Collectibles

"Captain America" chopper from Easy Rider could sell for $1 million plus at auction

The "Captain America" chopper ridden by Peter Fonda in Easy Rider is expected to become the world’s most valuable
The "Captain America" chopper ridden by Peter Fonda in Easy Rider is expected to become the world’s most valuable
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Arguably the world’s most famous and instantly recognizable motorcycle, the chopped Panhead Harley-Davidson played a central role in one of the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies of all-time
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Arguably the world’s most famous and instantly recognizable motorcycle, the chopped Panhead Harley-Davidson played a central role in one of the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies of all-time
There is some conjecture as to how many “Captain America” bikes were built from Harley FLH police bikes for the film
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There is some conjecture as to how many “Captain America” bikes were built from Harley FLH police bikes for the film
In addition to this bike being ridden in the film, it was the bike used (and crashed and burned) during the climactic final sequence ... then subsequently restored
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In addition to this bike being ridden in the film, it was the bike used (and crashed and burned) during the climactic final sequence ... then subsequently restored
The "Captain America" chopper ridden by Peter Fonda in Easy Rider is expected to become the world’s most valuable
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The "Captain America" chopper ridden by Peter Fonda in Easy Rider is expected to become the world’s most valuable
The Stars-and-Stripes-adorned "Captain America" chopper
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The Stars-and-Stripes-adorned "Captain America" chopper
Arguably the world’s most famous and instantly recognizable motorcycle, the chopped Panhead Harley-Davidson played a central role in one of the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies of all-time, starring alongside Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and a young actor in his first major role, Jack Nicholson. It is the bike ridden during the film while Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild" became a biker anthem which endures to this day.
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Arguably the world’s most famous and instantly recognizable motorcycle, the chopped Panhead Harley-Davidson played a central role in one of the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies of all-time, starring alongside Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and a young actor in his first major role, Jack Nicholson. It is the bike ridden during the film while Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild" became a biker anthem which endures to this day.
The world's most valuable motorcycle to sell at auction - the 1910 Winchester
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The world's most valuable motorcycle to sell at auction - the 1910 Winchester
The most expensive motorcycle to ever change hands was a 1948 Vincent Black Lightning famously ridden by Rollie Free at Bonneville Salt Flats to a then record speed of a 150.313 mph (241.905 km/h) over the "flying mile" on September 13, 1948.
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The most expensive motorcycle to ever change hands was a 1948 Vincent Black Lightning famously ridden by Rollie Free at Bonneville Salt Flats to a then record speed of a 150.313 mph (241.905 km/h) over the "flying mile" on September 13, 1948.
The “Bathing Suit Bike” was sold in late 2011 for US$1,000,000.
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The “Bathing Suit Bike” was sold in late 2011 for US$1,000,000.

The Stars-and-Stripes-adorned "Captain America" chopper ridden by Peter Fonda in the classic American road movie Easy Rider will cross the auction block on October 17 and is expected to become the world's most valuable motorcycle if its estimated sale price of US$1,000,000 to US$1,200,000 is met.

Arguably the world's most famous and instantly recognizable motorcycle, the chopped Panhead Harley-Davidson played a central role in one of the American Film Institute's top 100 movies of all-time, starring alongside Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and a young actor in his first major role, Jack Nicholson.

The Panhead Harley began life as a Harley-Davidson FLH police bike used by the Los Angeles Police Department before being purchased second-hand and radically-modified for its film role – Harley-Davidson would not supply motorcycles for the film because of the "outlaw" motorcycle image it portrayed.

There is some conjecture as to how many "Captain America" bikes were built from Harley FLH police bikes for the film. Movie cars and motorcycles are often duplicated so that filming can continue uninterrupted in case of mechanical issues or mishap. Popular culture seems to believe it was two bikes, but Paul D'Orleans of the Vintagent blog, who has researched the chopper extensively for his upcoming book "Chopper: the Real Story," believes it was four bikes.

Arguably the world’s most famous and instantly recognizable motorcycle, the chopped Panhead Harley-Davidson played a central role in one of the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies of all-time, starring alongside Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and a young actor in his first major role, Jack Nicholson. It is the bike ridden during the film while Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild" became a biker anthem which endures to this day.
Arguably the world’s most famous and instantly recognizable motorcycle, the chopped Panhead Harley-Davidson played a central role in one of the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies of all-time, starring alongside Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and a young actor in his first major role, Jack Nicholson. It is the bike ridden during the film while Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild" became a biker anthem which endures to this day.

One (or three) of those bikes was/were stolen between the completion of filming and the release of the film, and their whereabouts are unknown. A few months ago a once-stolen Ferrari 375 sold for GBP10,753,50 (US$16,380,895) and became one of the ten most valuable cars ever sold at auction. Its redemption came after a long and bitter legal dispute that lasted 23 years. The stolen Captain America chopper(s) is/are unlikely to reappear, though it is a slim possibility. Harley-Davidsons have always been the most likely motorcycle marque to be stolen – invariably the stolen bikes are broken up for parts and that's probably what happened.

The bike to be auctioned shared filming duties with its identical siblings equally during filming, ridden by Wyatt (Fonda) and with George Hanson (Nicholson) as passenger. During filming the radically-chopped hardtail Panhead sometimes proved to be a handful to ride (if you've never ridden a chopper, it's unquestionably a triumph of form over function) and during one mishap it got so far out-of-shape that Nicholson's knees broke one of Fonda's ribs.

In addition to this bike being ridden in the film, it was the bike used (and crashed and burned) during the climactic final sequence. Following production, Fonda gave the remains of the motorcycle to fellow actor, Dan Haggerty, who helped maintain the motorcycles during filming and its provenance is assured with a letter of authenticity from Fonda. It is perhaps fortuitous that it was partially destroyed (and subsequently restored) otherwise it would no doubt have been stolen with the other(s).

Easy Rider was a low-budget film that became a cinema landmark when it was released in 1969, grossing more than US$60 million worldwide and capturing the essence of sixties angst with its drug use, counter-culture themes and a soundtrack comprised of sixties rock tracks, which has subsequently been judged by Time magazine as one of the 25 most significant film soundtracks of all-time.

Indeed, the soundtrack cost US$1,000,000 to license, almost three times the film's entire US$360,000 production budget. The global success of the film significantly contributed to the massive popularity of such anthems of the sixties as Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild, the Fraternity of Man's Don't Bogart that joint, my friend, Bob Dylan's It's Alright, Ma, I'm Only Bleeding, The Who's I Can See for Miles, Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale, The Moody Blues' Nights in White Satin, Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit, Eric Burdon's San Franciscan Nights, Joe Cocker's With a Little Help from My Friends, Thunderclap Newman's Something in the Air and Jimi Hendrix' If 6 Was 9.

While film scores have always helped to imprint and recall visual imagery via radio, the synergistic relationship between Easy Rider's sound track and its success began an "audio-imprinting" trend, as did the subsequent rise of "new Hollywood" which the film is credited with catalyzing.

The Sixties was an era of big budget films and the independently-produced Easy Rider became one of the top three earning films of the year behind Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Midnight Cowboy.

The Stars-and-Stripes-adorned "Captain America" chopper
The Stars-and-Stripes-adorned "Captain America" chopper

The auctioneer (Profiles in History) press release perfectly captures the significance of the bike: "Captain America's stretched-out American-flag-adorned panhead chopper is one of the most iconic images in American film," noted Joseph M. Maddalena, President and Chief Operating Officer, Profiles in History. "The bike evokes powerful emotions even in non-bikers. It personifies the 60's, all of the good and the bad that decade brought. This is an opportunity for someone to own a pure piece of nostalgic entertainment history."

The significance of the motorcycle as babyboomer icon of the sixties suggests the bike will almost certainly become the most valuable motorcycle ever sold at auction if it meets its reserve. In 2007, the American Flag Patch worn on the back of Peter Fonda's jacket in the film sold for US$89,625 at auction.

Should the Captain America bike sell in its anticipated range, it will also become the most valuable roadgoing motorcycle ever sold.

Currently, the most valuable motorcycle ever sold at auction was a 1910 Winchester motorcycle, which sold on October 31, 2013 for US$580,000, emphasizing that provenance is very important in determining the price any object fetches at auction.

The world's most valuable motorcycle to sell at auction - the 1910 Winchester
The world's most valuable motorcycle to sell at auction - the 1910 Winchester

The most expensive motorcycle to ever change hands was a 1948 Vincent Black Lightning famously ridden by Rollie Free at Bonneville Salt Flats to a then record speed of a 150.313 mph (241.905 km/h) over the "flying mile" on September 13, 1948.

The “Bathing Suit Bike” was sold in late 2011 for US$1,000,000.
The “Bathing Suit Bike” was sold in late 2011 for US$1,000,000.

The "Bathing Suit Bike" was sold by elite Texan rare motorcycle agency and restoration service Harris Vincent Gallery to well-known collector Chip Connor in late 2011 for US$1,000,000.

5 comments
wahip
While most desirable machines would have some great engineering or creative design for their day, Capt. America is still one of the most ridiculous and dangerous designs ever to come out of a back-alley chopper shop. You'd have to be a true movie buff to pay more than $10K for this thing.
mookins
I read that those apehanger handlebars were so bad ergonomically that at the end of a day's filming, Mcqueen had to be fed by hand- he couldn't hold a fork.
Ernie Turpin Sr.
Biggest fraud in motorcycle history? I Hear the original Captain America bike is up for sale. Huh? I didn’t know there was one. Where did it come from? Profiles in History must have found it because they are auctioning off, in my opinion, an obvious fake or rebuilt bike as the original. Opening bid is a cool million bucks, so dig deep and get ta biddin on this thing. There are thousands of stories about this bike out there and probably the same amount of C.A. replicas I have loosely followed the two C.A. bikes over the years seeing the movie more times than I care to count. I have seen all kind of replicas, including japanese and others, at bike shows, been to most of the big rallies where there always seems to be somebody claiming to have the original but turns out to be a Panzer, C.M.C or a sweet homemade replica. I have written about a replica bike, used by Peter Fonda for a benefit to raise money for a friend of his, where he states, on a website he thought it [ the replica ] looked better than the original. I’m looking at Fonda’s memoirs, ‘Don’t tell Dad’ ( Chapter fourteen page 278 ) as I write this and it pretty much says it all for me. Fonda writes about the years of the original bikes 50-51- and 52. No mention of a 53 which is the year of the rebuilt bike for sale.He also mentions the bikes being stolen, “ So the gang had no idea about the potential value of the movie bikes, and as in the case with most stolen vehicles, the bikes were undoubtedly dismantled and the parts scattered.” “But over the years many people have claimed they had the original Easy Rider bike.” “No one does.” "There is no "original" Captain America motorcycle." "The dissection and dispersal of the real bike was a fitting action.” “Somewhere out there many bikers could be riding with some little piece of the original: a fender, a wheel, something.” “ I only wonder where the tank is." Well Peter, I can tell you one thing it ain’t on this fake C.A. bike being auctioned off as the original. Then profilesinhistory.com states “ The whereabouts of the other “Captain America” bike is unknown. Prior to the film’s release, that “Captain America” motorcycle was stolen and presumed broken down and sold for its parts. The crash bike was fully restored by Dan Haggerty .” Any professional bike builder will tell you that if you rebuild, replace any parts, repaint, bend frame back to original shape or weld frame on an original bike, it’s not an original anymore. I think all these things had to be done to the wrecked bike. He goes on about: “ When Columbia realized they had a major hit, they had two replica Captain A bikes built for theater lobby display.”“Those two bikes ended in one of the sheds on Hopper’s place in Taos. “ He’d shown me the so so replicas [ remember what he called them ] ln the early seventies, and any aficionado would have seen the difference. “ Peter, you designed the original Captains. You are the king of aficionados on the C.A. bikes. You saw Columbia’s replicas and called them “so-so.”How is it you can’t recognize the auction bike as a replica and not your original? Also, how can you, what I would say, deceive millions of C.A. fans by signing a paper authenticating this auction bike as original after the statements you have put in writing in ‘Don’t tell Dad? Anybody else who knows anything about the C.A. motorcycle can take one look at this bike and tell it is no original.The original C.A. was burned, some say two some say three times http://photoblog.statesman.com/fire-destroys-easy-rider-motorcycle and wrecked at the end of the movie. The original C.A. had twenty six stars and thirteen red and white stripes on the tank. They were placed at the beginning, a star on red, a star on white and went that way all around the first group of stars on the tank. The rest of the stars were strategically spaced. Look at a photo of the burned bike and you will see the paint job matches the original’s paint but doesn’t come close to matching up to the auction bike. Even the blue paint is a different shade. On the originals the two middle red stripes come all the way back to where the tank is bolted to the frame. If you’re going to try to pass off a fake as an original, at least get the main thing right and that’s the tank which draws everybody to this bike. Just a couple other differences about these bikes besides the auction bike having a 53 VIN or serial number on the motor. The original C.A, had a original ribbed Triumph back fender, not the auction bike. A chrome coil cover on the originals but not on the auction bike. The clutch lever ball was broken off one of the originals but it’s on the auction bike and the seat on the auction bike is thicker than the original’s seat Too many things to list but enough to see that it not the Authentic Original C.A. bike. I spoke with a rep from Profiles in History, got danced around for awhile but he finally came up with “ we aren’t promoting this bike as the original.” All the time I was on their website where the headline and first chapter said authentic and original. From npr.org “The bike currently for sale was partially destroyed in the film's finale, the auction house [ Progiles in History ] says, and then rebuilt by actor Dan Haggerty.” One minute PIH says it’s the original bike then says it’s rebuilt. Once again I say, now listen: A REBUILT MOTORCYCLE IS NO LONGER AN ORIGINAL etc. This could be an original bike built from the ground up, but too many negative things point to it not being the bike from the movie. Who knows? This could be a newly built bike and the Ghost Rider bike be the rebuilt C.A. bike…...and if a frog had wings….You know the rest. There is so much more to be said about this auction of this bike, what some people might call a fraud. I say it’s a rebuilt bike, not the original but a fake bike that’s maybe worth $50,000 tops. So pick up his book or go on the internet and see the whole story from many different people. Ernie Turpin eltsr01@gmail.com
Gregg Eshelman
When the Guggenheim had a display of motorcycles (it's most attended showing ever), all the bikes were originals, except the Captain America chopper from Easy Rider.
wahip
Reminds me of the tale about the originality of George Washington's axe, (from the cherry tree story). First the head rusted out and was replaced in the 1800's, then the handle rotted and was replaced years later. "But it's still the original!" they claim...
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