Mike McQueen’s motorsports career spans nearly half a century and covers almost every segment of the business. In recent years this wizard with fiberglass has plied his trade mainly in off-road racing presently occupied with a couple of projects rushing to completion under tight deadlines but let’s start at the beginning. Of all the names in American auto racing history, three of the biggest are A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones and Dan Gurney, and all three share individual histories with Mike McQueen.
Born and raised in Laguna Beach, CA, by a wooden shipwright father and a seamstress mother making their way in postwar America, McQueen grew up destined to work with his hands. He began learning boat-building skills from his father as a pre-teen, and later picked up first the craft of pattern-making and then, at age 18, fiberglass, as the then-new composite material began to displace wood in boat construction.
While working on boats, McQueen met road racer Rick Muther, for whom he began repairing fiberglass racecar bodies. Muther subsequently introduced him to Gurney, and Mike found himself building custom bodywork for the Lotus 19B Dan raced in the1963 United States Road Racing GoldenrodChampionship. Thus did he stand on the ground floor when Gurney founded All American Racers in ’65, providing bodywork updates for the Lotus 38 and Halibrand Shrike lndycarsAARfielded that year while the first Eagles were being designed and constructed.
McQueen’s mastery can be seen in the iconic Eagle-beak nosecones of those first-generation machines. He was also working with the Summers brothers on their Goldenrod, helping them set a wheel-driven Land Speed Record that stood for 25 years.
One of AAR’s drivers was Joe Leonard, with whom McQueen became friends, and when Leonard switched to Foyt’s team for ’67, Mike went along, contributing his skills to the Coyote A.J. used to win his third Indy 500. Next came what he’s termed a “surfing hiatus,” when his talents were turned to crafting surfboards for legends like William Dennis and the partnership of Tom Morey and Karl Pope. Returning to racing in 1970, he hooked up with Parnelli Jones who needed bodies for his Indycars.
Jones gave Mike his first exposure to off-road racing, asking him to construct the fiberglass body for the fabled Big Oly Bronco that Parnelli and Bill Stroppe took to back-to-back Mexican 1000 wins. McQueen reckons Big Oly was the very first Trophy-Truck, a tube- frame, purpose-built unlimited off-road racer whose fiberglass body panels were quite trick, Nomex®-honeycombed internally and collectively weighing but 37 pounds.
McQueen again worked out of racing for several years, returning to build bodies for Paul Newman’s Can-Am cars. He then helped Walker Evans with his Class 8 Dodge off-road trucks, before joining Don Devendorf and John Knepp at Electramotive, applying his skills to not only the team’s dominant GTP prototype sports car program, but Nissan’s stadium off- road effort for Roger Mears as well.
Eventually he hooked up with Mike Smith, building bodywork for the Herbst family’s off-road exploits. “I’ve been doing Herbst work for 20 years,” McQueen offers, “taking care of all their stuff. The most recent thing we’ve done is their new truck, and for the last month we’ve been working seven days a week trying to get it done so they can run it in the Vegas to Reno.”
“I’m also building the new Honda Pilot for Gavin Skilton,” McQueen continues. “He bought his brother Darren’s car — originally RI a Kia — and we’ve changed it into a Honda. Honda Performance Development is behind it, so it’s going to be a real good car.” Interestingly, McQueen also built the body for the car’s original Kia con-figuration. Another McQueen body design is the Landshark Truggy, named that because of the vertical cooling louvers he sculpted into the sides of the body. Also his is the original Trophy Kart body commissioned by Nestor Berardi. The latest trend seems to be conversion projects, with a number coming his way in recent years, most of them precipitated by a team switching manufacturers or someone new buying an existing vehicle and changing engine and bodywork to re-brand it. “The original SPD Chevys that were built by Bill Savage,” he explains, “I did those for Brian Collins and BJ Baldwin, then Collins got the Dodge deal, so we took the Chevy and morphed it into a Dodge. “I have designed and built a Class 07200 Truck,” he continues, “and people are already beginning to buy that body. I’ve been doing some stuff with ID Design, Dave Perrault. He bought one of the 7200 bodies and took it to his shop and has kind of cut it up and made a few modifications. We’re going to build some molds off of it as soon as I get that dialed in. He’s got that sold to a client in Australia, and I’m going to send a set of molds to Australia.“ When the economy was real bad here two years ago, and I was sitting around doing nothing, I was loaned a chassis by the Baja Shop and I designed and built a Ford Raptor Trophy-Truck body for them. I’ve already sold five of those.
Most of my new stuff is on cars that are being built that will be out soon. The only one that’s out and running right now is driven by a guy in Arizona named Brian Coombes.” Throughout his travels McQueen continues to assimilate new methods and technologies he applies in an old-world type of shop in Gardena, California. He learned to work in carbon fiber when it became popular, but he’s moved on. “I don’t do much carbon fiber, other than dash-boards,” he admits, “but we have a new material right now called Parabeam that’s better than carbon fiber. It’s two layers of fiberglass cloth with a vertical matrix sewn between them so they stand about a quarter-inch apart. It’s soft and pli-able until you lay it up, then it becomes rigid. It’s cheaper, lighter and a lot more user-friendly than carbon fiber, which costs about S50 a square yard while this stuff is S20. “That’s what we used in that Skilton Honda, it’s got Parabeam all through the body. Everybody likes carbon fiber because they like the bling, but in comparison, as ‘far as strength goes, it’s not there.” So it is that Mike McQueen keeps moving for-ward, applying the experience of a lifetime to whatever comes next.