The Story Of An Accident, A Porsche 917 And Steve McQueen

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The Porsche 917 driven by Brian Redman and Jo Siffert during testing at Sebring. (Michael Keyser)
The Porsche 917 driven by Brian Redman and Jo Siffert during testing at Sebring. (Michael Keyser)

This story is part of Only A Game's Thanksgiving Leftovers Show. Find the full episode.

In 1971, Steve McQueen starred in a movie called "Le Mans." The production was plagued by delays and cost overruns. One of the drivers lost a leg in an accident on set.

There's this one scene. Steve McQueen's driving. It's raining. There's a crash.

Steve McQueen on the set of his 1971 motor-racing movie, 'Le Mans.' (Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Steve McQueen on the set of his 1971 motor-racing movie, 'Le Mans.' (Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

McQueen swerves to avoid a burning car. He comes around the corner, and there's another car, going much more slowly, right in front of him. He swerves again, but this time, he's sent crashing into the guardrail.

The sound cuts in and out as we watch the accident replay over and over.

Sound of the crash. Cut to a close-up of McQueen’s face — wide eyed but stoic. Cut to a slow-mo shot of his car breaking apart and a bit more sound.

I suppose the scene is meant to convey a sense of what it's like to crash a race car going 170 miles per hour.

But Brian Redman doesn't need a movie for that. He lived through it. During his third and final major crash, at Saint-Jovite in 1977, his car flipped and the roll bar broke. I've seen a picture of his helmet. The paint is scraped away where his head dragged along the road.

He broke his neck, smashed his shoulder, split his breastbone, broke his ribs. His heart stopped. Then the ambulance blew a tire on the way to the hospital.

Somehow, Redman survived. After a few weeks, Brian's wife, Marion, took him home to England. But his recovery was elusive.

"You know, it was bruising of the brain, and I didn't want to do anything. I just laid in bed all day or laid on the sofa all day," Redman remembers. "And Marion used to take me out in the car with her driving, and we'd drive around. And one day, and this would probably be two months after the accident, we saw, near the village, a farm that was being broken up and was for sale in parts.

"Marion says it was the first time I'd shown any interest in anything," he says. "And so we tried to buy it."

The farmhouse was being sold at auction, which meant Brian and Marion needed cash.

"So, I went to see the bank manager in Skipton, and I said, 'Can you give me a bridging loan? Because the house I'm in is worth about what this farm is going to go for at the auction,' " Redman recalls. "He said, 'What have you got in cash?' I said, 'I haven't got anything.' He said, 'What can you sell?' "

Brian had exactly one prize possession: a Porsche 917. And not just any Porsche 917. It was the same one that Steve McQueen drove in that movie, "Le Mans." Brian had bought it for about $19,000 a couple years earlier, in 1975.

"I said, 'I've got a Porsche 917.' 'What's it worth?' I said, 'It's worth $50,000.' He said, 'Get that, and I'll lend you the rest,' " Redman says.

Brian sold the car to his friend, Richard Atwood, for $50,000.

"And about 10 years after that, he said, 'I want to sell the 917.' And it sold for $1.2 million," Redman says.

The current owner of the 917 hasn't disclosed how much he paid for it. But we do know his name …

"The car today belongs to Jerry Seinfeld," Redman says, "and is worth $30 million."

Brian Redman laughs when he tells this story. He laughs when he tells all his stories.

"Brian Redman: Daring Drivers, Deadly Tracks"
"Brian Redman: Daring Drivers, Deadly Tracks"

"You know, what do you do with life?" he asks. "You either spend your life looking back on the things that might have done, or you might have done, or you try to look forward, and I tried to look forward."

Brian Redman didn't make millions as a race car driver. If he'd held on to the 917 for longer, it could have paid for a comfortable retirement. But this story does have a happy ending. Brian and Marion bought that farmhouse. Life was good there. And better yet, Brian started getting better.

"By September, October, I was walking reasonably and started trying to jog a little bit," he says.

By December, Brian felt like he was ready to drive again. But he wanted to take it easy. So he called a friend who ran a team.

"And I said, 'Can you find me a good car but not a winning car for Sebring, the 12-hour race?' "

The friend put Brian in a second-tier car.

"And blow me down, we run the race," Redman says, laughing. "Unbelievable."

Read more about Brian Redman in his memoir, "Brian Redman: Daring Drivers, Deadly Tracks."

This segment aired on November 25, 2017.


Karen Given Executive Producer/Interim Host, Only A Game
Karen is the executive producer for WBUR's Only A Game.



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