As iconic stunts in films go, there aren’t many scenes out there that revolutionised automotive stunts as much as the fence jump in The Great Escape and the chase scene in Bullitt.
Both of these essential Steve McQueen films used the same stunt driver, and his story exemplifies the ever-present relationship between Motorsport and stunt driving for the big screen. Bud Ekins was the man behind Steve McQueen’s vehicular stunts in the fence jump of The Great Escape and the car chase in Bullitt.
Born in Hollywood, California, Bud Ekins began riding his motorcycle across the hills around his home, a habit that would later cater to his career as a Motorcross rider and then stunt driving later in his life. Ekins’ most legendary accomplishment in Motorsport came in 1959, and caught the eyes of many professionals in two-wheel Motorsport and the film industry.
The event was the prestigious Big Bear Hare and Hound desert race, the largest of its kind at the time, and a scorching trail across 153-miles tested anyone who dared to compete. Ekins reached legendary status when one of his wheels broke a the halfway point of the race. The Californian rider had the wheel and tyre repaired as he limped to his team’s base at mid-point, agonisingly falling down the order. Once he was underway again, Ekins reclaimed the lead of the race and ended up finishing thirty minutes ahead of the rider in second place.
The ride, as well as others around the barrens of the Mojave Desert granted him access to the Off-Road Hall of Fame. He then forged an illustrious career as a leading stunt driver in Hollywood, featuring in some of the most iconic films from the golden era of the 60’s and 70’s. From The Cincinnati Kid, Speedway, The Towering Inferno and The Blues Brothers, Ekins still remains one of the most successful stunt drivers to grace the silver screen.
Ekins went on to coordinate all of the stunts for the 70’s hit Motorcycle cop show CHiPs. The 70’s show has inspired a CHiPs Movie for 2017, actor Michael Pena and Director Dax Shepard are determined to complete all of their own stunts for the CHiPs revamp:
Had Bud Ekins, the original stunt coordinator for the 70’s show CHiPs not highlighted the thrill of stunt driving by iconifying it in The Great Escape and Bullitt, stunt driving may have had to wait a while longer before becoming exploited fully in the film industry.