The defining article of a fearless age...
1972-73 Evel Knievel Motorcycle Leathers Worn in Multiple
It's one of the most instantly recognizable garments on the face of the Earth, a relic that celebrates "the land of the free and the home of the brave" just as effectively as the flag from which it borrows its flamboyant aesthetics. Legendary daredevil Evel Knievel sported several different variations of the "stars and bars" theme throughout his career typically adopting new ones out of necessity when high speed spills turned the heavy leather into confetti, and this is the very first of its kind ever to come to market. In its day, the jumpsuit format rather predictably drew comparisons to another American icon--Elvis Presley--who also favored the look in the latter stages of his career and life. However, Knievel was quick to point out, "All Elvis did was stand on a stage and play a guitar. He never fell off on that pavement at no eighty miles per hour."
The unique tailoring attributes of the presented model allow us to assign the exclusive vintage reported in the lot title. The handsome daredevil wore the leathers during his successful leap over fifty crushed cars at the Los Angeles Coliseum on February 18, 1973. The jump provided Knievel his largest audience to date-35,000 in the grandstands, and a nation glued to the ABC Wide World of Sports television broadcast. In a rather charming bit of irony, Knievel also donned the suit in a portion of a motorcycle safety film shot contemporaneously at the Coliseum entitled "Not So Easy," narrated by Peter Fonda, who had himself gained iconic status in biker culture as writer and star of the 1969 blockbuster "Easy Rider."
We get our best look at the suit in the Fonda safety video, which pans upward from the monogrammed central "belt buckle" and cuffs to the deep "V" of the zipper-front, and the star-studded neckline where a massive 1970's collar is snapped down to secure it from the high winds of motorized speed. Inverted "V's" of red, white and blue appear at each zipped lower leg, while "Harley Davidson" and "Olympia Beer" sponsor patches adorn left and right shoulders respectively. A small flag pin provides patriotic overkill on the right collar flap. The garment weighs over six and a half pounds and exhibits clear evidence of "road rash" to document the danger Knievel faced.
Despite Knievel's considerable fame, film and photographic documentation of his jumps is not completely comprehensive. A photograph from July 30, 1972 at Castle Rock, Colorado of Evel waving to the crowd from the drag strip tarmac appears to match the offered suit, as well as a November 1972 photo from Beeline Dragway in Tucson, Arizona. We can also report that grainy footage from a October 1973 performance that saw Evel successfully clear ten cars and three trucks at Kaukauna, Wisconsin is suggestive of the same leathers. However, Evel dons a different style for a performance on Wide World of Sports at Green Valley Raceway outside of Dallas, Texas in February 1974, presumably signaling the retirement of the offered garment.
Knievel once claimed that he wasn't a "daredevil," but rather an "adventurer." It's a notion that perfectly contextualizes the man, and this principal memento thereof. This nation was discovered through enormous, mortal risk, and settled by still more. With no more oceans to cross, no more wilds to tame, Evel Knievel set out for the only frontier left to him, those few seconds of flight, and the glory or the agony that lay on the other side. Flying the flag into the dangerous unknown is about as American as it gets. Letter of provenance from Knievel family.
The Evel Knievel Collection
Surely Death must have been surprised to find Evel Knievel waiting for him where he was, a white-haired sixty-nine-year old in a hospital bed in Clearwater, a sleepy town on the Gulf coast of Florida where retirees play golf and collect seashells on the beach. No roar of a XR-750 Harley-Davidson engine. No adoration of an anxious crowd. "All my life people have been waiting around to watch me die," Knievel once said, and throughout his career he kept his word with millions about just that possibility. On November 30, 2007, the end came far more "human" than anybody could have imagined.
Between 1965 and 1977, Evel Knievel attempted one hundred seventy-five ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps, and an unsuccessful crossing of Snake River Canyon in a steam-powered rocket. It's widely claimed that Knievel broke every bone in his body during the course of his perilous career, but the actual number is closer to thirty- five, still enough to earn a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
There are three great icons of American sport: Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali and Evel Knievel - each in his own way the embodiment of the country he transfixed. Each one of them was swollen to larger-than-life proportion with entirely justified confidence in his own, singular greatness. Each was as talented with his words as he was with showmanship, bravado and athleticism. Ruth had been universally loved, Ali far less so. Evel Knievel inhabited the complicated middle ground-a rebel, a gunslinger, and yet also a deeply generous person whose greatest fear was not injury or death, but rather failing to deliver on a promise. "The finest compliment you can pay a man," he said, "is that his word was as good as gold."
Certainly that was true for Knievel, who never looked out over the distances he would attempt to hurtle his motorcycle with absolute confidence that he would land safely on the other side. No matter the odds--ski jump ramps built up the sides of stadiums, sharks, rattlesnakes, canyons and buses--Evel Knievel would honor his appointment with destiny. The people had come out to watch him jump, dammit, and they were going to get their money's worth. Ask any main America over the age of forty the identity of the greatest daredevil that ever lived, and there is invariably only a single answer. It was Knievel's determination and imagination that truly set him apart as a one of a kind legend that has never been rivaled.
We are proud and incredibly privileged to celebrate one of the most extraordinary and risked lives in American history in this Platinum Night auction with Knievel's instantly recognizable, battle-borne red, white and blue leathers, and his famous walking cane needed to assist him from his many injuries. Each is consigned to auction by the Knievel family directly, and will be accompanied with their signed letter of provenance.
--Written by Kelly Knievel, Evel's son
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