Friday, November 07, 2014

PETER FONDA: 'YOU BUILT THE CAPTAIN AMERICA BIKES'

I flew Cliff Vaughs to LA last May for a photo and interview session for 'The Chopper: the Real Story' - this was the first moment Cliff had seen this bike since 1968...
File this one under 'better late than never': in a recent letter to Cliff 'Soney' Vaughs, actor Peter Fonda finally gives credit to Vaughs and Ben Hardy for their until-recently unknown contribution to motorcycle history - creating the 'Captain America' and 'Billy' bikes for Easy Rider.  The massive wave of publicity around the sale of the claimed last extant chopper from the film (which made $1.62M at auction - the most expensive motorcycle ever sold), also seems to have inspired Fonda to properly acknowledge for the first time 'who' created the most famous motorcycles in the world.
I managed to capture 'Captain America' by wet plate in our brief session with the bike...
Here's the letter:
"Hi Cliff,
I wanted to first let you know how grateful I and others are that you knew where to go to buy the LAPD bikes at auction. Dennis and I had no idea. You magically bought 4 bikes at $500. a piece! You again amazed us when you designed and built the bikes for approximately $1250.00 per bike. We were all in awe of yours and Ben Hardy's abilities. You built two Billy Bikes and two Captain America bikes. I remember you and your girlfriend coming to our Pando office to talk about what we were going to shoot in New Orleans.
Unfortunately,the bikes weren't ready when we began filming in New Orleans and there was no way they could have been ready based on what was involved in their design.
A decision was made by Dennis Hooper, Paul Lewis, and Bert Schneider to fire you. Unfortunately, they blamed you for not having the bikes ready after The Mardi Gras parade. Hell, we didn't even have the script ready. This decision was a very bad decision, one of which was beyond my control and I found out about it after the fact. I am very sorry. Neither did I decide to drop the sequence of the black biker gang from the script. Again Dennis's decision not mine. Money was a factor I believe.
 This is a Facebook entry of mine in late September 2014: The final design of the Easy Rider bikes started with this man, Mr. Cliff Vaughs. I gave Cliff a sketch that I had drawn in Toronto Canada on September 27th 1967. It was a rough sketch of the teardrop gas tank, the high sissy bar, the big automobile rear tire, and the same rake that I had on the motorcycle from the Wild Angels. Cliff refined it with the outrageous heavily raked front forks!!! It was a bitch to ride but it looked incredible!!! Thank you Cliff!!!!
It is not too late to give you and Ben Hardy the praise you deserve in designing the iconic bikes in Easy Rider...
All the Best,
Peter Fonda"

Not too late indeed, as Cliff is still alive, but Ben Hardy never got the credit he deserved for his exceptional work, nor for his enormous contribution to chopper history, before his death in 1994. Vaughs and Hardy are at last acknowledged in print with my latest book, 'The Chopper: the Real Story.'  The book is on the ground in Europe already, and will be distributed in the US within a few weeks (when they arrive from Germany).  Feedback on the book from bike enthusiasts is excellent, and I'm proud of the hard work which went into the book, and how Gestalten laid it out.  



6 comments:

Gordon said...

I'm confused. There is no real Captain America bike remaining. Fonda has recanted his authentication based on a recent interview of Dan Haggerty (LA Times) wherein he all but admits the bike is a fake. He's sold two such bikes, wonder who'll buy the third "Captain America" bike.

The Vintagent said...

Gordon, I don't have a horse in this race, but if you follow the trail of Haggerty's published interviews (the Chicago Tribune in '99, etc), it would seem the bike recently sold has the last 'real' frame from Easy Rider. All else on the bike is reproduced. Besides, the LA Times stories are just bizarre - quoting the ghost of Dennis Hopper?!

Gordon said...

Not sure if I'd trust anything Haggerty has to say. Plus, Fonda has stated the bikes had nickel plated frames, not chrome like the one just sold.

The Vintagent said...

Well, Peter didn't build the bikes!

If you read my interviews with Cliff Vaughs and Larry Marcus, they both state that the frames were chromed at Van Nuys Plating, the only place with big enough tanks to handle motorcycle frames...

Larry Marcus, who assembled the 'B' bikes in Cliff's backyard, says the stunt Captain America had a spray-painted frame, as it was only used at the end of the film, when a 1/4 stick of dynamite was strapped to the headstock, and the front end nearly blown off. As this was the bike (frame) supposedly sold at auction recently, it therefore would have had a painted frame...but no buyer wants an accurate re-creation of the 'B' bike - they want Captain America!

You'll have to get a copy of 'The Chopper: the Real Story' for all this...

GuitarSlinger said...

Funny how many times Fonda has changed his tune on both the authenticity of the Captain America as well as who built it . Its to the point where nothing the says seems relevant or true even when it might be

So as far as who built it .. I'll go with yours as well as JJ's claims along with the guy we pretty much know did .

As to the authenticity of the Capt. American ? I'll stick with Fonda's original claims that it wasn't .. Hopper's assertion to anyone that would listen that it is not .. along with the only actual ' proof 'Haggerty really has is a perfect case of circular logic [ e.g. - It is .. because I say it is .. I I say it is because I own it .. therefore it is .. because I say it is ] .... and come to the only logical conclusion ... that it aint !

... regardless of some well heeled individual believing that it is to the tune of almost $1.7 million

As to the book good sir for which I am eagerly anticipating . The latest ETA from all sources here in the US as well as the publishers website is ...

December 25th ???

Delays I understand [ it was supposed to be 11/4 ] .. but releasing it on Christmas day ?

Any insight from your end would be greatly appreciated Paul .

matt machine said...

looking forward to reading it in the book paul...any idea when it will be available out here?.....who will be stocking jot do you think?.