Easy Rider is the definitive motorcycle movie. It showcased a part of America that many weren’t privy to, forever earning it “cult classic” status. Even more recognizable than the film itself was the subversive, counter-culture piece of automotive art known as the “Captain America” bike. This Harley-Davidson has so completely entered the zeitgeist that it has transcended motorcycle culture and is now just a pop culture artifact. This elevation led to Captain America becoming the world’s most expensive motorcycle.
Although the red, white, and blue Harley-Davidson Panhead chopper is one of the most iconic vehicles ever made, it has a messy and confusing history. The one that just went to auction last week is shadowed by another Captain America that claims to be the real deal. In 2014, it sold for an eye-watering $1.35 million, making it the most expensive motorcycle in the world.
Which is the real Captain America?
The Captain America bike is Peter Fonda’s star-spangled steed in Easy Rider. The bike was built by chopper building legends Cliff Vaughs and Ben Hardy. One of the claimed original bikes is set to cross the auction block on June 21 and is expected to bring somewhere around the $500,000 mark.
This auction should be pretty interesting because, according to New Atlas, there are currently two different authenticated Captain America bikes. The one that sold for $1.35 million isn’t the same one for sale here. So, what gives?
Well, as soon as shooting wrapped on Easy Rider, the bikes used for shooting were stolen. So, the authentication process is complicated and confusing. Furthermore, according to New Atlas, like most vintage Harleys, it is likely that the bikes were subjected to be stripped for parts, making the authentication process nearly impossible.
While the stories surrounding the Billy” bike and “Captain America” are numerous and contradictory, there is some doubt that the bikes were ever stolen in the first place. The only bike remaining after the “theft” was the Captain American bike that burned in one of the final scenes of the film. After shooting, it was given to Dan Hagerty by Peter Fonda.
So, which of the most expensive motorcycles in the world is this one?
Hagerty says the bike he got from Fonda remained charred and un-running in his garage for over 20 years. Although Hagerty is the closest to figuring this mess out, he actually made it worse by authenticating two different “last remaining Captain American bikes.”
In the 90s, Hagerty and Gary Graham restored the charred chopper. Graham said he saw the chopper in the basement and noted the engine’s serial numbers. They then struck a deal on Graham financing the restoration and the touring of the bike.
After two years of showing the burned bike, Graham sold his collection of bikes which included many other celebrity-owned classic bikes. Given his connection to the restoration and his high-end collection, it seems clear that this was the same bike. It ended up selling for $63,500 in 1996.
However, in 2002, Hagerty sold another bike that he claimed was the original. Not knowing that Hagerty had built a clone, Peter Fonda also stepped in to authenticate this Captain America bike further. It was this bike that prominent Hollywood memorabilia collector, Michael Eisenberg, ended up selling at auction in 2014 for $1.35 million. He offered Peter Fonda 10 percent to validate its authenticity, which Fonda declined.
This massive amount of money set the record for the most expensive motorcycle in the world, unseating Elvis Presely’s 1976 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra Glide. However, some rumors suggest that the authentication mess caused the bike to actually be bought for less money after the fact.
How much is the other Captain America bike worth?
It will be fascinating to see how this Captain America bike heading to auction this month will go for, given the difficult authentication situation. Also, although this bike has a cleaner, more direct history, and better claim, will the other bike’s mess and high price affect this one?
Many are still suggesting that the price will remain around $500,000, but as we have seen lately, auctions tend to get pretty wild. There can’t be two original burned bikes, so someone will end up with a fake, which is likely enough to ward off many buyers.
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