Riding shotgun in Steve McQueen's $10 million Jaguar XKSS

In 1958, Steve McQueen bought this Jaguar XKSS from a local TV personality who kept it parked in a studio lot on Sunset Blvd. McQueen cajoled his wife Nellie into writing a check for $5,000—today around $40,000—and became the third owner of XKSS chassis number 713, a car that had originally been imported a year earlier by Jaguar North America.

XKSS number 713 was off-white with a red interior—a thoroughly handsome color scheme, especially for a convertible, but McQueen wouldn't have any of it. ("He liked darker, subtle colors," reminisced Chad McQueen years later. "He just had the greatest taste in cars.") Off went the white, on went British Racing Green. The red interior, gone — swapped by hot rodder Tony Nancy, "The Loner," for black upholstery at his Sherman Oaks shop. Not a trace of white remained. The car had been stripped down for the repaint, covering every delicate aluminum body panel on both sides; the doors open above the achingly tall doorsill, upwards and outwards like an Aston Martin DB9—had it been a coupe, Sir William Lyons would have been tempted to fit gullwing doors, a la Mercedes. But alas.


McQueen nicknamed his car the "Green Rat," perhaps in reference to James Dean's "Lil' Bastard." While he was shooting the show "Wanted: Dead or Alive," starring McQueen and his legendary sawn-off "Mare's Leg," he would sometimes tie his horse to the Jaguar. He drove fast and ran from the cops without second thoughts. Once, he tricked a patrolman into racing him and a supposedly in-labor Nellie to the hospital; Nellie was pregnant, sure, but only by six months. McQueen waited for the patrolman to leave, then told the nurses, "false alarm." Nellie was so angry she didn't speak to Steve for the rest of the day. "But, by God, it worked!" he said. "I didn't get the ticket!"

The sheriff of the LAPD introduced a lottery for his men: whoever could finally nab the son of a bitch would win a steak dinner at Lawry's.

Not a single cop won.


In 1963, McQueen co-starred with Natalie Wood in Love With the Proper Stranger. In the early morning before the day's shooting, McQueen would wind his way down from Solar Drive, across Mulholland, down Laurel Canyon Road, pick up Natalie Wood and drive her to Old World Café, near Sunset and San Vicente. Riding shotgun with the Petersen Museum as we did at Autoweek meant that in a metaphysical sense, across time and space, Wood and I touched butts.

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