Steve McQueen's restored Ferrari stampedes toward $12 million auction

Marco R. della Cava
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Steve McQueen should still be around. For a number of reasons. First off, there’s little question the emotive actor would still be exuding an aura to this day, despite being 84. But he died at 50 in 1980 in a Juarez, Mexico clinic where he was grappling with cancer. Our loss. Today’s allegedly cool movie stars could rip a page or two from McQueen’s genuine book of cool.

So all we have left are his movies and those iconic photos. Every auto buff can summon up the image of McQueen in full Porsche racing garb giving the two-finger British “salute.”

And the cars. It seems anything McQueen touched and raced — which ranged from Porsches on tracks to motorcycles in the desert — has an almost magical cachet, one that far exceeds what the typical celeb credential does to a machine’s value.

Exhibit A is the blue 1970 Porsche 911S the star drove while on the set of his racing movie “Le Mans,” which in 2011 sold for a staggering $1.3 milion, about six to eight times what that model might typically be worth.

Exhibit B rolls up into RM Auction’s spotlight on Aug. 15-16 at its annual Monterey auction during Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance week: a dark red 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 (cam) with body by Scaglietti. A nice four-cam can fetch around $3 million. RM’s Ian Kelleher predicts that because it once was McQueen’s steed this Prancing Horse “will go for $9 to $12 million.”

The dark (not rosso) red Ferrari first turned its Borrani knock-off wheels (replacing original Campagnolos) in joyous anger with the actor at the controls, before then heading to the home of “Lost In Space” star Guy Williams and, much later, the collection of Australian racer Vern Schuppan.

Kelleher’s office in Los Angeles has had a nice view the past few months. “I just stare at the 275 from my desk, specifically it’s lovely rear end with its black California (license) plates,” he says with laugh. “There is no question it has an aura.”

The 275 GTB/4 could quite possibly be the finest car McQueen owned in his racing-filled life. The 275 four-cam was a noticeable improvement over Ferrari’s previous 250 GT, producing nearly 300 hp from a 3.3-liter V12. A fully independent suspension kept the car glued to the track.

Just sitting in this Ferrari with the engine running caused Jason Barlow to exalt in TopGear magazine, “Turn the key. and following a short whir from the starter motor the V12 floods the cabin with one of the finest sounds in the known galaxy. Honestly, I’d be happy to leave it at this point.”

But Barlow went on to bravely drive the car; he knows his way around Ferraris as the editor of the factory’s glassy quarterly, The Official Ferrari Magazine. He describes the experience as both hot and exhilarating, noting that while 300 hp is almost pedestrian stuff in modern cars the way those ponies manifest themselves in this brutally and wonderfully analog car make them seem more like 1,000. “The faster you go, the better it gets,” writes Barlow.

Schuppan has had the car since 2010, and most recently had the Ferrari Classiche department go to town on this unique machine, specifically with a mission to return it to original McQueen-delivery condition after in had in 1980 undergone a full conversion to a NART Spyder (only 10 of those rare beasts were ever made and original examples have fetched as much as $27 million).

Classiche spent two years on this 275 GTB/4, making it almost new. When it does sell in August, the Ferrari will once again put McQueen’s name in lights.

“This is an iconic model own by an iconic enthusiast,” says Kelleher with some understatement. “It’s really hard to put a value on the car. But no doubt someone will.”