Where did Steve McQueen get the idea for the two finger salute in Le Mans?
Geoff Corrin from London may have found the answer. Maston Gregory, who was a friend of Steve's, seems to have used this gesture after winning Le Mans several years before the movie was released. Geoff writes:
"Maston Gregory won in 1965 but the film was made in 1971 (rereading the clip I realize this isn't clear, but the list of winners on wikipedia confirms (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_24_Hours_of_Le_Mans_winners). I wouldn't say McQueen was copying Gregory, but maybe there was an element of an in-joke in the gesture, especially as Gregory was driving in the race that year and is credited in the film (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1406693/). Why Gregory was pulling a V sign in 1965 - who knows! "
A fan sent in this explanation of the salute Steve McQueen gave in Le Mans:
The question/answer on this site:
"At the end of the movie Le Mans, Steve McQueen raises his hand with two fingers showing. I was told this salute has some sort of meaning. What is it?
This gesture is English in origin. Hundreds of years ago when the French and English were at war, the French would cut off the fingers of the English bowmen when captured so they couldn't use their bows anymore. The English bowmen would therefore taunt the French across enemy lines by using this particular gesture."The fan states:
I believe this is a rather awkward interpretation for several reasons: 1/ I didn't know about this particular French tradition, and I don't believe any clues were given at US viewers to be able to understand it. 2/ it doesn't seem to fit the plot: why would this pilot would give "a sort of" finger to a guy he respects and is a sort of mythic opponent; as a matter of fact, they both end up smiling at each other; 3/ none of the two characters, neither actors, are either British of French and able to be aware about this potential historical gesture.
Moreover, I think there is a simple and plausible explanation to this: if you watch the movie, you will realize that Steve McQueen is doing this sign to the German pilot Richter who was his main opponent during the race. At several occasion during the movie, we are reminded that they fought in previous races and that it is always a close call between the two. The end of the race turns out to be a very close competition between Porsches and Ferraris. And in the end, Porsche finally takes the two first positions (McQueen alias "Micheal Delaney" is second, and Richter's Ferrari is third..., after a rather intense fighting in the last lap of the race... I believe this is, fairly simply and consistently, why he shows two fingers.
Yet another explanation was recently sent in by Karen Turner. She writes,
"Being English, I can explain. The 2 fingered salute is a English gesture for F--k you. It originated as the salute of the bowmen against the french but was used by Winston Churchill in the 2nd world war during the height of the bombing of London to tell the Germans FU, we won't quit. It is the opposite of the Victory sign which he used when England won a battle. This is a well known sign in the European military and as most drivers in La Mans would have understood it, being European, and the 2nd world war was in living memory it would have been fitting for the salute when he beat a German, in such a close race."
Chris Painter agrees with the "bowman" answer and writes:
"the explanation of the origin of that famous picture where McQueen is holding up two fingers is absolutely correct. The symbol started as a way of mocking the French by saying "I've still got my finger". The tradition continued long after the relevance of having a middle finger to draw a bow with and at the end of WWII it took on a second meaning- a simple "V" for victory, as in victory in Europe. Many people also be live that the modern "middle figure" gesture was derived from that "V".