CHAD MCQUEEN, HIS DAD, AND A CAR CLUB NAMED “R GRUPPE”
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Chad McQueen, son of the late movie actor Steve McQueen. Chad is a very gracious man and was willing to talk with me at length about his famous father. For Porsche enthusiasts, Steve McQueen is best known for the 911S and 917K he’s seen driving in the epic racing movie Le Mans.
Unlike many actors today, he not only talked the talk, he walked it, and he did it with a strong sense of who he was. Steve (with a broken foot) and Peter Revson (heir to Revson cosmetics) led the 1970 12 Hours of Sebring in a Solar Productions Porsche 908 until the last hour. They officially finished second overall, although some feel they actually completed the winning number of laps first. At a minimum they won their class.
Steve than went on to make LeMans during most of 1970 at great personal self-sacrifice (family and business) to reveal automotive racing to the public in a more authentic way than had ever been done before or since. One of his lines in the movie sums up the feeling that many racing enthusiasts still carry with them today: “A lot of people go through life doing things badly. Racing’s important to men who do it well. When you’re racing, it’s life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting.”
The 1970 Porsche 911S that Steve is seen driving in the opening scenes of the movie 40 years ago has always looked and sounded “right” as it hugs those curving French country roads. In recent years that vision has served as an inspiration to a car club known as R Gruppe. Cris Huergas and Freeman Thomas of California founded this sports-purpose early 911 club over 10 years ago. They did so with the intention of bringing like-minded individual together to share their ideas of what a vintage sports-purpose Porsche 911 is all about – the pure essence of the original pre-’74 sports car: the 911R, T/R, ST and RS. The club name is based on the 911R and mimics “our group”.
Cris and Freeman envisioned the gruppe’s ideals as being something like this: “In the late 1960’s Porsche published a manual entitled, ‘Information Regarding Porsche Vehicles Used for Sports Purpose,’ written for competition drivers buying a new car and intending to participate in racing events. It highlighted all of the factory racing parts available and the most optimal settings for modifying a production Porsche 911 for various track, rally, and hillclimb events. With a standardized design theme of early modifications and an emphasis on balance & lightweight over raw horsepower, the sports modifications made to these early 911s ended up giving them that “hot rod look,” while making them much faster as well. Many of these parts can be easily bolted on and off so that a modified car can theoretically be returned back to its original condition if desired. Expressing one’s creative ideas in sheet metal has always been a hot rod tradition, so the sports modified manual is only a guide, not the end all reference.”
R Gruppe has now grown in popularity to where it has limited membership while becoming the darling of Porsche car magazines. It would be easy to dismiss the members as “elitist” if their passion was not so fervent and based on the credo that Steve McQueen inspired so many years ago. The club is even considering a “Sports Purpose” track day as a regular feature of their annual gatherings (also known as Treffens). Any vintage car club that chooses to fully exercises their cars in a safe environment is all right with me. And I’ll bet Chad’s dad would have expressed a defiant salute in approval.