CaptainAmBike_01
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.

Specifications:

  • 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

11 replies
  1. Darel Fike
    Darel Fike says:

    Hand shift and foot clutch on Captain America chopper, you must have a replica cause that ain’t the bike you have pictured!
    This one is hand clutch and foot shift.

    Reply
  2. Mark
    Mark says:

    I imagine closer examination will show a Linkert rather than a Schebler. Didn`t see where they said what year pan motor it has either.

    Reply
  3. John P. Attanasio
    John P. Attanasio says:

    I thought that Dan Hagerty ( Grizzlee Adams) was one of the builders of the Captain American chopper!!

    Reply
  4. Mark Mederski
    Mark Mederski says:

    Thanks for writing. We always appreciate a little feedback to our Featured Motorcycle stories.
    In recent years a lot has come to light regarding the origins of the bikes in the film Easy Rider, and author and historian Paul d’Orleans is responsible for some serious high quality research on the topic. His recent book, THE CHOPPER, THE REAL STORY is recommended reading. Cliff Vaughs and Ben Hardy are the respected designer/builders, though others contributed to the machines used in the film. A visit to Vaughs’ shop by Fonda and Hopper to discuss the motorcycles, props for the film, is where it all started. d’Orleans research even credits Vaughs with the name of the film.
    As we mention in the headline the bike at the National Motorcycle Museum is a TRIBUTE and the original bike from the film, the one that was crashed and later pieced together by Dan Hagerty, is the only real movie bike known to survive and lives in California. That real bike WAS for many years on display at the Museum, is no longer there.
    So when you visit the Museum, as we state, you will see this tribute bike, not one of the real movie bikes. Regardless, the vision of the two bikes are what counts, what will bring back to those familiar with the story line the very important messages delivered in the film, EASY RIDER.

    Reply
  5. John
    John says:

    I didn’t like the movie at all. I was leaving June of ’70 right after graduation for Navy boot camp at 17 y.o., but I sure did want that scoot. I’ve been ridin Harleys since I was 14, If I make it ’til December it’ll be 50 years.

    Reply
  6. Chuck Thomas
    Chuck Thomas says:

    I remember riding to see Easy Rider when it first came at a local San Diego theater. Loved the movie cause’ I’d just ridin’ a chopped 1950 pan head ( 6 ft of exhaust pipe from the front head to the back fish tail ) from Illinois to San Diego California in 1966. Some riding buddy’s and I rode to the movie at a local theater… after the movie we went to leave and my bike would not start. I had to have one of my friends get ti started ( How embarrassing ) They don’t away’s start on the first kick, but they away’s start on the last kick.

    Reply
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