Words: Michael Wilson (with Paul d’Orléans)

Confederate. The dictionary defines it as ‘united’, but its meaning in the USA is anything but. The declaration of the Confederate States of America in 1861 led to the Civil War, around a Million deaths, and the end of slavery as a legal institution. After 150 years, monuments honoring the Confederacy are still being removed from public spaces. So why on earth would you name your company Confederate motorcycles?

A teaser for Curtiss Motors, with their reveal date of May 5, 2018, at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering [Curtiss Motors]
Confederate founder Matt Chambers was quoted in the LA Times saying, “I think we lost a lot a business with that name. We’ve missed out on branding opportunities. So, it’s time to retire it.” Time indeed, given this heated moment around the word Confederate. Chambers defended the name (and their motto ‘The Art of Rebellion’) as recently as June 2017, explaining “the rebellion we’re talking about is cerebral and spiritual and inside of you”, although regarding the Civil War, he says he’s “glad the South lost.” Fair enough, let’s move on, and just in time.

The spooky hints of the new Curtiss design, with the twin motors seen clearly

After 26 years of badass, noisy, and aesthetically outrageous custom V-twins, Confederate motorcycles has chosen to reinvent itself as the Curtiss Motorcycle Company, with an intention to build only electric motorcycles, starting in 2018. “We were just drawn to the torque,” says Jordan Cornille, Director of Design at Curtiss. “Confederate has always been more about torque than raw horsepower. We really do believe that in terms of power and torque in addition to the sustainability aspect, electric power is the future.”

The Vintagent’s Paul d’Orléans in 2009, road testing a Confederate Wraith [Paul d’Orléans]
And torque they will have. The new line of Curtiss motorcycles – dubbed the Hercules – will be powered by not one, but two Zero ZF engines. The ZF produces 70HP and 116ft-lbs of torque. There is no word yet on the performance numbers for this dual-engine setup (double those numbers, one supposes – 140hp?), but we do know that the range won’t increase. “These are meant to be the ultimate urban machines.” Says Cornille. The new Curtiss won’t have a huge battery capacity, and the company press release estimates a range of 60 miles on the highway, and 100 in the city. And likely half that with burnouts at every stoplight, and wheelies down the boulevard.

From Arthouse to Design Studio

The Confederate business model has always been ‘boutique’, as Cyril Huze recently declared, producing a limited number of high-priced machines that were presold before the first bolt was turned. This allowed them to take huge risks when it came to design, and several were simply epic – the Wraith and the Fighter in particular. With new designer Jordan Cornille, Curtiss is pivoting to produce more bikes at lower costs with a design that’s more appealing to a greater number of people. “When you see a Curtiss motorcycle, you’ll know it was done by the same team as the Confederate bikes.” says Cornille. “But they are going to be less aggressive and less polarizing. We are transforming from an arthouse who builds bikes to elicit an emotion, to a design company focused on solving the problem of urban mobility.”

Curtiss designer Jordan Cornille’s graduate thesis project for Detroit’s College for Creative Studies’ Transportation Design program. Called the 2040 BMW IR Concept, will this 21st Century girder fork and twin, low-slung electric motors appear on the new Curtiss?

What does this radical-yet-practical electric machine look like? We don’t know; Curtiss is building up mystery and intrigue, and has indicated their grand unveiling will be May 2018 at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering. So far, they’ve published two teaser images cloaked in darkness. We hope they make something wildly futuristic, rather than an electric bike that looks like a ‘normal’ motorcycle. There’s nothing wrong with normal, but wouldn’t it be exciting to manifest the forward-thinking soul of electric motorcycles?

Curtiss tech then and now; a cylinder from a Curtiss-Wright radial engine with a pair of Zero engines [Curtiss Motors]
We do know the production line will include a variety of models built on the same platform. Much like, say, an E-Class Mercedes; you can buy an E-Class coupe, or a wagon, or a convertible. It’s a clever way to exploit the economics of mass-production, while offering a variety of styles to suit the customer’s taste. Curtiss isn’t quoting a price point yet, but it’s fair to speculate, if they want mass appeal, that they won’t cost $150,000 like the Confederate FA13. Consider our interest piqued!

A modified Confederate Fighter, as seen on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2011 [Paul d’Orléans]
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