could fix anything, tear it apart and put it together again without having to look at a manual. Some people are gifted that way and Steve tried to pass on his wisdom and knowledge to me. He didn’t get very far when it came to engines. One day at Trancas, he came home with a pair of overalls and told me to put them on. “Barbi, I’m going to teach you how to build a motorcycle,” he said. “Okay,” I said, not giving it much thought. I knew I would never have to rebuild the bike.

I put on my overalls and watched Steve take the motor apart. He methodically took each piece off the bike, explaining the function of the part, why it was engineered that way and how it helped the motorcycle to run. I realized after about ten minutes, I didn’t have an aptitude for this kind of thing, and then my eyes glazed over. My days as a grease monkey were over before they started. Being the dutiful partner I was, I nodded my head every once in a while and said, “Yes, honey.”

Much to my relief, Steve felt once the bike was disassembled, the day’s lesson was over. He said he’d show me the next day how to put it back together again. But we never got that far. He left the parts in the garage for several days and we forgot about it. I got tired of looking at the mess and called Steve’s mechanic, Sammy Pierce, to haul the bike and the parts away. I was finally off the hook. I had much better luck with weapons. Steve’s military training in the late 1940s stuck with him for the rest of his life and he was very proficient with weapons of all kind — pistols, handguns, rifles and shotguns. He knew how to field strip a weapon blindfolded and expected me to do it as well. We even had an escape plan in case an intruder broke into the house. The plan called for me to roll out of bed, drop to the floor, take a .45 apart, put the bullets back in and have the weapon ready to fire. Of course, it would have been much easier and safer just to keep the safety on, but Steve wanted me to be ready for a combat situation. Guess that’s why he kicked ass in all of his movies.

Finding a Bike on the Mormon Trail

Steve had heard about a guy in Salt Lake City, Utah, who owned a rare Indian motorcycle and side car. He just couldn’t rest until he saw it in person.

gerald estes III
1/17/2013 9:23:52 PM

nicely written excerpt - via zombie le mans

Tony Carlos
1/17/2013 3:09:58 PM

Cool story. The world is a lesser place with Steve gone.

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