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Steve McQueen’s missing 1979 Pontiac Trans Am pulled from Illinois barn

Motorious logo Motorious 12/17/2018 Calum Brown
a truck that is sitting in the grass© Autoclassics

Although nobody could envision that 1980’s The Hunter would prove to be Steve McQueen’s final motion picture, the fictionalized account of real-life bounty hunter Ralph ‘Papa’ Thorson boasted McQueen's trademark automotive carnagealbeit it with one major difference.

While the film’s pursuit scenes aren't as well known as Bullitt, The Hunter found Americana’s King of Cool playing against type; a hopeless driver with no penchant for cars. Portraying a character who, in reality, had captured more than 5000 bail jumpers, it was McQueen himself who proposed ditching his famous car racing abilitiesinstead torturing a rented 1979 Pontiac Trans-Am.

(Photo by Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images)© Getty (Photo by Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images)

Not to say the film was devoid of car action, with a total of six new Pontiac cars provided for filming from the marque’s show fleet. Two of these vehicles were 1979 model year Trans Ams, although the car’s shared onscreen action found both destroyed.

However, almost four decades after The Hunter hit cinemas on August 1, 1980, one of these Trans Amsultimately the sole survivorhas recently been freed from a barn in Illinois, with new owner Calvin Riggs, owner of Carlyle Motors, currently seeking additional information on the Pontiac from former members of the cast and crew.

Unlike Frank Bullitt’s 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback, Thorson’s rented Trans Am is ancillary to the plot; stolen by a protagonist and blown apart with dynamite. Sadly, as the first Trans Am explosion wasn’t spectacular enough for the film’s producer, a second car had to be butchered and sacrificed.

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Production attracted no end of local curiosity, including one farmer by the name of Harold McQueen (no relation). Becoming a regular on set, when transportation was required to haul Pontiacs around, Harold become a volunteer. Once the vehicles were totaled, Harold was then tasked with shipping the vehicular remains away.

As payment for his efforts, Paramount Pictures gave Harold the title deeds for the first Trans Am effectively ruined by Hunter’s stunt team. His final given task was to transfer the remains of the second vehicle to Peter Levin Pontiac in Chicago heights, but when the dealership instead refused to take the car’s remains, it was scrapped in an Indiana junk yard.

There was a significant problem with gifting Harold the surviving film car, however. Pontiac themselves hasn’t signed off the plan and applied pressure to have the Trans Am returned, fearing that it would be driven on the road after a rebuild. As it turned out, that was exactly Harold’s plan.

In the end, with the car tucked away in a barn, Harold’s new Pontiac received little-to-no attention as life provided new challenges. Rolling the clock forward 39 years, McQueen's Trans Am still languished in the same location, just as the film crew had left it.

(Photo by Bernard Cahier/Getty Images)© Getty (Photo by Bernard Cahier/Getty Images)

It wasn’t until earlier this year that Harold agreed to part ways with the film car after discussions with Stan Harvell, a family friend of Harold’s daughter. Flying out to inspect the Pontiac, the vehicle’s accompanying documentation proved the car was legitimate. It even retained the modifications made by Hunter’s stunt drivers. Stan just had to have it.

Stan contacted Calvin Riggs, known for his Trans Am passion, and the pair took joint ownership. Paperwork alongside the sale included documentation from PHS Automotive Services that identified the car as one of the six-strong fleet loaned to Paramount by Pontiac.

The remains of the installed roll cage mounts were still visible on the floorpan, with the altered dashboard untouched since filming wrapped. The welded sleeves as part of the rigged explosive sequence were still in place, paired to hooks used to tow and trigger the in-car explosives. Steve McQueen's final on-screen automotive counterpart had been secured.

The car’s future is still to be determined, but we can imagine it won’t be coming up for sale anytime soon.


Related: The 11 best Steve McQueen cars [Classic and Sports Car]

a sign on the side of a car: Even nearly 40 years after his passing on 7 November 1980, Steve McQueen’s legend as one of the world’s most popular actors still burns brightly. Just this week, for instance, we’ve seen the arrival of the new Ford Mustang Bullitt – a car produced to commemorate the 50th anniversary of one of his most iconic films, and its unforgettable car chase. But beyond his status on stage and screen, McQueen was a motorhead of the highest order. He helped to build a hot rod before he could drive. In the service he hopped-up a tank to make it go faster and he nearly won the 1970 12 Hours of Sebring in a Porsche 908. He drove buggies in Baja, entered ’bike races as “Harvey Mushman” so he wouldn’t be treated differently and built movies around his love of cars and motorcycles – always with him at the wheel or behind the handlebars. McQueen’s desire to make the most realistic motor sport movie ever led to Le Mans in 1971 and for The Thomas Crown Affair he drove both a Rolls-Royce and a custom, sand-jumping dune buggy. And who can forget the iconic Bullitt chase scene? McQueen was the real deal. Not everyone knows how good a racer he was, because stardom got in the way. But he had talent, plus the money and taste for a fleet that would make any museum proud. McQueen’s Machines by Matt Stone with a foreword by Chad McQueen is $26.95; MBI: www.motorbooks.com

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