Motorcycle Monday: 1952 Harley-Davidson Captain America Crash Bike

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This controversial motorcycle from Easy Rider appears once more…

Back in 1969 Easy Rider wowed audiences with its counterculture flair, making it a hit with people who favored a life of drug abuse, communal living, and the hippie movement in general. Now, the 1952 Harley-Davidson chopper Peter Fonda rode in the movie, which has become an icon itself, went to the auction over the weekend and people are losing their minds. That’s understandable, because the customized bike turned a lot of heads and helped further galvanize that outlaw Harley rider image which is still controversial today.


A motorcycle rider was arrested by police for wearing his helmet. Learn the reason why here.

Called Captain America, the Easy Rider motorcycle hails from the estate of Gordon R. Granger was auctioned by Cord and Kruse on June 5. It features a 74ci Panhead 45-degree V-twin engine, plus a 4-speed manual transmission, a perfect combination for hitting the open road.

What really makes this Harley iconic is the custom chopper-style frame. Created to be an in-your-face motorcycle, the huge forks push the front wheel far out, plus there are ape hanger handlebars, wild custom saddle with sissy bar, and ridiculous pipe extensions rivaled only by certain Honda Civics. While most everything is chromed on this bike, the flag-themed fuel tank is where the Captain America name originates. The rider dons a matching helmet, completing the look.

image credit: Cord and Kruse
image credit: Cord and Kruse

Designed and built by Cliff Vaughs, Larry Marcus, and Ben Hardy, it was formerly a police motorcycle. They actually created 2 Captain America motorcycles and 2 Billy Bikes. However, one of the Captain America motorcycles was wrecked during production, but as the story goes the pieces of it were given to Dan Haggerty after filming wrapped.

Back in 1994, Haggerty and Gary Graham rebuilt the Captain America crash bike and planned to tour it across the country, realizing plenty of people would be overjoyed to see it. Ownership of the bike was held by Graham and the plans to tour it fell through, so the man decided to sell it in 1996 to Gordon Granger through Dan Kruse Classic Car Productions after the history of the Harley was authenticated by Hagerty, Graham, and Kruse. However, there’s been controversy about what on the motorcycle is actually original, or if it was even used in the filming of Easy Rider. You can really go down a rabbit hole investigating that one, trust me.

image credit: Cord and Kruse
image credit: Cord and Kruse

The Captain America motorcycle which survived filming was auctioned off 7 years ago, grabbing $1.35 million. That bike was billed as “The One And Only Authentic Captain America Motorcycle.” That makes the sale of this Harley a little more controversial since it’s been rebuilt and so it probably isn’t exactly like it was back when Easy Rider was filmed. Most people probably don’t care too much about that since it was still used in filming.

Before you think the person who submitted the winning bid will be able to just hop on and ride away into the sunset, the reality of this motorcycle isn’t nearly so romantic. It’s listed by Cord and Cruse as non-operable, although the listing doesn’t specify why. The battery works, engine has been cleaned, and the brakes appear to be installed correctly, so it would be a matter of sorting out what isn’t working correctly.

image credit: Cord and Kruse
image credit: Cord and Kruse

The irony that a counter cultural icon which was supposed to celebrate free love and communal living is being sold to the highest bidder in an unabashed display of free market economics isn’t lost on me and many others. Understandably, many people are excited for the sale of this motorcycle because of what it represents, which often is youth lost but not forgotten. Even if the people who are clamoring to own the famous bike don’t hold to the movie’s ideals, the image of Fonda riding the open road on it certainly is seared into their memory and will always be a reminder of the coolness of their youth.

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