In honor of the 50th anniversary of Steve McQueen's "Le Mans," here are some behind-the-scenes stories about filming what 24 Hours fans consider a beloved cult classic.
The insurance veto
In 1969, Steve McQueen attended the 24 Hours to scout initial locations for his movie Le Mans to be filmed the following year. After finishing third at the 1970 12 Hours of Sebring, he intended to take the start in the 24 Hours three months later, but his insurers forbade him to do so. However, he did hit the track while shooting the film.
Recruited professional drivers
Forty-one professional drivers were hired for Le Mans. Among them, six previous and future winners of the 24 Hours: Jacky Ickx, Richard Attwood, Gérard Larrousse, Jürgen Barth, Masten Gregory and Derek Bell. McQueen made available a private airplane to take the drivers to races they'd entered during filming. Derek Bell: "I got to know Steve really well, we shared a house together during the movie shoot. I think he could have made it as a racing driver if he had started earlier. At that time, I also think we did not realize how good he was."
A village in the heart of the circuit
For the purposes of filming, McQueen's Solar Productions built a village near the Houx campgrounds to house adminstrative services, the payroll office, a projection room and a cantine…where one of the very first microwave ovens was installed: "It's going to take over the world," said Le Mans craft services manager Hans Arn.
No finalized script
As strange as it may seem, filming kicked off without a final script. Three writers, including screenwriter Harry Kleiner and Playboy magazine car expert Ken Purdy, worked on the script in a trailer within the Solar Productions village. Le Mans props designer Dun Nunley: "Steve McQueen fought day in and day out to keep the story to a minimal concept. He did not want a love story, he did not want a typical movie to unfold. It was 24 hours in the life of a racing driver. That's what he wanted to make and that's essentially what we did."
Wrapped two months late
Filming on Le Mans began on 7 June 1970 and ended two months past schedule on 10 November. Teams had to be convinced to agree to extensions weeks on end and it also required the additional involvement of cars, workshop trucks, drivers and mechanics.
A box office failure
Upon its release on 24 September 1971, the movie enjoyed very little success in the U.S. or France. The financial flop caused Solar Productions to declare bankruptcy. However, over the last 20 or so years, Le Mans has earned cult classic status and is now a 24 Hours fan favorite, particularly for its depiction of the race in that era.
Check out the Steve McQueen collection in the official 24 Hours of Le Mans online shop.