Steele Therkleson

It was with extreme sadness that I learned yesterday of the passing of Steele Therkleson.

Steele passed away on October 1st.

His name is probably not known to a great many of you, which is not the way things should have been. New Zealand born, Steele was the key engine man for Shelby American through the entire GT40 programme. Not only did his presence feature in many of the pit and workshop photos of the period as he worked on the Shelby team cars, but his love of photography also provided many of the best colour photos that were used in my first book, and many of the best colour shots in Dave Friedman’s Shelby GT40 book were also Steele’s photos, though since neither Dave nor I credited individual photos, only those in the know could tell which those photos were. I will be featuring many of Steele’s photos in my new GT40 book, and every one will be acknowledged to the friend I have lost. I will never get over the sadness that he will not now see his photos in the book.

I first met Steele in Los Angeles in 1982, and within half an hour of saying hello to him I felt I had known him for years. From that day I considered him to be a friend first, and a key member of the Shelby American personnel second. Sadly I do not travel as much as I would like, so the last time I saw Steele was when he drove me to LAX airport when I was leaving after staying with him for a few days in 2007 while I scanned – at Steele’s invitation – every GT40 transparency he had. I was in tears as I saw him drive off round the corner, as I doubted I would see him again. And so it has turned out.

I apologise for this posting being personal rather than GT40 specific regarding Steele’s immense contribution to the whole success of Ford’s Le Mans project. There will be time for that later. But right now, personal is how I feel.

My heartfelt condolences to Steele's family and friends

God rest you, Steele.

Ronnie Spain
 
Sad that he can't see the final result, but a good thing he could share his work on time with you and talk like "friends" sounds like a good guy.

may he rest in peace.
 

Jim Craik

Lifetime Supporter
Ronnie,

Thanks for the nice tribute. That is a name that is intertwined throughout all the Shelby and GT40 books I have.

Although I never met Mr Therkleson, I'm sure we spent some wonderful days together at Laguna and Riverside.

RIP Steele Therkleson
 

Randy V

Admin
Lifetime Supporter
My sincere condolences for your loss and the loss to the motorsports community... :(
 
I'm sure your friend Steele appreciates your kind words and remembrances. My condolences to you for your loss Mr. Spain and to Steele's family also.
 

Robert S.

GT40s Supporter
Supporter
It was with extreme sadness that I learned yesterday of the passing of Steele Therkleson.
Thank you for sharing this sad news about such an outstanding person who contributed so much to the world of GT40s. May he rest in peace.

I shall take this opportunity to thank you too Mr. Spain for your efforts and great contributions to all GT40 owners and appreciators throughout the world!

Blessings to you and yours, and to the whole Therkleson family, Robert
 
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I have been meaning to post on this thread but have only just got back in the swing of things after a trip abroad.

Extremely sad news indeed.

I was initially put in touch with Steele via Tom Hollfelder. Steele had had his machine shop relocated to Tom’s ‘Tiger Racing’ shop in CA some time earlier. Tom’s daughter Carol is a paraplegic race driver who has raced for several years in different series and Steele worked with Tom to design and construct the entire ‘hand control’ driving system for Carol’s race Ferrari. This amazing control system allowed her to race competitively against the able bodied drivers.

I have only known Steele for the past couple of years whilst researching our own GT40 X-1 project so my own interest was admittedly mainly restricted to this aspect, yet each conversation with Steele happily went on for hours. He was clearly such a passionate enthusiast for everything GT40 related as well as being such a knowledgeable engineer, who made me feel completely in awe of him whenever he spoke.

He was simply one of those great guys with so many fascinating facts & stories.

Steele had lived here in the UK for several years during the late 1950’s & early 60's. He spoke about when he was employed by Jack Brabham for 6 years as a machinist/toolmaker working initially on designing & constructing their Formula Junior car and jokingly boasted to me about his starting salary of £15 per week in 1959 rising to a whopping £23 per week by the time he left !

In the mid 60’s Steele relocated to the US after being offered a position at Shelby American where he went on to become one of their top engineers on the GT40 programme.

I recall one of his stories of when he visited a race event at Silverstone in the early 60’s and sat behind a guy who was chatting loudly with a similar ‘local’ accent to Steele’s own NZ accent - Steele fired up a conversation with this guy who turned out to be a chap by the name of Paul Hawkins! Steele and Hawkins subsequently became very good friends from then on, but Steele also remembered with great sadness Hawkins’ fatal crash in a Lola T70 at Oulton Park circuit in the UK in 1969.

Such was Steele’s passion with his GT40 work that, without prompting in any way, he even offered to go down to his machine shop & fire up his old lathes to manufacture some original spec parts of the unique gear selection & throttle linkages for our X-1 project, as he had done for the original car itself in early ‘66.

As some will already know, Steele was the guy at Shelby who dragged the stripped original X-1 tub into their yard before cutting it into quarters with a gas torch, loading it onto the back of his truck and personally tipping the remains into a 60’ deep pit at a south LA construction site in view of the US customs officials who had given Shelby the ‘pay up or cut up’ ultimatum due to the unpaid import duty on the car!

In July this year Steele had told me 'I’d better get myself over to LA so we could finally meet up', but he also jokingly told me “don’t leave it too long as I probably won’t be around for too much longer!”. My trip to visit our project in NZ had therefore been planned for the back end of this year and I had specifically pencilled in a stopover in LA to finally meet up with Steele. Sadly for me this long overdue meeting with this great guy cannot now occur.

Ronnie, from my own brief association with Steele I can start to understand how depth your sadness must run with the loss of this fascinating gentleman and your longstanding good friend, so my deepest sympathy goes out to you and to Steele’s family & friends.

A huge & permanent loss to the whole GT40 community.

We must never forget him.

RIP
 
I have lost some very dear friends this past year. Steele Therkleson was a great man and I believe a huge part of the GT40's success at Le Mans. The stories and the photographs that he shared are still amazing to me. He had a little black book with notes from his days at Le Mans which he allowed me to copy, something I will treasure for the rest of my life. Passing just a couple of weeks after Steele was a mutual friend by the name of Paul Brown. Paul was an outstanding driver in every sense of the word. He flew the Ford flag high and won the Pirelli World Challenge Championship in 2011 in the first of the new Boss 302's. Steele machined parts for Pauls car because he wanted to be involved in racing right up till the end. Both men will be sadly missed by me and eveybody whose life they touched.
 

Randy V

Admin
Lifetime Supporter
Welcome to GT40s Geoff (although you joined in 2008, this was your first post)...

Ditto on the passing of Paul Brown. A friend of mine (and many actually), who passed well before his time. I remember well back in 2000, when he pulled his Mustang over on the track at Laguna Seca at turn 1 to rescue a fellow driver from her burning Ferrari Challenge car. Carol Hollfelder and he fell in love and later married. Paul was such a good man and was a true gentleman driver.. Indeed he will be missed by many for years and years to come..
 
I know this is an old thread, but I was browsing the Lerner-Friedman book on the GT and on page 166 was a picture of an old friend. I met Steele in 1975 when I was 19 years old, working for Bob Mullen (Mullen & Co.) machining for his cylinder head biz in Carson CA. Steele had a unit a few doors down in the industrial complex and would come by to borrow something or another once in a while. I got to know him and had many long conversations with him and some lunches. At the time, he had a Birdcage Maserati in the shop, a race motorcycle or two from the 50s, as well as an old Ferrari V12 block. We shared ideas on some head port arrangements on a head I had brazed in a tube to raise a port I was testing on Mullen's priceless flowbench. Steele always had a quick smile and that bouncy accent. Although I didn't stay in touch with him over the years, he was inspirational to me. Even though he mentioned working for Shelby in his modest way, I didn't realize at the time, he had quite a prominent role in racing and I never realized he was part of the LeMans GT40 effort. RIP Steele Therkelson.
 
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