PART ONE: CONFEDERATE MOTORS, THE REBEL.
Brand identity is important. When it comes to luxury items you can make the argument that a brand’s identity could possibly be more important than the functionality of the product itself. For reference ask Diddy. Jokes aside, the wrong name can potentially make or break a business. In 2017, Birmingham Alabama based manufacturer Confederate Motors announced the company would be transferring to electric motorcycles while rebranding as Curtiss Motorcycles Inc. Confederate had been known for 6 figure showpieces crafted from billet aluminum. They boasted rebellion against the norm with massive polished performance V-Twins crammed into brushed aluminum frames. The designs were controversial but unforgettable. From the flashy girder suspension up front to the see-through oil reservoir beneath the seat, when a Confederate rolled by you noticed. It didn’t matter how long you looked at the machine, there was more to notice. A G2 P-51 Combat Fighter below for example.
.The Brand had an A-list buyer list with celebrities like Brad Pitt, Steven Tyler, and Tom Cruise owning multiple models. In total, the brand manufactured over 1300 motorcycles from 1991 to 2017. Confederate Motors had multiple models with aggressive names like Hellcat, B120 Wraith, P51 Combat Fighter and the special edition FA-13 Combat bomber. The Hellcat was their “budget” super cruiser just like how the Gallardo was the “budget Lamborghini”. A Pre-owned Hellcat Speedster from 2009 is listed for $65,000 on their webpage.
With prices ranging from $80,000 to $135,000, the Confederates elevated beyond the realm of logic or comparison. Does a vintage Rolex Submariner or an Omega Speedmaster tell time better than a G-shock? The answer is no. Yet, for some reason putting one of these ultra exclusive timepieces on your wrist feels like the right decision. Like the Rolex with its feel and build quality valued over simple functionality, the average buyer of a Confederate doesn’t concern themselves with the pros and cons of the overly complex double wishbone parallelogram girder front suspension. Nor would they wonder if 160 foot pounds of torque at 2000 RPM requires a more substantial seat than a little luxury foam and leather with no back edge support. These machines are talking points. They belong in Tony Stark’s garage beside the Mk. 50 Iron Man suit.
In 2017 the CEO of Confederate Mark Chambers, announced the shift of brand identity from “ The Art of Rebellion” Confederate Motors to “The Future is Electric” with Curtiss Motorcycles. Confederate was no more. The team shuttered production in 2017 and began designing the new all electric motorcycles.
PART TWO: GLENN CURTISS, THE MAN.
The company’s newfound namesake is derived from the early 2oth century innovator Glenn Curtiss. Mr. Curtiss despite only having an 8th grade level education would become one of the most influential inventors and operators of the period. He is credited with the first air cooled V-twin engine a whole two years before Indian. In 1904, he invented the twist handlebar throttle. His machines were not only innovative but functional and beautiful as well. In 1907 Curtiss achieved a record setting 136.3 MPH run. After the unofficial record, Curtiss was known by many as the “fastest man on earth”. His personal speed record came at a time when cars were sold with less than 10 horsepower and the horse was considered a faster form of travel. The 4 liter V8 powered machine he rode resides in the Smithsonian museum. If you would like to read more about this beautiful and visceral machine read:
Having conquered two wheels, Curtiss fully committed to traveling with none. While the Wright brothers were the first to achieve flight, they were weary of the press and refused to show their early planes to the public. Curtiss had no such qualms. From March to June of 1908 Curtiss publicly tested two flying machines built in collaboration with like minded gentlemen including the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell. On the Fourth of July in 1908, Curtiss personally flew an aircraft named the June Bug a record setting 5,090 feet. It was the first flight to be pre-announced and publicly observed in America. Two years later Curtiss would become the first person to fly between major cities when he flew from Albany to New York City. When World War One started Curtiss developed the first aircraft 95% of pilots flew for training with the United States Army, the JN4 Jenny.
Glenn Curtiss would go on to develop and test the worlds first sea plane. Utilizing a modified Jenny airframe, Curtiss began to lay the groundworks for the United States Navy’s Aircraft arm. His final development came in 1919, when the Curtiss NC-4 Flying Boat fielded by the US Navy was the first aircraft to safely cross the Atlantic Ocean. Sadly, Glenn Curtiss died in 1930 from a complication during surgery. He was recognized throughout the nation for his many accomplishments.
His company would go on to create legendary aircraft such as the venerable p-40 Warhawk. The company was a forerunner of technological development through the Second World War. Without Curtiss at the helm, the Curtiss-Wright corporation fell behind its competition with the advent of jet aircraft technology.
PART THREE: CURTISS MOTORCYCLES, A NEW IDENTITY, TROUBLED WATERS AMONG STIFF COMPETITION
Claiming the Curtiss name was a bold choice for CEO Matt Chambers because the Curtiss-Wright Corporation as in Glenn Curtiss and the Wright Brothers is still an entity today. Mr. Chambers credits the decision to the charged rhetoric behind the name Confederate as well as the claim that Glenn Curtiss would have produced a similar product. In the past, he repeatedly stated how Confederate had nothing to do with the Confederation of the south in the Civil War. Meanwhile, their website was filled with allusions to rebellion. “The Art of Rebellion” was a central theme to their marketing direction.
Confederate Motors made the switchover mid 2017. The confederate name and IP was locked away after the final special model, the FA13 Combat Bomber was released.and new products were to be developed. In a surprising development the name, the IP and manufacturing equipment were then purchased by Ernest Lee Capital LLC. Confederate lives on under new ownership and in corresponding with Mr. Lee personally, I’ve learned that they will not be using the same design or manufacturing team as the old Confederate utilized. For clarity below is a copy of his response. On a side note I would like to publicly thank Mr. Lee for his immediate responses. It was refreshing to say the least.
Curtiss Motorcycles has faced significant challenges along the way. Initially, Curtiss held a partnership with Zero Motorcycles for drivetrains and electric controllers. Zero is currently the leader of the electric motorcycle market with solid offerings in both street and dirt specific machines. Zero’s products are both affordable and competitive at the upper and lower ranges. Their website provided these fact sheets to give a prospective buyer an easy analytic of their progress and what’s currently offered. The Zero S is the standard bike they offer and is their top seller. Their prices and performance numbers are comparable to their gas powered competition and the machines perform very well.
After a part sourcing issue, the partnership fell apart and Zero went from powerful ally to direct competitor. Their proposed first joint venture bike, the Hercules (after Glenn Curtiss’s production motorcycle) never made it to fruition. Instead Curtiss Motorcycles will be offering two models in 2020. Despite their all electric claims and despite the old confederate already releasing a “final edition”, Curtiss is offering a new- final edition V-twin, the Warhawk. At $105,000, these half final edition half first edition Warhawks are a frustratingly obvious way of eliminating left over inventory.
Coincidently, the Warhawk will be a limited production of 35 units. Afterwards, Curtiss will be solely electric. The current prototype is known as Zeus. Production is set for 2020 with pre-orders available at this time. The Zeus will come in two submodels, the Bobber and the Cafe. Both initial models are to be priced at a whopping 60,000 dollars. Similar to their previous life as Confederate, the Zes will be built from billet 6061 Aircraft aluminum and utilize a girder front suspension. The specs are on par with the lineage. According to their website the power plant produces 140kW which translates to 190 horsepower. Torque figures are equally as impressive at 145 foot pounds at 1 rpm. While the power figures are large they aren’t exceptional especially in the electric field. The most impressive figure is the range. A full charge results in 280 miles which is more than twice than Harley Davidson’s Livewire.
While trying to be as objective as possible, the design of the Zeus leaves much to be desired. The engine housing reminds me more of a high dollar gaming computer tower than a motorcycle frame. With 145 foot pounds of torque immediately available at takeoff, the flat seat seems like a death sentence. Without riding one, that is purely speculation though. My biggest gripe with the design is the circular bit where the front suspension meet the body. The circular windows on the Confederates were mechanically beautiful because they were functional. They showed the coolant and oil in operation in a sleek and logical way. Having this throwback on the Zues with no functionality is silly. In terms of comfort there is no windscreen and ergonomically the slab sides do not look comfortable for your legs at all.
Furthermore, at a 60,000 dollar price point a buyer should expect either top notch performance or unbelievable luxury. The 100,000 dollar Confederates offered both. While the range is exceptional the Zeus’s power figures fall below some of the much less expensive offerings. Lightning Motorcycles for instance. Their flagship model, the Lightning LS-218 is a refined hyperbike. The Lightning comes with desired traditional features like Ohlin front and rear suspension and impressive feats of technology like a regenerative rear braking system for saving battery life. While the range is only 100 miles, the Lightning has 200 horsepower and 168 foot pounds of torque. Furthermore the design is beautiful, bespoke, but more importantly its logical. The nail in the coffin for the comparison is the price point. The lightning, “the fastest production motorcycle in the world is nearly half as expensive as the Zeus at $38,000. For the spec sheet luxury buyer who doesn’t intend to ride every day, the Lightning is a much better choice. Personally, Despite what Curtiss Motorcycle CEO, Matt Chambers says. If Glenn Curtiss was alive today, his goals, ambitions, and ingenuity would be much better represented by the innovations and records coming from Lightning Motorcycles. I will be covering Lighting in an upcoming Breakdown feature in June. For now, Watch Jay Leno ogle over a LS-218 on this episode from Jay Leno’s Garage.