Heuer Timepieces in the Film Le Mans

In the community of vintage Heuer enthusiasts, the story of how Steve McQueen came to wear a Monaco chronograph in the film Le Mans has been told many times.  Indeed,  Jean-Christophe Babin, ex-CEO of TAG Heuer (2001-2013) has proclaimed that “Jack [Heuer’s] greatest achievement is to have succeeded in placing a ‘Monaco’ chronograph on the wrist of Steve McQueen during the shooting of the film Le Mans in 1970”.  Jack Heuer’s narrative of this story, in his recently published autobiography, is the authoritative version of this story.

McQueen Le Mans Banner

What has received less attention, however, are the stories of what happened to the Heuer chronographs and other timing equipment used at Le Mans, after the end of the filming.  Jack Heuer reports that at the end of the shooting, he allowed the Property Master of the film, Don Nunley, to give the timepieces to crew members, rather than returning them to the company.  We also know that, with Jack Heuer’s permission, many of the timepieces from Le Mans were taken back to the United States by Mr. Nunley.  Over the years, Mr. Nunley has sold many of these timepieces to enthusiasts.

Recently, we have seen several of the Heuers from Le Mans offered for sale in auctions, first on eBay and later in high profile auctions from Bonhams, Profiles in History and Antiquorum.  This posting will provide a summary overview of what our community knows about these timepieces.

A couple of notes about this summary:

  • When we refer to a watch as having been given to a driver or mechanic “by Steve McQueen”, there is inherent uncertainty as to whether the gift was made by McQueen or the Property Master, Don Nunley
  • This summary is based on stories and lore, much of which has not been substantiated.  For example, when we say that a timepiece appeared on-screen, there is no way of being certain that the piece described below was the actual piece that appears in the movie.
  • We have added the reference numbers that appear in this posting (for example, Mon01 or Dash01), to allow for easier discussion.  These numbers were not assigned by Heuer or the property master.  Also, they do not suggest any ranking of the value or importance of the timepieces.

The timepieces listed here represent only a fraction of the Heuers used in the filming of Le Mans.  I would welcome information about other Heuers used in Le Mans, as well as any corrections or additional information about the timepieces covered in this posting.

Heuer Monaco worn by Steve McQueen during filming of Le Mans (Mon01)

McQueen's Monaco -- Filming

  • If you could only have one Heuer Monaco, this would be it.  This one was worn by Steve McQueen during the filming of Le Mans.  Yes, it has its share of scratches and dings; we can assume that each of them adds to the mystique (and value) of this watch.
  • Ownership history — Property Master, to D, to TAG Heuer Museum (2002)

Heuer Monaco worn by Steve McQueen for still photographs (Mon02)

McQueen's Monaco -- For Stills

Auction Catalog Description of the "Beauty Watch" Monaco

  • This was the “beauty watch” that the Property Master kept in pristine condition, for shooting the still photos that would be used on the movie posters and other promotional materials.  This watch has been through multiple hands over the past decade, but all were enthusiasts who kept the watch in near mint condition.
  • Ownership history – Property Master, to D, to F, to L, to M, to auction buyer (Profiles in History Hollywood Auction, July 21, 2012, for $799,500, including buyer’s premium).
  • Additional references —  OnTheDash blog posting, reporting on the sale in July 2012.

Heuer Monaco given by Steve McQueen to his business manager (Bill Maher)(Mon03)

McQueen's Monaco -- Bill Maher  McQueen's Monaco -- Bill Maher

  • This may have been the one Monaco that Steve McQueen actually kept for himself, after he completed the filming of Le Mans.  According to the story, he took it off his wrist and gave it to Bill Maher, his business manager.  Maher then gave it to his nephew, as a gift, a few years later (which explains the double engraving on the case-back).
  • Ownership history – Steve McQueen to Bill Maher, to his seven year-old nephew, J.R. Brongesse; sold on June 11, 2009, in Antiquorum auction, for $87,600 (including buyer’s premium).
  • Additional references — Description from the Antiquorum catalog (June 2009)

Heuer Monaco given by Steve McQueen to Michael Lederman (Mon04)

  • Michael Lederman is a Los Angeles based car broker and enthusiast, who was a friend of Steve McQueen.  Lederman visited the shooting of Le Mans, sold a Porsche to McQueen and received back a Heuer Monaco, as part of the transaction.
  • Ownership history – Steve McQueen to Michael Lederman, to Italian collector (for $45,000, in 2008)
  • Additional references — Posting on OnTheDash discussion forum.

Heuer Monaco given by Steve McQueen to driver Helmut Kelleners (Mon05)

Le Mans Monaco -- Helmut Kelleners

  • Kelleners was one of the professional drivers at Le Mans, and he specialized in the racing stunts.
  • Ownership history – Helmut Kelleners, to Jasper Bitter
  • Additional reference — Posting on OnTheDash discussion forum

Heuer Monaco given by Steve McQueen to mechanic Bevan Weston (Mon06)

Le Mans Monaco -- Bevan Weston

  • Steve McQueen gave this Monaco to one of the mechanics who worked on the cars during the filming.
  • Ownership history — Bevan Weston sold to Mr. Z (private collector in USA), late 2011/early 2012, for $75,000
  • Additional reference — Posting on OnTheDash discussion forum

Heuer Monaco sent to Le Mans and retained by the Property Master (Mon07)

Le Mans Monaco

  • No real Steve McQueen DNA on this one, but it was at Le Mans and retained by theProperty Master after the filming.  After returning to the United States, the Property Master gave this Monaco to a friend.
  • Ownership history — Property Master, to his friend, to his son.

Heuer Carrera (18 KG) given by Jack Heuer to Robert Rosen, executive producer of Le Mans (Car01)

Le Mans Carrera of Robert Rosen

  • The Property Master reports that he presented this 18 karat gold Carrera to Mr. Rosen, at the end of the filming, with the blessing of Jack Heuer.
  • Ownership history:  Rosen attempted to sell on eBay (late 2004), but the watch failed to attain the opening bid ($2,000); uncertain whether it has been sold since then.

Pair of Heuer dashboard timers used as prop in filming of Le Mans (Dash01)

Heuer Dashboard Timers from Le Mans

  • I do not believe that we see any dashboard timers on-screen in Le Mans, but Heuer supplied at least two of these dashboard sets to the Property Master.  There is no evidence that these timepieces were mounted in any of the race cars and it wold have been impossible for a driver to have used the stopwatches while driving.  The Property Master recalls that crew members used them in the pits, perhaps on clip-boards, but believes that these dashboard timers were never used by Steve McQueen.
  • Ownership history — Property Master, to his friend, to eBay auction winner (2005).

Pair of Heuer dashboard timers used as prop in filming of Le Mans (Dash02)

Heuer Dashboard Timers from Le Mans

Auction Catalog Description of Heuer Dashboard Timers

  • See above re Dash01
  • Ownership history – Property Master, to ML (failed to sell in Bonhams Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, November 14, 2009, with an estimate of $50,000 to $60,000 [Lot 209]) and failed to sell in Profiles in History Hollywood Auction, July 21, 2012, with estimate of $40,000 to $60,000 (Lot 662)]; then sold privately to M;  (failed to sell in Antiquorum auction, New York, NY, April 9, 2014, with an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000 [Lot 287]).

Split-second stopwatch used on-screen as a prop in Le Mans (SW01)

Heuer Stopwatch Used as a Prop in Filming of Le Mans

  • This stopwatch can be seen on-screen, in the hands of Capa Ferrari Corsa.
  • Ownership history – Property Master, to M (sold at Bonhams Petersen Automotive auction, November 2009, for $4095 (Lot 207); went unsold in Profiles in History Hollywood Auction, July 30-31, 2012 (Lot 665).

Driving suit worn by Steve McQueen in the filming of Le Mans (DS01)

Steve McQueen in Le Mans

Auction Result for Sale of Steve McQueens Driving Suit

  • Solar Productions gave this away in a sweepstakes, back in the 1970s.  The gentleman who won the driving suit in this sweepstakes held it for many years, and then sold it to to a Toronto memorabilia dealer (Collectors Studio) circa 2010; Collectors Studio sold it to M in July 2011 (for $155,000); M sold it in a Profiles in History Hollywood Auction, in December 2011 (for $984,000, including the buyer’s premium).
  • Additional information — OnTheDash posting describing the sale of McQueen’s driving suit.

Special Thanks to all those who have contributed the information included in this posting, including Jack Heuer (President of Heuer Leonidas in 1970) and Don Nunley (Property Master for Le Mans), as well as some of the gentlemen who have owned these timepieces — David DeVos, Michael Lederman, Mike Eisenberg, Jasper Bitter.

Additional Images and Information

Jeff Stein
April 3, 2014
(updated April 10, 2014)

 

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