Thomas Crown, the polo-playing, playboy thief played by Steve McQueen in the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair, had an affinity for dune buggies—and cool ones at that. The custom Queen Manx speedster from the film even managed to make it into the quick-cut trailer, bounding over sand dunes at the beach and kicking up some saltwater in the surf with McQueen behind the wheel and Faye Dunaway in the passenger seat. Fifty years after the film’s release, the whereabouts of the long-hidden buggy have been revealed, and a full restoration is nearly complete.
Not as oft-copied or as well-known as McQueen’s most famous four-wheeled co-star, the Bullitt Mustang, or his Triumph motorcycle from The Great Escape, in some circles the Queen Manx is every bit as celebrated. Built by Con-Ferr Products in Burbank, California, specifically for the film, the buggy started as a Meyers Manx, the original VW-based buggy first released in 1967.
McQueen had met Pete Condos, co-founder of Conn-Ferr, thanks to his off-road racing career. Condos was also co-owner of the National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA) and was involved in desert racing in Las Vegas and Baja California. McQueen tasked Con-Ferr with making the buggy unique and a whole lot more fun to drive, and it got custom headlights, extended side pods, a speedster windshield, custom upholstery, and a massive boost in power. Rather than the typical VW flat-four engine, the Queen Manx employed by a larger and more powerful—but still air-cooled—Chevrolet Corvair flat-six.
The movie’s popularity, and the Queen Manx’s role in it, spurred Universal Fiberglass in Scarborough, Ontario, to produce Hunter buggy bodies with similar headlights tunneled into the hood. But for decades the original had been tucked away, out of the limelight. With the movie’s 50th anniversary approaching, the buggy’s private owner decided it was time to bring it back.
Hagerty spoke to the current owner—who has asked to remain anonymous for the time being—and he shared details of his chase to acquire the car and prove its Thomas Crown Affair provenance. His journey to own the car began when he was a child, helping his dad build one of the first Meyers Manx kits sold in Hawaii by a businessman named Jimmy Pflueger.
As best he can tell, he is the fourth owner of the Queen Manx, the first being United Artists. Jimmy Pflueger, the aforementioned Manx dealer, purchased the car from UA, which had shipped the car to California after filming was completed on the east coast. Movie cars weren’t considered unique or special at the time, as demonstrated by the fate of McQueen’s Bullitt Mustang.
“They just called it ‘the red car.’ All they wanted to do is race it,” the owner says. After the buggy made its way to Hawaii on a Pan Am flight, Pflueger unceremoniously pulled out the Corvair engine and it’s re-geared VW transaxle. He had Lance Richard build a 2180cc VW four-cylinder race engine as part of the car’s refresh, after its time spent in the saltwater.
The next owner was Pflueger’s long-time friend and racing partner Mike Sheehan—the two often traded or sold cars back and forth between them. The “red car” was still in Sheehan’s possession in the ’90s, although the timeline of when and where it was stored is still being patched together. At some point it had been on Kauai at Hanalei, but in 1997 it was in Honolulu, and that’s when the current owner traded Sheehan a freshly-restored 1966 Mini Cooper S and a shotgun for the buggy. And it went straight into storage.
At some point one of the two owners had added turn signals and removed the low, speedster-style wraparound windshield in favor of a traditional flat windshield. The Corvair engine was long gone. Pflueger had given it away decades ago.
The plan had always been to restore the car, but for 20 years it sat. Every once in a while he’d get a phone call, inquiring about buying the Manx, but he’s never been interested in selling. With the movie’s 50th anniversary providing some motivation, the restoration efforts began to gain some recent momentum.
Before Jimmy Pflueger passed away in 2017, he helped clarify points relating to the car’s timeline, and Pete Condos has been involved as well, along with mechanics that worked on the car both in Hawaii and in southern California. Even the Manx’s inventor, Bruce Meyers, has seen the car to help confirm its lineage as the actual Thomas Crown Affair car.
The Queen Manx is currently back on the mainland for ongoing restoration, with hopes that it will be back under Corvair power and on the road by the end of this year. Luckily, all of the parts that would have been the most difficult to source were still on the car, including the custom dash and gas tank—all intact.
The owner told us, “We have the right motor, we have the correct Crown Conversion plate. There’s not a modern bolt on the car. Everything is period correct.” That means that the raucous, barely-muffled Corvair six will be as loud as ever, just as Thomas Crown would have wanted it.
There aren’t any concrete plans for the buggy once it’s complete, so the first priority is just to enjoy it after the long restoration. “It’s been a great journey,” the owner says. “I can’t wait to drive it. I’m excited to be where Steve McQueen was.”