One of the world’s most iconic movie vehicles, the Captain America custom chopper purportedly ridden by Peter Fonda in the 1969 cult-classic film Easy Rider, will be auctioned at no reserve by Dan Kruse Classics on June 5 in Midland, Texas.
The estimated $300,000 to $500,000 pre-auction value is a far cry from the $1.35 million that a different red, white and blue Captain America bike hammered sold in 2014 at a Los Angeles movie-memorabilia auction called Profiles in History. The final payout was more than $1.6 million once auction fees were added, the total declared the highest price ever paid for a motorcycle.
The Captain America chopper ridden by Fonda is instantly recognizable, a Harley-Davidson Panhead with an American flag paint motif, lots of chrome and long extended front end.
At the time of its 2014 sale, the Profiles in History chopper was embroiled in controversy as to its authenticity as the genuine Captain America. As the story goes, four bikes were created for Easy Rider, two identical Captain Americas and two “Billy” Harleys to be ridden by actor and director Dennis Hopper.
Of the four, only one survives, the other three reportedly stolen after filming and broken up for their valuable parts. The remaining motorcycle was the one that crashed and burned in the final scene of Easy Rider; it was later reconstructed by actor and motorcycle enthusiast Dan Haggerty, who played a small role in the movie and is best known for his TV series, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams.
Haggerty authenticated the Captain America sold in 2014, but questions arose when the owner of an identical motorcycle declared that his was the actual sole-surviving Easy Rider bike.
That owner also had an authentication signed by Haggerty.
At that point, Haggerty claimed that it was all a big misunderstanding but did little to clear up the murky lineage of either, although at some point he reportedly disavowed the Profiles in History motorcycle.
Despite any questions about its Easy Rider provenance, the 2014 auction bike achieved the towering 7-figure bid.
The other Captain America, the existence of which sparked the 2014 controversy, was owned then and now by Gordon Grainger, a Texas fan of Easy Rider, and this is the one that is being auctioned by Dan Kruse Classics.
Peter Fonda reportedly declared the Grainger chopper as the actual survivor. Although he originally authenticated the Profiles in History bike in 2014, even autographing the gas tank, he later told the Los Angeles Times that he was misled by Haggerty and recanted his authentication.
Fonda died in 2019. Haggerty is also deceased.
According to Kruse, Grainger bought Captain America from well-known celebrity-vehicle collector Gary Graham in 1996 at a Dan Kruse Classic Car Productions auction.
“Dan Haggerty was on site with Graham, his partner in the rebuild and restoration of the motorcycle, to authenticate,” Kruse said in a news release. “Since then, the motorcycle has resided in Austin, Texas, where it survived a fire in December 2010.”
While this might sound like its own plot for a Hollywood film, the questions of provenance have real repercussions for the value of the collector’s item, which is said to be one-of-a-kind even though there are two of them.
In 2014, Grainger told the Los Angeles newspaper that the uncertainty about his Easy Rider motorcycle is vexing, although the evidence points to his being the real one. In which case, the unidentified buyer in the 2014 sale might have spent an exorbitant amount to purchase a counterfeit Captain America.
“There are only three possibilities,” Granger said at the time. “Either my bike is the real one, or the other one is the real one, or neither one is the real one.”
For more information about the Dan Kruse Classic sale, visit the auction website.