With the very recent passing of film maker, bike builder and social activist Cliff Vaughs, we feature the Captain America motorcycle this week.
Some say the Captain America motorcycle is the most famous motorcycle in the world, but it probably vies for that status with Rollie Free’s Vincent, maybe Burt Munro’s Indian. Regardless, the 1969 film Easy Rider is familiar and important to many from the baby boom era, and especially those who ride motorcycles. Most feel the film Easy Rider and the Captain America motorcycle hold great meaning, many references.
While the idea for the film Easy Rider was created in the mind of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper to bring to the fore motorcycling, freedom and some underlying social problems in America, it did much more and remains an important independent film. Peter Fonda got the idea to make a modern “western” centered around two bikers traveling around America and eventually being shot while riding in the South. Fonda contacted his friend Dennis Hopper and together they made the idea into a movie they called The Loners. Hopper was directing, Fonda producing, but they both starred in the film and wrote it. There are two stories on where the film’s name came from; most likely bike builder Cliff Vaughs came up with it, or the film’s screenwriter, Terry Southern.
The chopper craze was well on its way by the late 1960’s but this film solidified and popularized the form internationally, and for a time the message the film and this motorcycle put forth. The high rise handlebar, “American Flag” peanut tank, “panhead” motor and “rigid” chrome frame, extended fork, skinny front tire, fat rear, plus the stepped seat and sissy bar became the right elements of the chopper in this era, though some preferred an extended girder or springer fork.
The bike pictured is a very good replica of one of two matching bikes, props made for the 1969 cult classic motion picture. Peter Fonda, playing Wyatt, rode the bike dubbed Captain America. In the course of filming the final scene, one of the two Captain America bikes is crashed as Fonda is shot while riding it. The crashed bike, now restored, is the only Captain America bike known to exist and currently lives in California. Fonda designed the bikes then commissioned them from highly experienced builders Cliff Vaughs, a film maker in his own right who very recently passed away, and Ben Hardy.
This Captain America tribute bike, and a Billy Bike replica, plus Easy Rider movie posters are all on display at the National Motorcycle Museum.
- Engine – Air-Cooled, Overhead Valve, 45 Degree V-Twin
- Bore & Stroke – 3.44″ x 4.00″
- Displacement – 74 Cubic Inches / 1208 cc’s
- Compression Ratio – 8: 1
- Carburetion – 1.30″ Schebler
- Horsepower – 52
- Primary – Duplex Chain
- Transmission – 4-Speed, Hand Shift
- Clutch – Dry, Foot operated
- Final Drive – Chain
- Brakes – Drum, Rear
- Electrics – Battery, Coil & Points
- Frame – Steel Tubular
- Fork – 12 Inch Extended Hydraulic
- Rear Suspension – Rigid
- Wheels/Tires – 3.00 x 21 Inches / 5.00 x 16
- Wheelbase – 72 Inches
- Weight – 540 Pounds
- Top Speed – 95 mph
On Loan to the National Motorcycle Museum