A DECADE on from his death, Evel Knievel remains arguably the most famous motorcycle rider in history. It’s not a bad legacy, given that he’s remembered for his failures more that his successes.
Few things illustrate how big a name Knievel was as the existence of the movie Viva Knievel!
Can you imagine a stunt rider today starring as himself in a Hollywood movie that mixes elements of his own life with a fictional plot in which he battles an international drug ring?
Yes, Viva Knievel! was just as bad as it sounds. Bear in mind that when it was released in 1977 it was up against Star Wars in cinemas, so it’s not recalled as one of the year’s silver-screen highlites. But even so it marks a high-water point in Knievel’s fame.
Any Knievel-used bike is inevitably going to be worth a lot, and one with a provenance that tracks it back to on-screen use in a Hollywood movie must be something of a Holy Grail for his fans. That would explain the predicted $80,000-$120,000 price when this bike crosses the auction block in California on 27th June at the Profiles in History Hollywood Auction.
The bike is said to have started life as a 1976 Sportster XLHC1000, and its VIN backs up that identification. The bodywork is XR750-style, though, and it has some odd elements like a right hand gearshift (like a pre-1975 Sportster) and a drum front brake, despite Sportsters having discs since 1973. It matches the appearance of the movie bikes, and the year tallies with the film’s production, so these changes were presumably among the mods made by legendary stunt man and bike builder Bud Ekins, who made the Viva Knievel! machines.
Its provenance says that it was among a batch of 1976 Sportsters used in the movie, delivered via Hollywood H-D dealer Dick Hutchins. After filming, he reclaimed the bikes and converted most of them back to stock form to sell on. This one, though, remained in his own collection for nearly 40 years.
While Knievel did some riding for the movie, he was ironically too valuable for Warner Bros to risk allowing him to do the biggest stunts. Instead, Gary Davis did much of the work wearing the famous star-spangled leathers.