Ex-Steve McQueen, from the 1984 Estate Auction
1971 Husqvarna 400 Cross
Frame no. MI3845
Engine no. MI3845
As off-road motorcycle racing evolved through the 1960s and early 1970s, a movement began away from lightly modified street bikes toward machines designed from the outset for competition. In this period before the Japanese manufacturers came to be involved, the Europeans set the trends, building ever lighter and more powerful machines. Swedish maker Husqvarna came to epitomize the success of motorcycles developed for and extensively raced in closed-course competition. Its models won 14 motocross and 24 enduro (longer distance) titles through the late 1970s.
McQueen's Husqvarna 400 Cross was the latest in a line of big-bore motocross models that combines fearsome power and superb handling. Up to that point, many off-road riders endured heavier, twin-cylinder street models stripped and lightened as much as possible; even so, they were leaden and cumbersome. Along came the two-stroke Husky 400 Cross, featuring a breathtakingly lusty single-cylinder engine suspended in a lightweight steel frame. This was the period before plastics, so the Husky presented a sculpted aluminum fuel tank with a polished section to help reduce marring where the rider meets the bike. The polished/bright-red combination became an iconic symbol for motocross bikes of the 1970s.
Like many off-road enthusiasts, McQueen collected many examples of bikes he loved, using some as "parts bikes" and others as loaners to friends as an inducement to come riding. He was not above using his fame to encourage a sale. "Steve would apply the pressure if he found something he really wanted," said longtime friend and The Great Escape stunt double Bud Ekins. "He'd tell the seller, 'Don't you want to be able to say you sold your bike to Steve McQueen?' And it worked."
Husqvarnas were featured in the indelible On Any Sunday motorcycle movie, which put the company on the map for U.S. riders. Seeing motorcycle legend Malcolm Smith and McQueen kick up long roostertails of sand on the beach outside of Camp Pendleton minted new dirtbke enthusiasts with every showing.
The Husky 400 Cross was a brutal, unforgiving motorcycle, difficult to ride well, which McQueen absolutely did. It embodies McQueen's desire to be taken seriously as a rider and racer. His mastery of the Husky only helps fuel his legend.
Frame number MI3845 as presented here is perhaps the best known of all McQueen's Huskys by virtue of a known provenance and documentation from the time it was acquired by the star.
It was sold as lot 664 at the Steve McQueen Estate Auction at Imperial Palace on November 25, 1984 in Las Vegas, Nevada, passing through two subsequent owners before being acquired by the vendor approximately seven years ago. The certificate of authenticity plus the bill of sale issued to the buyer at the 1984 Estate Auction, and the original registration document in the name Solar Productions accompany the lot. To complete the paperwork file the original 1984 auction lot tag also accompanies the machine.
The vendor describes MI3845 as being in 'last ridden by McQueen' condition, complete with a spare spark plug duct tapped to the frame this plug can clearly be seen in the photograph from the Imperial Palace auction catalog. The preservation of MI3845 is a credit to the discerning owners post McQueen who have preserved MI3845 in its original McQueen owned state.
While other McQueen motorcycles have come to light in recent times, there can be no doubt as to the history and originality of this machine. It is a 'blue chip' piece of McQueen memorabilia, if you like, suitable for show, demos after some sympathetic recommissioning or museum display use, using the legend 'as last ridden by the late and utterly charismatic Steve McQueen' as a fitting epitaph.
- Please note, the correct engine number is 404206M.