Where did Matt Stone go wrong?
When an author won’t retract something they’ve published as fact which they later admit privately is false, publicly debunking what they’ve written becomes a necessity.
In 2017 I offered Matt Stone the exclusive on bringing my car back into the light and a chance to honourably correct himself. Which he declined, forcing me to openly challenge his version of my car’s history and claim back what he knows belongs to it.
First by sharing all the new research into McQueen’s Porsche 911s and also, by showing the basic errors and gaping flaws in Matt Stone’s understanding that led him into his mistakes.
Jumping to convenient conclusions
Chad McQueen inherited his Porsche 911S from his sister Terry in 1998, when she died tragically early aged only 39. It had deteriorated badly by then and it’s unlikely she ever used it, or that it was even running when she got it some 17 years earlier.
Chad had always thought it was the 911 from his father’s movie Le Mans and although it is remarkably similar, it’s just too early to be that car. Besides which, Matt Stone had located the real Le Mans car with a collector in the USA.
So on what basis did Matt Stone then decide to tell Chad and everyone else, that it was definitely Steve McQueen’s first Porsche 911 instead? The one he was known to have bought in 1969 but was unaccounted for. What evidence did he have to support that claim?
He had total access to everything Chad has but couldn’t find any photographs of it that were taken during Steve McQueen’s lifetime. All he could find, was a single registration document dated 10th October 1977 and not in McQueen’s name but that of his company, Solar Productions.
“if I had any documented information on any other cars, S, Turbo, or whatever, I would have included them in my book.” - Matt Stone 2nd June 2016
But it was slate grey, so McQueen’s signature 911 colour. It’s also a 1969 year model car although that registration shows it was first registered on 29th November 1968. It’s also an S model, just like the later 1970 Le Mans movie car. Which checked enough boxes to convince Matt Stone.
Another error he made in ‘McQueen’s Machines’, that Solar Productions “was shut down for good in 1971” may have helped with that. Thinking that Chad’s car must originally have been registered before that time. But the credits for many of McQueen’s subsequent movies would have shown him that was wrong, pretty basic fact checking.
Chad's confusion about his car's real history, and the absence of any photographs or more documentation for a car that had supposedly been in the family for 38 years, should have alerted Matt Stone to be cautious about jumping to conclusions about it.
Padding the proof
But with supporting documentation so thin, Matt Stone decided to pad the proof to strengthen his case. In ‘McQueen’s Machines’, he claims that Chad’s car was later registered in McQueen’s own name and that it was a specific bequest to Terry in Steve McQueen’s will. A legal document which gave it a cast iron provenance.
But it’s just not true. I’ve checked and neither my car or Chad’s is mentioned in the last will of 30th July 1980. He’s also been unable to substantiate that Chad’s car was ever in McQueen’s own name and would have published that, rather than the Solar Productions one, if he could have.
Blinded by preconceptions
The silver 911 in Barbara McQueen’s earlier book was a problem for him. Her eye witness identification of it as McQueen's 911 meant it was definitely a piece of the puzzle, just one that didn’t fit his new picture. Because it wasn’t the colour Matt Stone expected to see, or the model he assumed McQueen would have bought.
But just because McQueen’s second 911, the 1970 Le Mans movie car was an S, that didn’t automatically mean his 1969 car definitely had to be one too. If he’d had a better understanding of early Porsche 911’s, then he might have understood why McQueen actually chose a 911E in 1969. If he’d researched McQueen’s history a bit better, then he might also have realised that his shift from Ferrari to Porsche didn’t happen until the summer of 1969. In 1968, McQueen was still driving his Ferrari 275 GTB/4, a car that’s missing from ‘McQueen’s Machines’ altogether. In November 1968, when Chad’s car was first registered, McQueen was on location in Mississippi filming The Reivers so wasn't around.
“He was particularly fond of customizing his vehicles-no matter how pedestrian or unique- to make them his own.” - Matt Stone - McQueen’s Machines
And the 911 photographed by Barbara had clearly been modified so he should have remained open minded about the possibility of a colour change too. Looks can be deceptive when making a judgement about a physical thing from just one photograph. Although this one shows it clearly.
Matt Stone’s identification of Chad’s car as McQueen’s 1969 car was never certain beyond all reasonable doubt. There was never enough proof for that and it was no more than his optimistic best guess at the time, one that worked better for his book and a nice consolation prize for Chad too.
Always invalid because he never took the time to find, assess and positively eliminate the other Porsche 911 which he knew had a place in Steve McQueen’s life. A stone he left unturned in his research because he’d already made up his mind that what was in front of him was what he most wanted it to be. A classic rookie mistake, letting personal ambition overrule professional objectivity.
But any theory has to reasonably account for all the certain facts. It’s never acceptable to pick the ones that support it but ignore any that don’t. Or to lamely label anything as a mystery. Because when all the facts don’t fit the theory, it’s always the theory and never the fact which is wrong.
The unanswered questions
He included Barbara’s photo in his first edition of 2007 anyway but decided to caption it:
“This mongrel 911 is a mystery. The rear badge (not shown) identifies it as a 911E, the midrange offering, and other clues point to it being a ’71 model. But several parts have been jumbled around from earlier and later 911s. It also wears wheels and hubcaps most often seen on four-cylinder 912s. This photo was taken near his Malibu home in 1979, prior to McQueen and wife-to-be Barbara Minty moving to Santa Paula.”
So how did he know the car was an 911 E model? Even pointing out this can’t be determined from that photo. I know that Barbara didn’t take any others so how did Matt Stone make this very specific identification? As he won’t explain plausibly, my guess now would be from paperwork for my car that Chad had, the most logical place it would be. Something dated 1971 probably and suggests Matt Stone always knew more about the mystery mongrel then, than he was willing to say. But what possible motive could he have for withholding that information now?
The second revised and updated edition of ‘McQueen’s Machines’ was published in 2010. But the only significant difference is the deletion of the mystery mongrel. Had his error been pointed out to him by then and rather than admit to such a fundamental mistake in his first effort as an author, did he sweep that inconvenient truth under the carpet? Exposing that would be a motive.
Another stone left unturned
Matt Stone used other photographs and anecdotes from Barbara’s book but there’s nothing new at all. Because he never bothered to interview her before publishing ‘McQueen’s Machines’ and seek clarification about the Mystery Mongrel as he should have.
If he’d made that effort then, he’d have learned all about the used Porsche 911 McQueen bought for her when she moved to California in October 1977 which she believes is now owned by Chad McQueen.
Bluffing his way out
When shown the irrefutable proof that the mystery mongrel was definitely a 1969 Porsche 911, that was originally slate grey and with documentation in McQueen’s name too, the need for further research was obvious. But instead of engaging with that, Matt Stone just kept digging deeper into the hole he’d already made for himself. Trying to bluff and lie his way out of it.
But as the self appointed expert, our 3 year + record on this automatically becomes part of the Car of Cool’s history file. Posted online now, so up for wider scrutiny and discussion. With much left to explain and justify, his further contribution is welcome but unlikely.