The Le Mans film

The making of

Movie star and racing driver Steve McQueen had an idea to make a film based on the Le Mans 24H racing. He had a personal Porsche 908 K Flunder Spyder (chassis 908-022) in which he had scored second in 1970 Sebring 12H. For the Le Mans the car was converted into a camera carrier and was equipped with three cameras, one in front and two at the back above the gearbox. The car was driven by Herbert Linge and Jonathan Williams. They had to make extra pit stops for changing the film rolls (or actually the full cameras as it was quicker), but still managed to cover 282 laps which was not bad for a 3-litre car with additional weight and ruined aerodynamics. The winning 4.5-litre 917 did 343 laps. 1970 was the first year that Porsche managed to take overall victory at Le Mans (and full podium in addition), so the numerous cameras were at the very right race. Although half the scenes are filmed during the actual race, it is a fiction movie. This means, the driver names and racing results in the film do not reflect the results of the race and the actual winning 917 is basically left out from the film.

Solar Productions' 908 with one camera in front and two at the rear above the transmission© unknown (please inform us if you know)
© unknown (please inform us if you know)
The two camera lenses can be seen between the rear lamps, the hump is there to cover the film rolls. Initially the hump was closed, but either for the driver's rear-view visibilty or due to the technical rules, part of the hump was cut away.© unknown (please inform us if you know)

Unfortunately it rained a lot, so the footage shot during the rainfall aswell as during the night couldn't be used. After the race many drivers were used to film the fiction racing scenes in Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512. The combined length of the film rolls was an astonishing 10.000 metres. The finished 104-minute film is for true petrolheads - during the first half an hour no words are spoken.

The making of...

Frames from the movie

A Solar Productions film© CBS
Steve McQueen's personal 911 S 2.2, which he ordered directly from the factory in Stuttgart. According to the invoice the car was sold by Dr.Ing.h.c.F.Porsche KG on June 1, 1970, just shortly before the Le Mans 24H. The invoice was written to Mr. Steve McQueen, Solar Productions Inc., 4024 Radford Avenue, North Hollywood, California 91604. The chassis number of the car is 9110301502, engine number 6302094, transmission number 7700315, special order exterior color 6801 Siefergrau (Slate Gray), black full leather interior (special order), tyres Pirelli 165-15, country code C02 (USA), options 426 High.gloss wheel arch trim, 427 Rear under valance, 453 Blaupunkt Frankfurt radio with US-band, 470 Comfort equipment, 559 Air conditioning, 568 Tinted glass all-around, 650 sun-moon-roof. Most notable on the invoice is the price of the AC system, which costs as much as the special order exterior and interior together (AC added more than 6% to the 911 S base price). McQueen gets the car for dealer price with 15% discount.© CBS
Steve McQueen, an actor and passionate racer, both with motorcycles and cars© CBS
The #21 scores second in the film as the second car McQueen pilots after he crashes the #20 917. In real the #21 was the car of Pedro Rodriguez/Leo Kinnunen (retired, only covered 22 laps).© CBS
In the film McQueen is driving the #20 917 which in real was driven by Jo Siffert/Brian Redman. In real the #20 retires after 156 laps with an engine failure, in the film McQueen (or actually Michael Delaney whom he is acting) totals the car.© CBS
© CBS
© CBS
The actual Le Mans start filmed by the rear canera of the Solar Productions 908© CBS
The Le Mans start shot by the front camera of the 908 © CBS
© CBS
The sharpest frame where the #23 917 can be seen in the film. The real winner had to be left out from the fiction movie. © CBS
This is fiction, filmed after the actual race. The #17 Lola didn't qualify for the race. © CBS
Fiction again: in the race #11 was the number of the red Ferrari that scored 4th afer 3 podium Porsches, here #11 is a yellow Lola. The chassis of the same Lola was totally crashed later in the film after covered with 917 #20 body panels. McQueen as a Porsche fan obviously didn't have heart to really crash a 917. © CBS
© CBS
The huge crash of the #20 917 in the film was done with a Lola that was fitted with Porsche panels to look like a 917© CBS
The yellow #11 Lola is clearly visible here © CBS
Back in the days there were no animated special effects - this is real crash and the throttle is stuck at fully open position as can be seen by the spinning rear wheel© CBS
The blue "917" turned yellow in the crash and is now red after the crash :-) © CBS
The #29 camera car of Solar Productions can only be seen once in the film. Steve McQueen was listed as one of the drivers, but didn't get permission to drive from the insurance company. There's rumour that he might have secretly done a stint.© CBS
The film is packed with amazing camera angles © CBS

1970 Le Mans 24H results

Results in reality Results in the film
1. #23 Porsche 917K Hermann/Attwood 343 laps 1. #22 Porsche 917K Dion/Wilson (real result of #22: 49 laps)
2. #3 Porsche 917LH Larrousse/Kauhsen 338 laps 2. #21 Porsche 917K Ritter/Wiese/Delaney played by McQueen (real result of #21: 22 laps)
3. #27 Porsche 908/02LH Lins/Marko 335 laps 3. #8 Ferrari 512S Stahl (real result of #8: 38 laps)

Drivers who helped making the film were Aldo Pessina, Andre de Cortanze, Arthur Blank, Brian Redman, Christian Baron, Claude Ballot-Lena, David Piper, Derek Bell, Dieter Spoerry, Edgar Berney, Erich Glavitza, Gerard Larrousse, Guy Chasseuil, Ham Akersloot, Helmut Kelleners, Herbert Linge, Herbert Müller, Hugues de Fierlant, Jacky Ickx, Jean Pierre Bodin, Jean Pierre Hanrioud, Jean Pierre Jabouille, Jean Sage, Jo Siffert, John Miles, Jonathan Williams, Jürgen Barth, Masten Gregory, Michael Parkes, Mimmo Neccia, Nanni Galli, Paul Blancpain, Peter Huber, Pierre Greub, René Herzog, Richard Attwood, Rob Slotemaker, Robin Ormes, Rolf Stommelen, Silvio Moser, Steve McQueen, Teddy Pilette, Toine Hezemans, Vic Elford.

It took a year to make the film and it premiered in cinemas in June 1971.


Article © James Herne / Stuttcars.com


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