Bonhams Motorcycle Auction
The above Sports Illustrated cover picture has become an iconic image for one man and one machine – Steve McQueen and the 1971 Husqvarna 400 Cross motorcycle.
And now that same motorcycle used in that McQueen photo has broken a new world record for Bonhams Auction this past Saturday. The Husky once ridden by McQueen broke an estimate-shattering price of $144,500 at Carmel, California, Bonhams this past Saturday.
McQueen’s bike was a highlight of the motorcycles, along with two Easy Rider replicas (“Captain America” and “Billy Bike,” owned by the Guggenheim Museum), and a 1925 BMW R32.
Following is the Lot information from the auction:
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.