As far as vintage Porsches go, the Slate Gray 1970 Porsche 911S that crossed the block at RM’s Monterey, Calif. auction this past weekend was nothing special, if you were to evaluate the vehicle based entirely on its mechanical merits and overall condition. Throw in the fact that the Porsche 911S belonged to legendary actor and motorsports enthusiast, Steve McQueen, and it becomes much easier to understand why the German sports car attracted such serious attention from bidders.
Perhaps “serious attention” is an understatement when describing what happened in Monterey. The starting bid on the 1970 Porsche 911S was $200,000, but it quickly became apparent that a six figure ante wouldn’t be enough to get behind the wheel of this particular piece of automotive history. The final price tag for the McQueen Porsche settled at a lofty $1.25 million - $1.35 million after auction fees – which represents the record for the most expensive Porsche 911 ever purchased at an auction.
What exactly caused bidders to throw caution to the wind and drive the sales price of the automobile to a previously unheard of level? The provenance of the car reveals a history showing intricate links to both McQueen’s personal life as well as a star turn in one of the seminal auto racing movies of all time.
The Porsche 911S that crossed the block in Monterey is the same one that McQueen piloted in the opening sequence of the film Le Mans, which was released in 1971. The coupe had been delivered to Steve McQueen on the set of the movie by Porsche personnel, an almost exact replica of a 1969 model that he had sitting in his garage at home. Eager to benefit from Porsche ownership on the other side of the Atlantic (Le Mans was understandably filmed on location in Europe), McQueen ordered a top-spec edition of the 1970 Porsche 911S outfitted with every possible option including a high end radio, leather seats, air conditioning and fog lights. The vehicle offered approximately 180 horsepower, which was a perfect match for its lightweight design, and the coupe was later outfitted with more aggressive gear ratios and a limited-slip differential by Porsche in order to improve on its already impressive performance.
The Porsche 911S traveled back to the United States with McQueen after production on Le Mans wrapped, staying in his care until roughly 1971 when it was sold to a lawyer in Los Angeles. The coupe eventually ended up in the hands of a Porsche collector in California, bringing with it reams of documentation that detailed every single modification or repair that had ever been done to the vehicle, as well as all required maintenance. Referring to this paper trail reveals that the Porsche 911S managed to stay in near-original condition, with only reupholstered seats, a repaint, a new windshield and the replacement of worn suspension components separating the vehicle from its tenure in McQueen’s ownership. The 911S showed just over 12,000 miles at the RM auction indicating that after McQueen sold the coupe it enjoyed a pampered existence.
There are few celebrities which resonate within the automotive community like Steve McQueen, and an even smaller number who have left a legacy of high performance and collectible cars behind after their death. It seems likely that the record-setting price obtained for this particular 1970 Porsche 911S will one that stands the test of time.