The bike currently for sale was partially destroyed in the film's finale, the auction house says, and then rebuilt by actor Dan Haggerty. (The three other bikes used in the production were stolen prior to the film's release.)
Fonda, who co-wrote the "Easy Rider" screenplay and drew the original sketch on which the iconic, stretched chopper was based, told The Times he was very concerned by Haggerty's authentication, and hoped the auction would be called off. Details here...
According to Brian Chanes, acquisitions manager for the auction house, the bike's estimated value is between $1 million and $1.2 million.
But despite the bike's fame, the history of the creation of the bikes used in Easy Riderhas for many years been largely unknown. And the man who designed and coordinated the building of the motorcycles, Clifford Vaughs, says he and the other bike builders have not received proper credit for their work.
The Profiles In History auction house in Calabasas, Calif., is auctioning off the supposedly last authentic 'Captain America' chopper used in the film Easy Rider. The proceeds will go in part towards Michael Eisenberg, the current owner of the bike, as well as to the auction house and the American Humane Association.
The motorcycles used in Easy Rider were not simply rolled out of a showroom and in front of the camera. They were "choppers," crafted by hand.
Choppers are "a type of customized motorcycle usually defined by a stretched out wheel-base, and pulled back handlebars, and a sissy bar, and a wild paint job," says Paul d'Orleans, the author of the upcoming book, The Chopper: The Real Story. "It's a quintessentially American folk art form."
They did more to popularize choppers around the world than any other film or any other motorcycle. I mean, suddenly people were building choppers in Czechoslovakia, or Russia, or China, or Japan.
The "Captain America" bike is an unmistakable and legendary chopper, and has made an enormous impact on the world of motorcycling.
The bikes in Easy Rider, d'Orleans says, "did more to popularize choppers around the world than any other film or any other motorcycle. I mean, suddenly people were building choppers in Czechoslovakia, or Russia, or China, or Japan."
Whose hands turned the wrenches? Who welded the steel? Most of the time, d'Orleans says, choppers are associated with their builders, "because they are an artistic creation. And curiously, the Easy Rider bikes were never associated with any particular builder."
In fact, two documentaries about the production of Easy Rider — 1995's Born To Be Wild and 1999's Easy Rider: Shaking The Cage — never name the men who designed and built the choppers.
Finding The Builders
In bits and pieces, the story behind the Easy Rider choppers began to emerge publicly, and identified two African-American bike builders: Clifford "Soney" Vaughs, who designed the bikes, and Ben Hardy, a prominent chopper-builder in Los Angeles, who worked on their construction.
But he says the absence of black characters in the film is troubling. In the 1960s, Vaughs belonged to an integrated motorcycle club known as The Chosen Few. That multi-ethnic reality was not reflected on screen.
"Why is it that we have a film about America and there are no negroes?" he says.
Vaughs says the omission of his own name and that of other African-Americans in the retelling of the Easy Rider story is conspicuous.
"Those bikes, when we talk about iconic, they are definitely iconic," he says. "But yet, the participation of blacks ... completely suppressed, completely suppressed. And I say suppressed, because no one talks about it."
To this day, Vaughs has never watched Easy Rider. When asked why, he responds simply, "What for?"
Brian Chanes, of Profiles In History, says it's common for the men and women who actually build iconic props to go unrecognized. He handles some of the most famous props ever seen on screen, like Wolverine's claws from X-Men or the whip used in theIndiana Jones films.
"The guys that were back there doing the welding, the guys that are doing the set building, that are really masters of their craft," Chanes says, "they don't get the notoriety, unfortunately."
Now, nearly five decades after the release of Easy Rider, Vaughs says he's unconcerned about whether he's mentioned in connection with the auction.
"I'm really not worried about getting any credit for this, because I know what I did," Vaughs says. "People who were close to me were there in the yard when I was building those bikes."