One of the big screen’s most iconic motorcycles is set to go under the hammer in the US next month – though there remains plenty of controversy about whether it is the genuine article.
It is said to be the only remaining Captain America Harley-Davidson used in the 1969 film Easy Rider, ridden by actor Peter Fonda, who played Wyatt in the Dennis Hopper-directed movie.
However, the sale of the motorcycle comes just seven years after a different bike – also claiming to be the only one to survive filming – was sold at auction in America for $1.35million.
So which one is the real thing?
Is it the real thing? The sale of the Captain America Harley-Davidson ridden by Peter Fonda in 1969 film Easy Rider is heading to a US auction next month – but controversy shrouds the authenticity of the bike following the sale of another machine in 2014 claiming to be the only surviving example
Many consider the Captain America Harley-Davidson, iconic for its stars-and-stripes paint job on the fuel tank, to be the most famous motorcycle of all time.
Two examples were used for the movie, though the other (along with the two bikes ridden by Dennis Hopper’s character, Billy) was reportedly pinched and chopped up shortly after the cameras stopped rolling.
This example – claiming to be the real deal – will go to the auction block at the Dan Cruse Classics sale in Midland, Texas, on 5 June with a guide price of $300,000 to $500,000 with no reserve price, meaning it has to sell.
The motorcycle heads to the auction room with its authenticity shrouded in confusion and doubt following the sale of another Captain America hard-tail chopper at a 2014 auction in California that also claimed to be the famed piece of silver-screen motorcycle history.
Which of the two bikes is the genuine article continues to be questioned today.
Easy Rider showcased the hippie movement and gave America an insight into the lives of those individuals who wander the highways on the back of a motorcycle and hence the bikes themselves became characters in the 1969 film. Peter Fonda, playing Wyatt, is pictured (right) on the set riding one of the two Captain America motorcycles. Dennis Hopper, playing Billy, pictured left
In 1996 the former owner of this bike, renowned celebrity vehicle collector, Gary Graham, sold the Captain American motorcycle at the Dan Kruse Classic Car Productions auction to Gordon Granger.
Graham said he had rebuilt the motorcycle with actor Dan Haggerty, who also appeared in the 1969 movie, after he was gifted the crashed pieces by Fonda and Hopper after filming had wrapped.
Haggerty – famed for his lead role in TV series and movie The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams – was in attendance at the 1996 sale with Graham to confirm that he was the first custodian of the motorbike after filming ended.
The bike was even issued with a certificate of authenticity from Haggerty. Since then, the motorcycle has resided in Austin, Texas where it survived a fire in December 2010.
Dan Kruse, owner of the auction house that bears his name, says: ‘This motorcycle is part of both American film history and automotive history too.
‘It is a legend and is one of the iconic symbols of the 1960s. It represents a longing for a simpler life, one of adventure and the open road. It would grace any automotive collection be it private or in a museum.’
A spokesperson for the sale told This is Money: ‘We are satisfied that this bike is the one rebuilt after its crash and thus the only surviving bike of the four originally purchased for the film.’
This example – claiming to be the real deal – will go to the auction block at the Dan Cruse Classics sale in Midland, Texas, on 5 June with a guide price of $300,000 to $500,000 with no reserve price, meaning it has to sell
The statement was made because in 2014 another motorcycle claiming to be the only existing Captain America from the 1969 film was purchased – and it too had a certificate from Haggerty.
The bike was sold at California-based Profiles in History for a substantial sum of $1.35million – the biggest fee paid for a motorcycle at auction, even today.
However, the authenticity of that motorcycle has been questioned – even by Peter Fonda himself.
‘There’s a big rat stinking someplace in this,’ Fonda told reporters in the US seven years ago as he publicly disputed the genuineness of the motorcycle. The actor, who died three years later, even attempted to stop the auction from taking place, but was unsuccessful in doing so.
The authenticity of the Captain America motorcycle sold in 2014 was questioned by Peter Fonda. ‘There’s a big rat stinking someplace in this,’ he told reporters in the US seven years ago as he publicly disputed the genuineness of the motorcycle and attempted to prevent the sale taking place. Fonda died in 2019. Here, he’s pictured riding a replica at the Goodwood Festival of Speed
Dan Haggerty, pictured with the example that’s due to be sold at auction next month, gave the bike a certificate of authenticity that it was the one he had rebuilt after filming had ended. However, he provided the same certification for the other example auctioned in 2014. Haggerty died in January 2016
The bike was offered to auction in 2014 by LA realtor and movie memorabilia collector Michael Eisenberg, who purchased it earlier that year and decided to flip it for a quick profit.
Granger, who at the time – and still – believed his is the only existing example, questioned the other motorcycle’s authenticity – though it also had been authenticated by Haggerty.
Haggerty even declared to members of the media that the one sold in 2014 was in fact the one and only legitimate Captain America – which is one of the biggest sources of the confusion that remains today.
He confirmed that three of the four Easy Rider bikes were stolen and sold for parts before the film’s release and claims he personally built Eisenberg’s bike from the wreckage of the fourth, which was nearly destroyed during shooting of the movie’s fiery closing scene, according to E3 Spark Plugs.
Eisenberg continues to insist that his bike is the real one, because Haggerty said so.
‘Dan Haggerty is the only guy who knows,’ Eisenberg said in 2014.
Haggerty did not deny that he signed Granger’s authenticating documents, though claimed that he had signed something that simply was not true.
‘That was my mistake,’ Haggerty had said ahead of the sale seven years ago. ‘It’s not the real bike.’
This is the Captain America example sold at auction in 2014 for a record $1.35million
Granger responded ahead of the auction, saying: ‘They know damn well they don’t have the real bike. I own the original remaining Captain America bike. The one to be auctioned is a replica.’
Granger and Fonda had promised to authenticate the identity of the true motorcycle out of the two, however both died in 2019 before making that promise good.
Dan Haggerty died in 2016, which means the mystery is likely never going to be solved.
Easy Rider is a cult 1969 American road movie written by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Terry Southern, produced by Fonda, and directed by Hopper. Fonda and Hopper play two bikers who travel through the American South West carrying the proceeds of a drugs deal.
The film showcased the hippie movement and gave America an insight into a life on the road, and the motorcycles became iconic.
Designed and built by Cliff Vaughs and Ben Hardy, four former police Harley-Davidson motorcycles were purchased at auction for $500 and rebuilt into two Captain Americas and two Billy Bikes.
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