This car—chassis 026—was featured heavily in the 1971 film “Le Mans,” McQueen’s attempt to capture the essence of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a movie. The picture proved to be a production disaster and a critical and box-office failure, but remains a favorite of race fans thanks to footage of actual period race cars driving on Le Mans’ Circuit de la Sarthe. Some footage was shot during an actual race, but much of it was recreated after the fact.
Chassis 026 also has a solid racing history. It was one of three cars entered by JW Automotive at the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driven by Mike Hailwood and David Hobbs, it sported a unique version of the Gulf racing livery, with an orange roof and blue lower bodywork. Hailwood hydroplaned and crashed on the 50th lap, taking the car out of the race.
Following Le Mans, the car was repaired by the Porsche factory, re-bodied as a 917 Spyder, and renumbered as chassis 031. It was then raced in the European InterSerie Championship from 1971 to 1973, finally being retired from competition in 1974. It then passed through multiple collections, and was eventually restored to its 1970 Le Mans specifications.
The 917 was one of Porsche’s most successful race cars, dominating European sports-car racing and the North American Can-Am Series. All versions featured a mid-mounted flat-12 engine, but with different bodywork. As a 917K, chassis 026 features shortened rear bodywork, which cured aerodynamic issues with earlier long-tail version.
This isn’t the only Steve McQueen “Le Mans” 917K. Another car—chassis 024—sold for $14 million at auction in 2017. That car was primarily used for testing, and was briefly owned by racing driver and Porsche test driver Jo Siffert, before he was killed in a crash at a 1971 race. Given that auction price, chassis 025 is likely to fetch many millions.