When I found out that I would be covering the 2014 Monterey week, the name of one man popped into my head – Steve McQueen. The actor and motor racer was synonymous with the golden state, from his early days on the streets of Los Angeles and the California Junior Boys Republic in Chino, through to his acting days in Hollywood.
What I wasn't expecting was that I'd be bumping into his ghost throughout the whole of the trip. The first time came at Quail Lodge when, after checking out Betty Haig's Healey Silverstone, I wandered over to a car that looked strangely familiar – a green Jaguar XKSS. I was shocked to find out that it was the very same car that McQueen had owned, sold, and tried desperately to get back. It had also been the desktop background on my computer for months.
To top it off, his son Chad was on hand to talk about it. "It was my favourite car as a boy," he said. "I used to ride with dad all the time up Mulholland Drive."
Following The Quail, we headed into Carmel to see which local classics were parked on the streets. The quaint seaside town was also a haunt of McQueen's, and there are countless pictures of him on the beach, a place I found completely enchanting. Though warm, there seemed to be a constant bank of mist swirling in off the sea and a cool breeze taking the sting out of the sun's rays – no wonder he wore a jumper in this photo, taken in 1964. He'd just broken his wrist in a motorcycle race.
I then found myself covering the evening auctions, dashing between the sales to get all the top news for the magazine. We'd already seen a Ferrari 250GTO sell for $38m at Bonhams' sale, but the car that stopped me in my tracks at the '67 275GTB/4 – the same Ferrari owned by none other than Steve McQueen. I'd already known that it was going to be in the sale, but it was nice to see the car up close.
Just as I was starting to realise the peculiarity of this string of coincidences, and on the final day of our tour, we decided to stop into the shop of Bruce Canepa, a local businessman and racer who had impressed at the Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Laguna Seca. As well as an impressive showroom, Canepa has devoted the entire top floor of his building to historic motor cars – his own personal museum.
Among the treasures are several classics that Canepa himself raced, from a Torino through to a Pikes Peak challenger. But what struck me as soon as I entered the dimly lit room was a dark green 1961 Cooper T56 Mk2 Formula Junior – the very same car owned and raced by McQueen in 1961.
It was also the car that brought the actor to the attention of John Cooper, who invited McQueen to test in England following several victories in California. However, once the movie bosses found out, they gave McQueen an ultimatum: racing or movies. Just before the car was due to run at Laguna Seca, he made his choice. The track would have to wait, for the moment it was The Great Escape.
The final time our paths would cross came while wandering around the streets of San Francisco, killing time until our flight back. I didn't see a Highland Green Mustang come flying over a hill, or a black Charger thundering along in pursuit. Instead – and true fans of Bullitt will probably see this coming – I saw a green Volkswagen Beetle.
It was then that I realised it wasn't a chase at all. Like the little green Beetle, McQueen seemed to be ahead of me everywhere I went.