Disputed ‘Easy Rider’ chopper sells for $1.35 million

The Captain America chopper from ‘Easy Rider’ is an iconic Hollywood image | Profiles in History
The Captain America chopper from ‘Easy Rider’ is an iconic Hollywood image | Profiles in History

Despite questions about its authenticity, a red-white-and-blue custom Harley-Davidson motorcycle purportedly used in the 1969 counterculture film Easy Rider sold for a record $1.35 million last weekend at a California auction of Hollywood memorabilia. The hammer price, not including auction fee, is reportedly the highest ever paid for a motorcycle, either at auction or in a known private sale.

The “Captain America” motorcycle was advertised by the auction house, Profiles in History, of Calabasas, California, as the actual one used in the climactic Easy Rider scene in which Peter Fonda’s character is shotgunned by a redneck hippie hater. The Harley was wrecked in the scene, but later repaired and restored to its original condition, according to the auctioneer.

Two such Captain America bikes were built for the movie, as well as two “Billy” bikes for Dennis Hopper’s character. After the filming, the intact Captain America and the two Billy motorcycles were stolen at gunpoint from one of the movie stuntmen and have never resurfaced.

On the road in ‘Easy Rider,’ (from left) Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson | Columbia Pictures
On the road in ‘Easy Rider,’ (from left) Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson | Columbia Pictures

The wrecked Captain America bike was presented to actor Dan Haggerty, of Grizzly Adams TV fame, who appeared as a bit player in Easy Rider but who also served as a mechanic and kept the four motorcycles in good running order during the filming. Haggerty is the one who rebuilt the surviving bike.

But here is where the story gets murky. While Profiles in History gives assurance in its catalog that, “No other authentic Captain America motorcycle exists,” a Texas man claims that he owns the real Captain America motorcycle. And he also bought his from Dan Haggerty.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Gordon Granger says he bought the distinctive Harley chopper in 1996 from Haggerty, who provided written authentication at the time of the sale and again in 2005 that it was the actual Easy Rider motorcycle. Granger said he paid $63,000 for the Harley.

The Harley offered at the auction also was authenticated by Haggerty, as well as by Peter Fonda, who signed the gas tank. However, Fonda later told the LA Times that he was misled by Haggerty and recanted his authentication.

Haggerty told the newspaper that he did authenticate two different motorcycles as the real Easy Rider survivor, but was mistaken in his earlier sale to Granger. He said he is certain the bike sold at the auction is the actual Captain America.

The Times story ran shortly before the auction, but the controversy it reported apparently was not well-known before the sale.

The winning bidder has not been revealed by Profiles in History. The seller of the motorcycle, Michael Eisenberg of California, purchased it earlier this year from a man who reportedly bought it from Haggerty 12 years earlier.

So now there are two motorcycles claiming the same provenance as the sole surviving Captain America motorcycle, both of them originating from Dan Haggerty, and there is no sign that the question of which one is real will be resolved soon.

An angry Granger was quoted in the Times expressing his exasperation at possibly being ripped off 18 years ago when he bought what could be a phony Easy Rider motorcycle. Or not. Either way, his bike most likely would be devalued by the lingering questions.

“There are only three possibilities,” Granger told the Times reporter. “Either my bike is the real one, or the other one is the real one, or neither one is the real one.”

6 thoughts on “Disputed ‘Easy Rider’ chopper sells for $1.35 million”

  1. hahaha; caveat emptor; washed up actor cashing in where he can; sure he would have built and sold 10 phonies if he could, but figured he’d leak just one out and make some extra cash….for 1.35mil i’ll build ya 50 bikes! hahahaha

  2. Dan Haggerty should make this right. How could he say that both Harleys were the Easy Rider Movie Bike.

  3. It seems like there would be a way to forensically identify the real bike or bikes, after all one could be the original that had been stolen. Paint, leather can be identified by age. Original pictures, highly magnified, may point out minute details not readily visible. That is the route I would suggest be taken.

  4. That’s right. You would think someone would check the bike out really carefully before spending $1.35 million on an old harley. I’m sure that the stolen bikes are out there somewhere too but no one will admit to having them.

  5. The motorcycles for the film, based on hardtail frames and panhead engines, were designed and built by two African-American chopper builders—Cliff Vaughs and Ben Hardy—following ideas of Peter Fonda, and handled by Tex Hall and Dan Haggerty during shooting.

    In total, four former police bikes were used in the film. The 1949, 1950 and 1952 Harley Davidson Hydra-Glide bikes were purchased at an auction for $500, equivalent to about $3400 in 2015. Each bike had a backup to make sure that shooting could continue in case one of the old machines failed or got wrecked accidentally. One “Captain America” was demolished in the final scene, while the other three were stolen and probably taken apart before their significance as movie props became known. The demolished bike was rebuilt by Dan Haggerty and shown in a museum. He sold it at an auction in 2001. It now resides at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa. Many replicas have been built since the film’s release.

    Hopper and Fonda hosted a wrap party for the movie and then realized they had not yet shot the final campfire scene. Thus, it was shot after the bikes had already been stolen, which is why they are not visible in the background as in the other campfire scenes.

    There’s the real deal, so if you paid a million bucks for the bike, hey I have a bridge for sale for only $500,000.

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