Will the real Captain America please stand up?
I still remember the first time I viewed the movie, “Easy Rider”. The grand, sweeping scenery, the memorable soundtrack, and those motorcycles piloted by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, absolutely captured my imagination. Riding through wide open spaces has since become a joy I’ve experienced myself many times over the years. For all of the movie’s faults and foibles, those two motorcycles took on personalities themselves in the minds of riders everywhere, as much as their riders did in the film. “Easy Rider” effectively captured the essence of the 1960s hippie culture, as well as it’s bitter end. The movie has since grown beyond cult-classic status to downright movie icon, at least in the motorcycling culture.
But whatever became of the famed “Captain America” bike in the film?
One of many memorable riding scenes from “Easy Rider.”
There’s been a fair amount of confusion and controversy surrounding the fate of the motorcycles that were utilized in the now legendary movie. According to a story run in the August 1997 issue of American Motorcyclist, both the Captain America and “Billy Bike” were actually two bikes of each, and began life as early 1950s police Harley-Davidson Panheads. They were bought at auction by Peter Fonda for the making of the movie, and converted into the iconic rides depicted in the film by Fonda himself, custom bike builder Tex Hall, and fellow actor Dan Haggerty (of “Grizzly Adams” fame). The bikes survived the grueling shoot schedule and conditions, at least the two that weren’t used in the closing crash sequences.
Peter Fonda in “Easy Rider”
Following the filming wrap, the four bikes were stored for a time in a garage in Southern California owned by one of Fonda’s friends. Tragically, thieves broke in and stole both Billy Bikes and the intact Captain America bike. Those motorcycles were never recovered, likely broken down and parted out. The remaining Captain America bike that had been used in the final crash sequence was given to Haggerty by Fonda after the movie was released, for his friendship, the role he had in building the original bikes and the small part he had in fact played in the movie himself.
Haggerty rebuilt Captain America with the help of collector Gary Graham. Haggerty then held onto the bike until 1996, when it was offered up for sale with the Dan Kruse Classic Auto Auction in Texas, apparently in order to pay off some accrued debts. The Captain America was authenticated by Dan Haggerty himself at the event, in a speech and with letters of authenticity by Haggerty, Gary Graham, and Dan Kruse. Gordon Granger of Austin, Texas bought it for $63,500 USD on March 16, 1996. Granger loaned the motorcycle to the Alamo Car Museum in New Braunfels, Texas for some years, before it came back to the Granger family.
The “Eisenberg Captain America” that sold at auction in 2014. Photo by Profiles in History.
Here’s where the story gets confusing and controversial. Back in October of 2014, an alleged Captain America bike sold at auction for $1.6 million USD to an undisclosed buyer. Convinced it was an authentic bike from the movie, Michael Eisenberg, a collector in Los Angeles, had bought the bike earlier that year on the word of Haggerty, who claimed this bike was the one he had been given by Fonda and rebuilt with Graham. Yet Haggerty had also authenticated the bike sold to Granger years before, and that bike has since been discovered to still be in the possession of the Granger family. In 2014 Fonda had expressed concern about the authenticity of Eisenberg’s claims and Haggerty’s authentication, stating to an LA Times reporter at the time, “There’s a big stinking rat someplace in this.” By the time of the October 2014 auction, Haggerty had withdrawn his authentication, yet Eisenberg offered it up anyway, netting $1.35 million for the bike in question.
The “Granger Captain America” coming up for auction by Cord & Kruse. Photo by Cord & Kruse
So now on June 5, 2021, the Granger version of the famed Captain America 1952 Harley chopper will be again offered up for auction, by Cord & Kruse of Houston, Texas. Could it be the “real McCoy” Captain America? It would appear so. If you’d like to give it a look for yourself, click here:
Sources: Cord & Kruse Auctions, American Motorcyclist, Web Bike World, LA Times