Tim Scott ©2019, courtesy of RM Auctions
Steve McQueen, at one time the world’s highest-paid actor, a racing driver, motorcycle enthusiast and pop-culture icon, needs little introduction here or anywhere else. McQueen acquired, drove and raced dozens of fabulous cars. McQueen purchased this Hudson Hornet 7C sedan in the mid-1970s, and it was registered in his name in August 1977. This Twin H-Power Hudson was in his possession and ownership at the time of his passing on November 7, 1980.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1953 Hudson Hornet Sedan
Years Produced:1953
Number Produced:27,208 Hornets
Original List Price:$2,769
SCM Valuation:$33,000
Tune Up Cost:$200
Chassis Number Location:Right front door post
Engine Number Location:Upper right-hand side of block
Club Info:Hudson-Essex-Terraplane Club
Alternatives:1953 Oldsmobile 88, 1953 DeSoto Powermaster, 1953 Packard Clipper Deluxe
Investment Grade:C

This car, Lot 1078, sold for $165,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM Auctions’ Fort Lauderdale, FL, auction on March 29–30, 2019.

The sale of this Hudson Hornet is as much about the man, Steve McQueen, as it is about the machine.

First the machine.

Fast, innovative cars

The Hudson Motor Car Company was founded on February 24, 1909, and was so named because of Detroit department-store founder Joseph Hudson’s $15,000 investment.

Hudson was an instant success, and the company soon was the largest manufacturer of 6-cylinder cars in the United States. The 1926 Hudson Super-Six was a factor at the major race tracks and hillclimbs, a tradition that continued with the Terraplane, and later, the Hudson Hornet.

Hudson survived the Great Depression while many competitors did not, and they produced their final pre-war car on February 5, 1942 — then turning their efforts to building airplane parts, engines and anti-aircraft guns during World War II.

It was during this time that the revolutionary Step-Down design was developed, and it was introduced to the public on December 7, 1947. The car was vastly overbuilt, and it had a steel frame built into the body rather than the body riding on top of the frame. Passengers were cradled between the axles. This resulted in a lower center of gravity — and improved handling with increased legroom and headroom.

It was an instant success, with 117,200 Hudsons leaving dealer showrooms during the 1948 model year.

The Hudson Hornet was well suited for the shorter NASCAR tracks and with Hudson’s “severe usage” parts and Twin H-Power, it won 49 events in 1952. The cars, however, were overbuilt and over-engineered, which was a luxury that Hudson, a small independent manufacturer, could ill afford.

A merger with Nash took place on January 14, 1954, and American Motors was born.

Steve McQueen

An incorrigible Steve McQueen spent his formative years in the California Junior Boys Republic for troubled boys in Chino Hills, CA, but he went on to become the King of Cool and the highest-paid movie star in the world.

His first major role was in “Wanted: Dead or Alive” and he went on to star in “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Great Escape” and “The Thomas Crown Affair” among others. “Le Mans,” which is now a current favorite, was not well received right after release. McQueen was not selected for the lead role in “Grand Prix” because of his sometimes-abrasive personality.

One of his best films was “Bullitt,” for which he received an Oscar nomination. He did some of the driving in the endless chase scene through San Francisco, but the film went so far over budget that Warner Brothers canceled his contract for the rest of his films. He was also unsuccessful in acquiring one of the two Mustangs that were used in the film.

A car racer and collector

McQueen did, however, acquire three Porsches and the Ferrari 512 that were used in the 1971 film “Le Mans” — as well as the Ford GT40 that was a camera car during filming. His collection also included the Jaguar XK-SS that is now in the Petersen Museum.

His other cars were a bit more down-to-earth, and his 1958 GMC pickup with a modified 336-ci V8 was reportedly one of his favorites.

His love of motorcycles is well documented, and he had a number of vintage aircraft at his airport hangar in Santa Paula, CA. McQueen was an avid car and motorcycle racer.

Steve McQueen passed away on November 7, 1980. To this day, his estate continues to be one of the highest earning for deceased celebrities.

Almost everything he touched is worth multiples of actual value. I recall attending a Bonhams & Butterfields auction in 2006 at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles, where a pair of Persol sunglasses that he “may or may not have worn in ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’” sold for $70,200. I was standing next to the buyer, and he was ecstatic.

The 1970 Porsche 911S that appeared in the opening sequence of “Le Mans” sold at RM Auctions’ Monterey sale in August 2011 for $1,375,000, and his Rolex Explorer II watch sold for $234,000 on June 11, 2009.

At Bonhams’ November 2006 sale, his 1958 GMC pickup sold for $128,000.

McQueen’s name still has cachet.

McQueen’s Hudson Hornet

The 1953 Hudson Hornet sedan that RM Auctions sold at their Fort Lauderdale sale had previously been sold at their 2012 Monterey sale for “only” $61,600, which was still a substantial premium.

In comparison, a very nice 1951 Hudson Hornet sold at $104,500 at Worldwide’s Hudson Museum sale in August 2018.

In seven short years, the price has almost tripled. We can only call this “silly money” but if the buyer has the money and is intent on keeping the McQueen memory alive, that’s his or her business. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

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