Steve McQueen's 100-year-old motorcycle goes to auction

The model was a trailblazer of 1910's motorcycle technology


A CENTURY-OLD motorcycle, once owned by Steve McQueen, could fetch £100,000 at auction today.

The ‘well restored, but still ridden’ 1914 Pope 61ci Model L Twin is offered in Bonham’s Las Vegas auction, with an estimate of between £85,000 - 99,000

Lot 126 was acquired by McQueen in the late 1970s, after he and close friend Bud Ekins undertook a countrywide search for such a model. It is unclear how frequently or for what purpose the film star used the bike, however it is described as a ‘both a show bike and a rider’.

When it was launched in 1912, the Model L represented the cutting edge of motorcycle technology, boasting a 1,000cc engine with overhead valves on detachable heads—a first for a production road-going motorcycle in the U.S. For high speeds – the bike could reach 70mph – and hills there were hand pump-counterweighted pistons that made for nearly vibration-free operation.

While the bike was rated at eight horsepower, it actually delivered over 15, initially via a single-speed (as can be found on McQueen’s model) and later by a two-speed countershaft transmission with an Eclipse clutch.

The model received an update in 1913, and until 1916 it was reportedly the fastest motorcycle in the world. At $250 it was also one of the most expensive – costing nearly the same as a new Ford Model T.

According to the bike’s Bonham listing, it features a ‘PowerPlus bottom end, which lengthens the stroke and thus ups the torque’. This modern attachment allows the bike to reach well in excess of 70mph. 

Following McQueen’s death in 1980, Engine no. 3L19A6 was sold privately and later went on display in the Otis Chandler Museum in Oxnard, California. When Chandler, who was the owner of the LA Times, himself died, the bike was bought by the current owner who has not only restored and maintained it, but also ridden it often.  

Ben Walker, Bonhams' International Director of Motorcycling, said: 'The Pope Twin is a very uncommon motorcycle of high build quality that represents a fascinating period and indeed a pioneering period in American motoring history.

'Additionally, having been owned by Steve McQueen, aka the King of Cool, just adds further allure to this antique motorbike.

'McQueen could've owned whatever he wanted and the fact that he chose this early motorcycle to compliment his collection - all of which he actively rode and enjoyed - is confirmation of its appeal.'