Confederate Motorcycles has been through a lot in the last couple of years. Through it all, though, the company seems to have embodied the time-honored approach of survival. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, as they say. And it certainly has been tough for Confederate.
First founded back in 1991 by Matt Chambers in San Francisco, California, Confederate soon picked up shop and moved on down to New Orleans, Louisiana. It was here that Confederate birthed its first motorcycle, the Hellcat, in 1996. Things seemed to be progressing rather well at the company, with a second model called the Wraith ready to be launched in late 2005.
The Wraith was a motorcycle unlike anything ever seen. "From its inception it was seen as a work of kinetic sculpture," said designer J.T. Nesbitt. "I took the basic shapes of ellipse, circle and arch." These basic shapes were parlayed into a motorcycle powered by a massive V-twin engine that appeared equal parts custom cruiser and turn-of-the-century board track racer.
Sadly, the Wraith project was put on indefinite hold just months before full-scale production was set to begin. The cause: Nothing less than an act of God known as Hurricane Katrina. Confederate's New Orleans headquarters was all but wiped out, with just a shell of a building and a slew of half-finished motorcycles in the warehouse, all wrecked from the rushing onslaught of water and debris.
You might think this would be the inglorious end to a gloriously unique motorcycle company, but fate intervened due to the help of George Barber, owner of Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. Barber made an offer to Confederate that it simply could not refuse, including the rent-free use of a new warehouse near his motorcycle museum where the company could pick up the pieces and once again begin building its production motorcycles.
"We knew about George Barber and his consummate passion for motorcycling," said Confederate's founder and managing director Matt Chambers. "But we didn't expect to find such an incredible level of professionalism coupled with such incredible hospitality," he added. "Mr. Barber and his team are dedicated to making things happen in Alabama in economic development and it's not just talk – they have a strong background and solid proof that their efforts are working."
Birmingham opened its arms up to Confederate. Governor Bob Riley went so far as to celebrate the first production motorcycle to roll out of the company's new Alabama operations by riding the F131 Hellcat motorcycle around the racetrack at the Barber Museum. That's him on the right.
Finally, the Wraith went into production and was met with almost entirely positive reviews, from the motorcycle press and shoppers alike. That success led Confederate to design and build its third production motorcycle, the P120 Fighter.
The latest machine to roll through the warehouse at Confederate is a new, darker take on the production P120 Fighter. Using a similar frame of 6061 aircraft-grade aluminum monocoque backbone, bulkhead and fuselage side plate construction along with the marque's double-wishbone front end, the new P120 Black Flag adds a healthy dose of all-black style.
Power for the Black Flag comes from the same 120-cubic-inch V-twin engine with 160 horsepower and 135 pound-feet of torque as used in the standard Fighter. Pricing has yet to be set, but you can rest assured knowing it won't be cheap and that there will be a limited number of Black Flags available.
All seemed to be moving forward for the battle-tested company, and it seemed to have taken root in its new home of Alabama. Fate once again had new plans in store for Confederate and the Black Flag will be the last production motorcycle from Confederate to roll out the doors in Birmingham.
In April of 2010 at the New York Auto Show, Confederate announced plans for a strategic alliance with well-known and highly respected engine builder S&S along with a few details about its fourth new motorcycle design. Known as the C3 X132 Hellcat, Confederate claims it will be the lightest, fastest, toughest, smoothest, most exquisite Hellcat, ever. It will also be priced so that the top 10% or so of Harley-Davidson buyers (think CVO models) will be able to afford it.
This new bike will be produced in Confederate's original home of New Orleans. The company reports that it received an offer it could not refuse – namely a low-interest loan for $750,000 from the City of New Orleans, contingent on a move back home – and it needs additional space to build the new X132.
As you might expect, not everyone is pleased with the decision to return to New Orleans. In any case, the tale of Confederate Motorcycles – from barely surviving Hurricane Katrina to a new home in Alabama to now finally getting some much-needed new funding and likely moving back to Louisiana – is far from over. We look forward to seeing what comes next.