McQueen’s custom dune buggy from The Thomas Crown Affair could be yours
Steve McQueen’s dune buggy from The Thomas Crown Affair will feel the ocean breeze once again at Bonhams’ Amelia Island auction in March 2020—almost the way McQueen designed it.
Confirmed as the genuine article by the Manx’s inventor, Bruce Meyers, when it resurfaced in 2018, McQueen’s buggy is back with a Corvair flat-six, as it was when McQueen drove it. No one’s claiming to have restored the same flat-six for the auction, but “numbers-matching” isn’t really in the vocabulary of this unique Manx. According to McQueen, in a documentary made about The Thomas Crown Affair, “It’s set on a Volkswagen chassis, Corvair engine stuffed in the back, and a semi-reclining position—somewhat like on a Formula One car.”
Any F1 resemblance begins and ends with the seating position. Any time an F1 car throws sand, it’s a bad thing—and that’s what this buggy was made to do.
The modified Manx retained its Volkswagen chassis when McQueen asked Pete Condos to trick out the buggy for the Crown movie, but gave up its stock flat-four for the Corvair’s flat-six. The fiberglass body received headlights tucked into the front fascia, wider side pods, and some fancy upholstery (only appropriate when taking Faye Dunaway dune-diving).
McQueen skimmed along in style when he dropped the buggy down the front of a dune and ran across the rim of the sandy bowl with the colorfully scarfed Dunaway in the passenger seat. Naturally, he didn’t give this opportunity to a stunt double.
However, with all due reverence to McQueen, we’re skeptical exactly how the original Corvair engine made the 230 horses he claimed it did. The factory rating for the post-1964 Corvair’s 164-cubic-inch flat-six was 140 hp, and our resident Corvair expert says he’d stretch only as far as 165, given that we detected no turbo action in the movie scene.
From what we know, the Manx didn’t receive the turbocharged Corvair engine, so we’re left to guess what Condos hath wrought upon this Manx. Forged pistons? Monster cam? An overbore? If you have ideas, let us know below.
The buggy’s status as a movie car didn’t enchant its early owners as much as its raw abilities did. Being the admirable, outdoorsy fellow he was, Manx dealer Jimmy Pflueger flung McQueen’s Manx around dirt tracks after commissioning and swapping in a race-spec, 2180-cc VW four-cylinder.
While we doubt the buggy will clear the $2,660,527.62 that McQueen’s character snagged in The Thomas Crown Affair, we estimate the price in the neighborhood of $500,000.
Manx may lay claim to the title of first dune buggy (or, at least, to “the original producer of fiberglass dune buggy kits”), but the newly restored, Condos-built, McQueen-driven Manx will likely net a price measured in multiples of the most expensive Manx. Dude.