Keep yer motor runnin’
Two iconic road films have come of age, writes Mark Hinchliffe
PETER Fonda throws his watch away and fires up his Harley before hitting the road south towards New Orleans, freedom and fate, all to the tune of Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild.
It’s the famous opening credits scene from Easy Rider, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
The scene was lampooned in the 2007 John Travolta comedy Wild Hogs, with mobile phones substituted for watches.
Wild Hogs was a box office success and a sequel is coming next year, but there was no sequel to Easy Rider which was a box office success in 1969 and has endured as an icon for the freedom of the open road.
While Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson may have been the human stars of the film, two customised Harley-Davidson Panhead hard-tail Hydraglide bikes were the real stars. Where they are now is a mystery. There were actually four 1949, 1950 and 1952 ex-police bikes used so that the two featured bikes had a back-up in case of accident.
Fonda rode the ‘‘Captain America’’ which had American Stars and Stripes paintwork and long, extended forks with ‘‘apehanger’’ bars which made it difficult to ride.
Hopper was not as accomplished a rider as Fonda, so his ‘‘Billy bike’’ was less ‘‘chopped’’ and featured flame paintwork which has become as popular among Harley riders as the fringed and tassled leather jacket he wore in the movie.
One of the bikes was burnt for the final scene while the other three were stolen before filming was completed.
They were probably sold as parts before the thieves realised the bikes’ value.
The burnt Captain America bike was rebuilt, shown in a museum and auctioned in 2001.
Several Captain America and Billy bikes have been sold over the past 40 years, but none has been confirmed as the original. Even the Captain America in the new Harley museum in Milwaukee is only a replica.
For its part, Harley never bothered to produce a bike like the Easy Rider machines until it released the FXCW Rocker and FXCWC Rocker C Softails in 2007 which featured extended forks, chopped rear tail, skinny front tyre and fat rear tyre.
BORN WILD: Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in a scene from