Journal

A chronicle of people, places, happenings, and creations we admire.

CLIFF VAUGHS: THE STORY BEHIND THE "CAPTAIN AMERICA" CHOPPER

©1969 Columbia Pictures

©1969 Columbia Pictures

    Cliff Vaughs, c. 1974

    Cliff Vaughs, c. 1974

The "Captain America" chopper is arguably the most famous and recognizable motorcycle in the world, but the story behind its design and creation is little known to those outside of the motorcycle community.  Cliff Vaughs, a lifelong motorcycle enthusiast, civil rights activist and film maker, met actor Peter Fonda as they both lived in West Hollywood in the 1960's. Fonda returned with Dennis Hopper to the backyard where Cliff was regularly found building his motorcycles to discuss early ideas of the iconic film "Easy Rider".  Vaughs, then well-known as a biker, builder and designer in the community, was given the task of building (as Associate Producer) the motorcycles and scenic concepts with mentor and builder Ben Hardy, a major pioneer of the SoCal bike scene himself.  He was also instrumental in hiring Director of Photography Baird Bryant (uncredited).  Legend has it that Vaughs actually missed the 1963 March on Washington because he was working on one of his motorcycles at the time.

The Design

Vaughs created the famous "Captain America" chopper with the inspiration of the Marvel comic book character of the same name.  The main characters "Capt. America and his sidekick "Bucky" led to naming the eponymous machine and the "Billy", steed of co-star and 'ER' film director Dennis Hopper.  There were a total of four motorcycles built for the film, based on 40's and 50's Harley Davidson police motorcycles which Vaughs had purchased at auction for $500.  With initial ideas given to him by Peter Fonda, Vaughs, with Hardy set forth to create the most iconic motorcycle ever captured on film.

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