Sunday 17 December 2017

Petrol in the blood, as Steve McQueen's son hits the byroads of Ireland

Legendary actor Steve McQueen and the Ford Mustang he drove in the film ‘Bullitt’
Legendary actor Steve McQueen and the Ford Mustang he drove in the film ‘Bullitt’
Steve's son Chad drives the new Ford Mustang V8 5-litre Fastback around Ireland
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

He is instantly recognisable as Steve McQueen's son as he walks into the room. There is a remarkable similarity.

But you soon discover Chad McQueen is very much his own man. If his dad was a legend on screen, then Chad is something of a miracle off it.

He's in Ireland to drive the new Ford Mustang V8 5-litre Fastback - the first made for Europe - around the country's roads.

It just happens to be his first drive in the new model anywhere in the world. So that's "exciting" for a guy who lives and breathes mechanical propulsion.

He's suffering dreadfully from jet lag as we meet in a Dublin hotel and after shaking hands wanders off for a big glass of restorative water. Jet lag is the least of his troubles, though. This guy is a walking repair kit - hence the reference to "miracle".

He can't sit still for a minute during our 20-minute interview because he is constantly shifting with pain.

"That's what you get when you hit a wall at 160mph (while practising at Daytona in 2006)," he quips.

He's had his fair share of major spills and thrills, yet he still drives a lot.

It's in the blood of this 1960-born son of a famous father. He wryly recalls how his family's association with Ford is a long one, starting in a major way with his dad's famous role in 'Bullitt' with the iconic Mustang car chase.

So it is fitting in a way that Chad should drive the latest Mustang around the country of Ford's origin.

He arrived on Sunday night with his wife Jeanie and started the drive at lunchtime on Monday. It takes in Galway, Limerick and Cork before getting back to Dublin on Friday.


For all his scrapes and near-death adventures, he is refreshingly laconic, refusing to take much too seriously. Not surprising, I suppose, given that he has broken his neck, has 14 screws holding together various parts of his anatomy and was in a coma for three-and-a-half weeks.

In that famous Daytona crash, he says: "I broke all my ribs on one side."

When asked what he feels was his greatest achievement in motoring, his instant response is: "Being alive".

And then a little glimpse into a less bravado side: "Thank God, I'm not paralysed."

He feels the cold and damp, so a trip to Ireland in April might not suit him greatly - which is why he spends a lot of time in the sunnier parts of western America.

His ever-present pain is obvious (he doesn't take medication) and he constantly shifts position, but his love of cars is palpable; his knowledge not just of motors but of the business and trends behind them is equally impressive.

"I just love cars. Even after my accidents, people still give them to me to drive."

So when Ford came up with the chance for him to drive a Mustang here, how could he resist?

But is it not all a bit petrol-head? Burning up fuel and damaging the environment and all that? He shrugs. "I like the smell of fuel, oil." However, he is impressed with hybrid technology and the extraordinary amount of power the likes of Porsche, Toyota and Audi are getting from such sources for racing and everyday cars.

Yet he sees himself continuing and preserving a heritage. When his children's friends see his vintage cars and bicycles "it's foreign to them" he says, with evident sorrow. "They have grown up with Priuses."

So is he setting a good example?

"As a historian, yes. But as a green techie, no."

How would he like to be remembered? Quick as a flick of the steering wheel, he answers: "Taller than I am." Like his dad, he's good with the one-liners.

Finally one last tale about that Daytona crash. Such was the severity of injuries he had to undergo 16 continuus hours of surgery. They wheeled him back into ICU afterwards and turned on the TV to help stimulate his consciousness.

Guess what was on?


Irish Independent

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