How You Can Ride Captain America's Panhead
Tracking Down The Easy Rider Replica Panheads
One of the most iconic images in American film is Captain America's stretched-out American-flag-adorned Panhead chopper. The bike evokes powerful emotions even in non-bikers. It is an embodiment of the Sixties, and all the good and the bad that decade brought.
Unfortunately, there are no "known authentic" Captain America choppers that Peter Fonda actually rode left in the world. There were four models built for the movie and three got stolen as the production was wrapping up and were probably sold for parts. The only existing version was the one that was built just to be crashed at the end of the film and it was much later restored by Dan Haggerty, also known as "Grizzly Adams."
However, there are plenty of private collectors and museums that have commissioned custom bike builders to create a replica for them, and many of them are painstakingly accurate to the images of the original. To have a similar motorcycle hand-built to those standards can easily cost well over $100,000.
A few years back, Peter Fonda endorsed the California Motorcycle Company (CMC) to make some Captain America Chopper replicas. Unfortunately, CMC had to modify the original design for various reasons and the finished product has quite a few shocking flaws that separate it from the original movie version. First of all, it's the wrong engine! Not a Panhead at all but a far more modern Harley-clone with a completely different design. Well, they are both V-twins, but that's about all they have in common. Then for some reason that I'll never figure out, they went with a metal-flaked gray paint on the frame, while the original was beautifully chromed throughout. And the exhausts are completely wrong. The fishtails don't extend anywhere near far enough, and they're horizontal almost all the way to the rear axle!
Yes, it is necessary to update the motorcycle in order to make it meet safety and road registration requirements, therefore I certainly can't complain about adding disc brakes front and rear (while the original had a drum rear and nothing on the front which would allow it to slow down from speed at about the same rate as a cruiseship). I also have to begrudgingly allow for turn signals. But a front fender? On the Captain's bike? Sacrilege!!!
Panzer USA followed CMC's lead and produced a completely unauthorized version of the Captain's bike and they did a far better job than the Fonda-endorsed CMC. Panzer's version is much closer to the prized original, although it is also messed up with front fender, etc. Panzer seems to be even more wary of street-legal regulations as shown by the elimination of the double risers on the handlebars to keep the apehangers down to a street-legal height. Unfortunately they used their Panzer Neo-Pan which is an updated re-creation of the original motor and to my eye it's just a bit too updated. And don't even get me started about the electric start... Real Men Kickstart Their Choppers!
Electric start on a Panhead! Harumph! You might as well fit a Piezo Bridge Transducer/VHF transmitter to Antonio Stradivari's $3.5 million "Christian Hammer!"
Along came Paughco and they finally put together a Captain America replica worthy of the name. The bike was strikingly close to the original and then... they decided to drop that bike and go in with Panzer on a joint venture.
Panzers are normally assembled in their own manufacturing facility, but the new Captain America Replica is built in house by Paughco. This was a manufacturing move that made sense due to the fact that the vast majority of the parts on the bike are stock Paughco items, from the rigid frame with hand finished welds, 3 inch stretch, 37 degrees rake and a true-to-the-original shiny chrome finish. 6 degree Paughco triple trees embrace the 12-inch over forks which in turn hold that 21-inch spoke front wheel and Avon tire a few hundred yards ahead of the rider. This is not the bike to take to your motorcycle driver's license test. You'd never make it through the slalom.
Front and back wheels feature highly polished rotors and four-piston GMA calipers. Completely against modern custom the rear is a very skinny 140 on a 16-inch wheel, a real shocker once you're used to 300-plusses holding up the rear of most of today's choppers. Combine that small wheel with the rigid rear end, and you'll need a cast-iron butt and a wad of chiropractor gift certificates if you plan on riding this machine for any distance.
Panzer's 90 cubic inch Neo-Pan motor is custom-built by Accurate Engineering. The vast majority of the engine parts are right out of the S&S catalog and they've gone with a RevTech five-speed/chain primary and then onto a Kevlar final belt drive with solid aluminum pulley. Nice and clean-looking but jaw-droppingly historically inaccurate.
However, you can buy the whole thing for under $30,000, which is not only about a quarter of what you'd spend if you had one custom-hand-made, but is also just a bit cheaper than Tejas Thump Cycle's version which costs about $32,000 and comes in kit form so you have to assemble it yourself. The Tejas is refreshingly free of modern accoutrements with the exception perhaps of turn signals. It's true to the original in that it has absolutely no front brake and you ride this bike only at your own peril!
It seems that you either have originality with appalling lack of safety, or modern features at the cost of aesthetic appeal. You can't have your Chopper Cake and eat it too!