CHINO, Calif. – You of course know the late, great Steve McQueen as a seminal cool and very talented actor, somewhat cult hero, style icon, sex symbol, pro-level sports car and motorcycle racer, and serious and committed car and bike guy. Not to mention that Highland Green Metallic ’68 Mustang GT 390 flying and crashing its way around the streets of San Francisco in the famed Bullitt movie. But did you know he was a somewhat troubled teen, virtually orphaned? It’s true. He finally cleaned up his act and got his stuff together at a school for wayward teens in Chino, California, called Boys Republic (BR).
This is an historic, wonderful and important place that’s been changing the lives of wayward teens for more than a century. Don’t know much about “BR?” The story is worth learning, and you can get the whole skinny at https://boysrepublic.org/. After BR student Steven T. McQueen graduated from the school, joined the military and became for a time the world’s most famous movie star, he often visited the school just to meet with and talk to the kids to help them understand how important it was to be educated and learn the notions of hard work and teamwork. He’s often quoted saying that without his experience at Boys Republic, he’d have surely been found dead in a gutter somewhere. He also supported the school in considerable financial ways during his adult life.
A highly worthwhile car and bike show weekend there is dedicated to the enjoyment of the participants and spectators, and foundationally to raise funds in benefit of the school, which is largely self-funded. The school management, staff and many of the resident students take an active role in presenting and operating the event, including preparing and serving most of the food for the pre-show dinner evening and other aspects of the weekend. Naturally, the show field is often heavily populated by Mustangs of varied vintage, particularly several dozen painted Highland Green Metallic, including factory Ford Bullitt edition machines, and a row of ’68 Bullitt Mustang clones. There’s also all kinds of classics, rods, trucks, and runs-what-ya-brungs -- between 400 and 500 entries each year.
Plus this show has lots of food to enjoy, T-shirts and wearables to take home, and charity auction items ranging from vacation stays to high-end custom cars – all donated to benefit the school. The show’s trophies and awards are also memorable; the show committee puts considerable effort into gathering stockpiles of primarily used car parts -- from spark plugs to camshafts to exhaust tips -- and the school’s wood and metal shop classes craft them into outstanding, and entirely unique, trophies. Two of McQueen’s grandchildren, Chase and Madison, have become the family’s ambassadors to this place and the show, and clearly enjoy strolling among the cars and bikes, hearing and telling stories about their famous grandfather, and posing for countless joint selfies.
Every year the show highlights one of McQueen’s seminal films. It’s really handy when said film includes cars, bikes, and motorsport, of course. This year recognized horsepower of a different kind, that being the four-legged variety instead of engines and wheels, yet making The Magnificent Seven no less a worthy honoree. McQueen was great in western films (and television) and this movie boasted an international all-star cast. Other show highlights for 2023 included a record number of vintage aircraft (in this case, six) appearing on the show field. The school’s 200-acre property has its own special-purpose landing strip, so the old birds can fly into and out of the show without being disassembled or hauled in on trailers. There are always a few old military vehicles (trucks, jeeps, half-tracks, ambulances and such) appearing each year, but this time the organizing committee dedicated a special area to them, and went all-out to procure a smorgasbord of old Army hardware to participate, giving them their own special class and area to do so. It was very popular.
A returning entrant class that always draws interest are a display of “hit-and-miss” industrial and agricultural pump engines; there’s a huge collector community dedicated to these most often single-cylinder workhorses that can cut metal, grind grain, pump oil or water, or power a generator. Some are restored to virtually concours condition, while others clearly have lots of hours and patina on their massive, heavy flywheels. Nearly all of them were running, and connected to various tools doing their prescribed jobs. Everyone gets a kick out of the unique “bang pucka-pucka-pucka, bang pucka-pukka-pucka” firing sequence. It’s a fan-fave every year.
Event Co-Chairman Ron Harris (his counterpart being Steve McQueen’s only son, Chad) added that, “Boys Republic and Girls Republic seek to give adolescent youth with behavioral, educational, and emotional difficulties an opportunity to achieve their maximum potential for responsible, self-directed lives within the community.” The school’s motto is, “Nothing Without Labor.”
“At the heart of the Boys Republic’s success is the program’s strong reinforcement of positive life values,” Harris said. “Among the most important of these are a strong work ethic and the self-esteem that comes with earning one’s own way. Each year, Boys Republic serves approximately 600 disadvantaged teenagers and their families. Most Boys Republic students come from impoverished communities. Approximately 80 percent of incoming students have been in other placements. Nearly all students – about 95 percent -- were referred with emotional and/or behavioral problems. Fully 80 percent of the boys and about 50 percent of the girls entering our residential programs are from single-parent homes.“
As you can see, Steve McQueen’s certainly wasn’t the only life saved by the Boys Republic’s Way.
Next year’s show promises to be a high-flying event, with the dedicate film being The Great Escape. Expect to see that film’s famous “motorcycle fence-jump scene” faithfully recreated on the Boys Republic grounds during the Sunday show. The date is June 2, 2024. Stay up to date or enter your vehicle at www.SteveMcQueenCarShow.com
FORD PERFORMANCE PHOTOS / MATT STONE & COURTESY BOYS REPUBLIC