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Uneasy Rider

Sam Lewis Is Flying High With Captain America and a C5 Drop-top!

Rob Wallace III Oct 6, 2003

To many--even those who aren't really into motorcycles--the "Captain America" chopper from the 1969 film Easy Rider is the epitome of cool. For an entire generation of Americans, that motorcycle symbolized freedom, hope, and independence--not to mention that it just plain looks wild!

Unlike Peter Fonda's doomed anti-hero, however, Corvette and Harley owner Sam Lewis had worked long and hard at a legitimate (gasp!) job in order to play, but he still knows where to throw that necktie when the day is done. "I am currently the vice president of sales at an electronics company in San Diego, California," Sam explains, "but I have fun on weekends driving my Vette or riding my Harleys on the two-lane mountain roads of San Diego County."

The 54-year-old executive has been into motorcycles and hot cars since he was a teenager. In fact, "I owned three motorcycles before I bought my first car," which was a '64 Malibu SS convertible. Then he began building a '68 Triumph 650cc chopper, but it was stolen before Sam could finish it. It would be many years before Sam would get another bike.

Sam returned to motorcycles in 1988 with the purchase of an '86 Suzuki Intruder, a Harley Davidson wannabe. "After a couple of years I said to myself, 'If you're going to ride a H-D look-alike, you should just buy a real Harley.'" So Sam sold the Suzuki and bought a '83 Harley FXE Super Glide, which he customized with new fenders and fuel tank and painted with '50s-style flames. After owning his first real Harley, Sam was hooked and eventually sold the FXE to buy a more sophisticated (and comfortable) '93 FXD Dyna Wide Glide--which he painted with purple flames.

It was around that same time that Sam indulged himself in another American icon. "After owning many hot cars and motorcycles, I bought my first Corvette in 1996--an '81 four-speed car." The Shark became Sam's daily driver, and it stayed that way until well after he bought himself a brand new Nassau Blue '98 convertible. "I special-ordered the C5 in January 1998 to be similar to my favorite '67 dream car--the one I wanted to own as a kid. It was Marina Blue with a black top and interior, four-speed, and a big-block with a stinger hood. The '98 was as close as I could get to that car."

The C5 came out of Bowling Green with all the goodies, including power sport seats and the Z-51 suspension. Sam has personalized his six-speed convertible even more by adding a rear spoiler and "gills" in the coves from RK Sport and six-spoke HRE wheels--17x9-inchers up front, 18x10s out back. He's also cleaned up the breathing both in and out of the LS1 using a dual snorkel intake with K&N filters from RM Racing and a set of Flowmaster mufflers. When he bought the C5, Sam only drove it on the weekends. However, "in 2000, I sold the '81 and the '98 has been my daily driver ever since." It's also won several First Place trophies, and been driven cross-country in the 1998 and 2001 Hot Rod Power Tours.

After he bought the C5, Sam customized his Wide Glide again, changing the metal and painting it Nassau Blue to match his Corvette convertible. In 2001, though, Sam "traded up" the eight-year-old Dyna for a brand new Fat Boy with Harley's counterbalanced Twin Cam 88B motor, and it is now his main ride. Like the '86 "Liberty Edition" Harley FLTC Tour Glide Classic "Bagger" that Sam also owns (which commemorates the refurbishing of the Statue of Liberty), the Road King is big, comfy, and relatively practical as bikes go. So obviously, Sam needed a toy that was completely frivolous.

In August 2001, while swapping bike tales with some friends, one of them said that he knew the man who had built the Captain America replica for the Otis Chandler Museum. That bike was later sold to the Guggenheim and put on display in their "Art of the Motorcycle" exhibit. He had also built a second replica for the Harley Davidson Museum. While sharing their deep awe of the Captain America chopper, one thing led to another and Sam ended up talking seriously with his buddy about asking the fabricator to build another replica.

Sam heard nothing until February 2002 when his friend called to say "Jim" was willing to talk to him. The very next weekend, Sam drove 100-plus miles up to San Bernardino to discuss the details with master metal man Jim Grasius, and the gentlemen had come to terms by the following week. "I got the bike in late July, just in time to put it on a trailer and have a friend tow it to Sturgis [South Dakota] for the big Harley rally. I rode the '01 Fat Boy."

Sam's new Captain is an exact duplicate of the quintessential chopper, and it's based around a '59 FL "Panhead" motor. Chrome adorns nearly every piece of the bike, including its rigid frame, rear fender, and the now classic upswept fishtail exhaust. Elsewhere we have a tall chrome sissy bar, chrome hubs, chrome oil tank, chrome foot pegs, chrome buttons on the black leather seat, chrome... well, just about everything. It also correctly sports four bullet taillights and two sets of risers--the first a section of straight bar that, in turn, has a set of dog-bone risers attached that leads up to the ape hangar handlebars. The tiny "peanut" gas tank is adorned with several lustrous coats of candy apple red paint, with whites stars and stripes added next, followed by the field of blue. Naturally, Sam has a helmet done up to match.

Sam's replica is stylish and accurate enough that it took First in the Glenco Antique Bike Show at Sturgis, and then it proceeded to take Best of Show. The Captain has won several more awards since then, plus "I have loaned it to the San Diego Automotive Museum for their three-week motorcycle exhibit and ridden it around the San Diego area (short rides only--it's not very comfortable)." Despite the minimalist approach on the '60s-style rolling work of art, which lacks such comforts and safety items as a front fender, front brakes, turn signals, and has absolutely no rear suspension nor seat springs, Sam has about 700 miles on his Captain so far. And he intends to keep showing the chopper, "to share it with others. Everyone reacts so positively when they see it, either because it brings back memories or because they like the flag." As a replica of the most recognizable "custom bike" ever built, Sam's Captain America is truly an American Icon!


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