Last month, we brought you the most awesome motorcycles from modern movies and television, featuring the coolest bikes to grace the screen in the last thirty years or so (check it out here.) Well this time we’re talking a trip further down memory lane, as we bring you most awesome classic movie bikes ever, with some unforgettable machines from the 50s, 60s and 70s – and even one from way back in the 1920s!
5) 1920 Indian Scout from The World’s Fastest Indian (2005)
The World’s Fastest Indian isn’t exactly a classic movie, but since the bike is from the 1920s, and the story takes place in the 1960s, we figured this is where it belonged. Starting only as a little-known New Zealand biography about a local hero, this film has gained great popularity among riders the last decade, as the story about the triumph of willpower and the passion of pushing the limits on two wheels has international appeal. It features a brilliant performance by legendary actor Anthony Hopkins as tinkerer and daredevil Burt Munro, who is as much a star of the film as the red torpedo-like Indian he races at Bonneville.
Burt’s real-life bike started out as 1920 Indian Scout with a 600cc factory engine, but was modified by Burt in his own shop over the years, until it became the record-breaking high-performance 950cc rocket featured in the movie. The bike would carry Munro to multiple land-speed records at Bonneville in the 1950s and 1960s. To make the film, four bikes were used; two were classic Indians used to replicate the real Scout, and two were modern Ducatis outfitted to look the part.
4) 1977 Kawasaki KZ1000P from Mad Max (1979)
One of the best-known and most influential future dystopia films ever made, Mad Max takes place in a world of desolate lawlessness, where rabid biker gangs spread mayhem with impunity. The only remnants of law and order are a handful of overwhelmed police, like Max and his motor-mounted buddy, “Goose.”
The outlaw bikers find it easy to evade authorities, except for Goose, who expertly rides a powerful, cafe-racer styled 1977 Kawasaki KZ1000 in the film. First person scenes of Goose flying down the highway on the fast liter-bike and great shots of his scorching the tires as he takes off are some of the most memorable of the film.
These exciting shots weren’t easy to get in the 1970s. The low-budget film used sheer nerve to make up for what it lacked in technology, as those first person shots were captured by daring cameramen riding on the back of the bike with big movie cameras in tow. The making of Mad Max itself is a story of resilience and audacity; most of the movie props were stolen, many of the roles and duties on set were paid for with cases of beer, and the outlaw motorcycle gang in the film was an actual outlaw motorcycle gang!
3) 1950 Triumph Thunderbird from The Wild One (1953)
Marlon Brando steals the show in the most classic of biker flicks, The Wild One, and his leather-clad character has become an iconic image of the American biker that has endured for over 60 years. Brando was a rider in real life, and interestingly, the Triumph he rode in the film was his own personal bike.
The bike was a 1950 Triumph Thunderbird 6T with a 650cc twin cylinder engine, enlarged by 150cc from the original 500cc design for the horsepower-hungry American market. The Wild One was the first film where the marques of featured vehicles weren’t removed, and oddly enough, Triumph’s executives objected strongly to the use of their motorcycles in association with biker gangs.
Their fear may not have been irrational, as the film was actually banned in Great Britain from its release all the way until 1968! In the long run, of course, the brand’s appearance in the film has done nothing but increase its popularity; even in the years immediately after its release, demand for Triumphs on this side of the pond skyrocketed, and the brand’s association with classic coolness has endured for decades.
2) 1961 Triumph TR6 Trophy from The Great Escape (1963)
Inarguably one of the most exciting motorcycle scenes in movie history, both Steve McQueen and the Triumph he rode in The Great Escape gained icon status after the exciting chase and jump scene as he runs from Nazi prison guards hot on his tail.
In real life, the hijacked motorcycle he used to escape would have been a WWII-era BMW R75; while these were excellent bikes for their time, they were heavy, rigid framed, and could not have taken the abuse that the scene would inflict. McQueen and his stunt double and technical advisor Bud Ekins, both avid motorcyclists and off-road racers, opted to use a Triumph instead, a proven racing machine, to create the scene. They chose the Triumph TR6 Trophy, dressed in drab paint and military accessories to make it look the part of a Nazi BMW, and the same bikes were used by the troops giving chase.
The jump itself wasn’t actually done by McQueen at all, but by Bud Ekins in costume, but not for the reason you might expect. McQueen, an avid and very experienced motorcycle racer, was more than capable of carrying out the stunt; but the movie’s producers would have no part of it, fearing injury to their star actor. McQueen had plenty of opportunities to show his skill on set, however; he actually played the part of one of the Nazi troops giving his character chase, and was in fact the only stunt rider able to keep up with “himself!”
1) 1950 Harley-Davidson Chopper from Easy Rider (1969)
It was a tough call, but the Easy Rider “Captain America” bike is our choice for the most awesome classic movie bike of all time. The bike is certainly one of the most recognizable and most iconic; with its radical chopper modifications that were as symbolically rebellious as the film itself, some would say the bike is the real star of the film. However this bike can’t even be discussed without mentioning the “Billy” bike in the same breath – just like the characters that ride them, they are partners in the movie.
These iconic choppers actually started life as four used 1949-1952 police Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glides with Panhead engines, bought at auction for about $500 for the film. They were then modified by Cliff Vaughns and Ben Hardy, two LA-based, African-American chopper builders who were given almost complete artistic freedom for the build. Four were built in total a two for filming, and two identical backups.
The Captain America bike was the more radically modified because Peter Fonda had much more experience as a rider than Dennis Hopper, whose bike was built to be easier to handle. The bike had an increased rake and longer forks, no front brake, a hard-tail suspension, and a teardrop gas tank. These modifications would make the bike difficult and downright painful to operate; it’s ironic that the bike was built for a movie about a cross country trip!
The real Captain America bike was demolished in the final scene of the film, and the other three were actually stolen from the set before filming was even completed. The demolished bike was acquired by one of the film’s producers and later rebuilt, and now resides at the National Motorcycle Museum in Iowa.
Do these classic movie motorcycles bring back memories? Share them with us in the comments section below!