File this one under ‘better late than never’: in a recent letter to Cliff ‘Soney’ Vaughs, actor Peter Fonda finally gives credit to Vaughs and Ben Hardy for their until-recently unknown contribution to motorcycle history – creating the ‘Captain America’ and ‘Billy’ bikes for Easy Rider.  The massive wave of publicity around the sale of the claimed last extant chopper from the film (which made a claimed $1.62M at auction – the most expensive motorcycle ever sold), also seems to have inspired Fonda to properly acknowledge for the first time ‘who’ created the most famous motorcycles in the world.

I flew Cliff Vaughs to LA last May for a photo and interview session for ‘The Chopper: the Real Story’ – this was the first moment Cliff had seen this bike since 1968…[Paul d’Orléans]
Here’s the letter:

“Hi Cliff,

I wanted to first let you know how grateful I and others are that you knew where to go to buy the LAPD bikes at auction. Dennis and I had no idea. You magically bought 4 bikes at $500. a piece! You again amazed us when you designed and built the bikes for approximately $1250.00 per bike. We were all in awe of yours and Ben Hardy’s abilities. You built two Billy Bikes and two Captain America bikes. I remember you and your girlfriend coming to our Pando office to talk about what we were going to shoot in New Orleans.

Unfortunately,the bikes weren’t ready when we began filming in New Orleans and there was no way they could have been ready based on what was involved in their design.

A decision was made by Dennis Hooper, Paul Lewis, and Bert Schneider to fire you. Unfortunately, they blamed you for not having the bikes ready after The Mardi Gras parade. Hell, we didn’t even have the script ready. This decision was a very bad decision, one of which was beyond my control and I found out about it after the fact. I am very sorry. Neither did I decide to drop the sequence of the black biker gang from the script. Again Dennis’s decision not mine. Money was a factor I believe.

 This is a Facebook entry of mine in late September 2014: The final design of the Easy Rider bikes started with this man, Mr. Cliff Vaughs. I gave Cliff a sketch that I had drawn in Toronto Canada on September 27th 1967. It was a rough sketch of the teardrop gas tank, the high sissy bar, the big automobile rear tire, and the same rake that I had on the motorcycle from the Wild Angels. Cliff refined it with the outrageous heavily raked front forks!!! It was a bitch to ride but it looked incredible!!! Thank you Cliff!!!!

It is not too late to give you and Ben Hardy the praise you deserve in designing the iconic bikes in Easy Rider…

All the Best,

Peter Fonda”

‘Captain America’ by ‘wet plate’, shot as part of the MotoTintype project, during Cliff’s brief reunion with the bike. [MotoTintype]
Not too late indeed, as Cliff is still alive [note: Cliff died in 2016 – ed.], but Ben Hardy never got the credit he deserved for his exceptional work, nor for his enormous contribution to chopper history, before his death in 1994. Vaughs and Hardy are at last acknowledged in print with my latest book, ‘The Chopper: the Real Story.’  The book is on the ground in Europe already, and will be distributed in the US within a few weeks (when they arrive from Germany).  Feedback on the book from bike enthusiasts is excellent, and I’m proud of the hard work which went into the book, and how Gestalten laid it out.

‘The Chopper: the Real Story’, (Gestalten 2014), includes the story of Cliff Vaughs and ‘Easy Rider’ [Gestalten]

Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.
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