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.
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.”