Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Steve McQueen, the Porsche 908 and Holtville...

In February of 1970 Steve McQueen stormed an SCCA National event at a little known track called Holtville, in the Southern California desert taking a first in the "A" Sports Racing class. So what, you ask? Well, he also knocked two seconds off the track record set by well known driver Scooter Patrick in an Alfa 33.

A little background on Holtville. It was a deserted World War II air field located a little northeast of the town of Holtville. Where's Holtville?  About 10 miles east of El Centro, and about 10 miles north of the Mexican border. Made out of slab concrete, with nothing around for miles, it was the perfect place for SCCA to hold races starting in the mid-sixties. But, how did Steve McQueen come to race there with a Porsche 908? Read on.

A family affair at Holtville; Neile, Chad and Terry with Steve before the race.
 Images via McQueen archives.

During 1969, California Porsche distributor, Johnny von Neumann had campaigned a spyder version of the new Porsche 917 in the Can-Am series. The Can-Am races were sprint affairs and the early 917's were outclassed by the more powerful Group 7 cars with their fire breathing V-8's. However, the Can-Am races were a training ground for the small von Neumann team with ex-Formula 1 driver Richie Ginther as the team manager, Haig Alltounian as chief mechanic, and fabricator Dick Weber.

Neumann had met Steve and suggested he purchase a Porsche 908, and he had the team Steve needed to put it together. Neumann also knew of one such car that had been in storage at the Germany factory. The car had actually started life as a long-tail coupe and had been raced at Daytona as a factory team car, but had retired with a broken intermediate shaft.

Steve took Johnny's advice and Steve's Solar Productions purchased the car which had been converted by Porsche from a coupe to the lighter spyder in November of '69. The car was flown to California and the team went about fine tuning to make it competitive.

Steve's first outing was at Southern California's Willow Springs for testing in January of '70. With Ginther as coach, Steve's natural ability as race driver came back from his Porsche Speedster, Lotus and Formula racing days. Steve loved the 908 and was ready for his first race at Holtville.

So, I guess you could say, Holtville was his start with the 908 blazing the track record on the clockwise track, but not the finish. Next up was a National race at Riverside, however he failed to finish with a blown gearbox. Then off to a race at Phoenix with a class win and another lap record. It was no joke, Steve had true talent and based on his performance, the 908 was entered in the upcoming Sebring 12-hour. But, that's another story to be told.

Steve and the 908 between turns 5 and 6 at Holtville. Photo © Glenn Howell

Pre-grid with Haig Alltounian giving Steve final words with Neile looking on.

After the checker with smiles all around.

The family and Haig at Holtville...happy times.

After race autographs for fans at Holtville.

Solar Logo seen on Steve's driving suite.
The Factory Poster listing Holtville in 1970.
Holtville had a short and long course.

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  1. Thomas emailed: I witnessed the 908s DOMINATE the 1969 Targa Florio. It was a great day in Sicily!

  2. Great collection of archive photos of Steve McQueen!

  3. I was there that day. Truth be told, there wasn't much competition for the Porsche. But he was a genuinely good driver. That summer we went to Germany to buy a BMW2002 and I saw the Porsche poster on a store window in Munich or somewhere.

  4. ~ Have not seen several of these.

  5. John, this is great!