The Bud Ekins & Steve McQueen Edition
Best friends: Bud and Steve were desert riding buddies, and as they got older, collected vintage motorcycles together. [Bud Ekins]
Everybody knows Steve McQueen, but how many know the amazing story of his best riding pal, Bud Ekins?  Bud (along with his brother Dave Ekins) was an incredible dirt racer an ISDT medalist, and taught Steve all he knew about racing motorcycles.  Steve also took up Bud’s hobby of collecting motorcycles, although as Bud says in this interview, “It wasn’t as much fun after Steve died.”  You have to read between the lines on this short interview with Bud from the 1990s, as he’s full of stories, but doesn’t reveal a lot of the emotion behind his impressive career as a racer, stunt man, and friend of the King of Cool.  Bud was something special, and a unique character.  Watch the short interview with Bud Ekins here.

1: The Great Escape

“Steve could have done it himself.”

Steve + motorcycle + WW2 movie = big box office success. [Studio promo]

So said Bob Hoy, a stuntman friend of Ekins: “He did the lead-up to it and rode the bike wherever he was running in that escape, but Bud did the jump. It was a tough jump. You only can do that kind of thing once; you either make it or you don’t make it.”  It was a start of a great friendship: Steve McQueen was a bike nut, and a regular visitor to Bud Ekins’ LA shop (remember when motorcycle shops were someplace to hang out?).  When Steve was hired for ‘The Great Escape’, he asked Bud to join him in Germany as a stunt rider: Ekins remained in Germany more than four months working on the film.  Towards the end of production, McQueen and Ekins came up with the now-famous jump scene where prisoner of war McQueen escapes by motorcycle and attempts an impossible jump over a barbed-wire fence. Ekins acted as stunt double for McQueen, as the risk of injury was high and the studio refused to allow their star to endanger himself.  Ekins thus performed what is perhaps the most famous movie motorcycle stunt ever. That launched Ekins’ career as a stunt man,  and he continued doing stunt work until he was in his mid-60s, an incredible career of 30 years. Read more about the amazing Bud Ekins on the AMA Hall of Fame.

While Bud did the big jump, Steve was perfectly capable of making the jump himself. But the studio said no way… the bike is a Triumph TR6 with a Speed Twin front fender. [Studio promo]

Watch ‘The Great Escape’ for $2.99 on YouTube. 

2: Bullitt


Love the period graphics on this 1968 poster. [Studio promo]

In the 1968 crime drama “Bullitt,” Bud Ekins again did stunt work for McQueen when his character, detective Frank Bullitt in his green Mustang, catches up with murderous bad guys driving a black Dodge Charger, and a high-speed chase all over the hills of San Francisco (and Brisbane) ensues. Bud Ekins drove, did motorcycle stunts, and helped lay out the car stunts in the film: “One of the great things Bud did in the picture, he laid a motorcycle down on the blacktop during the chase. It was a hell of a shot. Anything mechanical — cars, motorcycles — Bud was a perfectionist doing stunts. He could blueprint an accident and make it look real.”  For more info, read up on Cinemeccanica here.

Steve with the famous Mustang, which recently sold for $3.74M at Mecum Auctions. [Studio promo]

Watch ‘Bullitt’ for $3.99 on YouTube here.

3: On Any Sunday

“Don’t forget to catch the ride!”

Amazingly, Steve McQueen is barely credited in the film, but dirt riding stars Mert Lawill and Malcolm Smith are! [Bruce Brown]

OK, Bud Ekins did not appear in this film, but  one could pose the question: would it have even happened without him?  Bud taught Steve McQueen the tricks of desert racing, and while Mert Lawill and Malcolm Smith are the putative starts of the film (Steve isn’t even credited in the this trailer!), it was McQueen’s presence that ramped up the sex appeal and boosted the film into new territory.  ‘On Any Sunday’ was an ad for California, for motocross, for flat track, and for motorcycling in general, and the masses followed, making the 1970s the most exciting period for motorcycling in the USA, with the largest rise in ridership that was never to be repeated.  Read more about ‘On Any Sunday’ here.

Kids on BMX bikes…inspiration for a generation. [Bruce Brown]

Watch ‘On Any Sunday for $2.99 on Youtube here. 

4: The Cincinnati Kid

“I don’t need marked cards to beat you, pal.”

Gambling, wild women, New Orleans, cool card sharks: trendy stuff in the mid-60s. [Getty]

No motorcycles, but plenty of tension: Steve Mcqueen plays a Depression-era card shark in New Orleans, whose ambition is the beat The Man (Edmund G. Robinson), in a swirl of hot women (Anne-Margret!), shady dudes, second line brass bands, cockfights, gambling dens, and a chase scene where Ekins doubles for McQueen. Adapted from Richard Jessup’s hard boiled novel, it’s a classic bit of period Americana.

…And Tuesday Weld with Anne-Margret make it easy to watch too. [Getty]

Watch ‘The Cincinnati Kid’ for $2.99 on Youtube. 

5: Beach Blanket Bingo

After ‘The Great Escape’, it wasn’t another macho war film that beckoned for Bud Ekins, it was a slapstick surf comedy that launched his professional Hollywood stunt riding carrier.  The motorcycle gang ‘The Ratz’ are always lurking on the edges of the fun in the sun, and Bud did the riding and stunts for the gang.  Yes, it’s silly, but we can use some of that too.

Bud Ekins stunt doubled for the Ratz cycle club, and their fearless leader Eric von Zipper – on his Honda Dream with crashbars! [Studio promo]

Watch ‘Beach Blanket Bingo’ for $3.99 on iTunes here.

Corinna Mantlo is the Editor for Film at The Vintagent. She is also the owner / lead designer at custom seat maker Via Meccanica. She is also the founder of both Cine Meccanica and the Motorcycle Film Festival. She has contributed to several books, including “The Chopper; The Real Story” (Gestalten 2014) by Paul d’Orleans. In her spare time, Corinna travels as a professional daredevil with the American Motor Drome Co. Wall Of Death.