From 1974 through 1984, ABC sitcom Happy Days was one of the most popular TV shows, until it (and show star Henry Winkler, playing Arthur Fonzarelli, aka Fonzie, aka The Fonz) quite literally jumped the shark. And now, at an auction coming in December, you can buy Fonzie’s bike from the show—one of the most recognizeable motorcycles in American pop culture for a decade.

Built by Bud Ekins

Bonhams is selling the bike, a customized 1949 Triumph Trophy 500, and includes a bit of background information in the auction listing.

This machine was put together by none other than Bud Ekins, a legend of the West Coast desert riding scene, as well as a very accomplished stunt rider. If you’ve ever watched The Great Escape, you’ve seen Bud Ekins at work, jumping the Nazi border fence at the end of the movie, when the film’s bigwigs wouldn’t let star Steve McQueen attempt the stunt.

Ekins was the ultimate insider in the moto industry, and he was a go-to guy for movie stunt work, particularly if it involved motorcycles. So, in the early 1970s, it was natural that the masterminds of Happy Days commissioned Ekins to build the custom bike that Fonzie would ride in the show. Ekins had the talent to build it, and he’d actually been around as part of the moto scene in the 1950s, when the show was set.

Here’s part of Bonham’s description of the bike:

Originally customized for the show by legendary Hollywood stuntman, Bud Ekins, there were three bikes acquired for the show in total. After filming finished in 1984, two of the bikes went missing but this third bike was acquired from Ekins by Mean Marshall’s Motorcycles in Oakland, California. Untouched since filming wrapped, it was tracked down by Cycle World Writer, Wendy F. Black. Arguably one of Television’s “coolest” motorbikes, this Triumph was The Fonz’s pride and joy….

A hot rod scrambler

Why did Bud Ekins choose to use a Triumph Trophy 500 for this build, instead of a Harley-Davidson Panhead? Simple: This vintage Brit bike is what the bad boys rode back in the ’50s.

Triumph and other British manufacturers built bikes that were lighter and more powerful than American-built machines, and the Trophy 500 was one of the hottest machines in the lineup when introduced in 1949. It might have been the ultimate parts bin special. During World War II, Triumph had manufactured generators to charge the batteries for RAF bombers. Triumph’s staff noticed the aluminum heads and cylinder barrels on those generator engines seemed an improvement over previous cast iron components, and integrated them into the Trophy’s engine after the war.

This engine was then jammed into a trials-style chassis (really, more of a scrambler, at least by today’s standards), and you had the TR5 Trophy. Note that this particular model has a hardtail rear end, with a massive spring under the rider’s saddle for comfort (no such accommodation for the pillion pad, though!). Later models had sprung hubs, and then proper swingarm rear ends, but the original TR5 was pretty crude. The engine, too, was similarly modernized, but this is a pre-unit construction engine, and probably leaked oil like mad when originally built. It’s doubtful the purchaser of this auction is too worried about that, though.

These were considered to be very stylish motorcycles, and decent performers for their time, although by today’s standards, their 25ish horsepower is hardly awe-inspiring. But on post-World War II roads, these would have had more than enough power.

Photo: Bonhams

Ekins didn’t do much to change this machine, when he customized it. There’s a new set of handlebars, a silvery paint job, the exhaust appears to be changed out, and the front fender is gone. That’s pretty much it. When Ekins sold it on to Mean Marshall’s in Oakland, it almost ended up restored to its original spec, but Cycle World’s interest must have changed Mean Marshall’s plans.

Although the bike undoubtedly saw plenty of usage before Happy Days started filming in the 1970s, it didn’t actually see much riding time in the series … because actor Henry Winkler, who played The Fonz, couldn’t actually ride it. When you see the bike in action during the show, it’s either a stuntman behind the handlebars, or Winkler is coasting along, or on a trailer.

Upcoming auction

Bonhams had this bike at auction in 2011, and then Julien’s Auctions had it up for $200,000 in 2018. Now, it sounds as if the auctioneers have more modest hopes, but in these COVID-crazed times, it’s anyone’s guess what the final bid will be. It’s an extremely collectible machine, and no doubt there is someone who’s got their heart set on it, no matter the cost.

And, for good reason. The Captain America and Billy Bike choppers from Easy Rider might be the most iconic motorcycles from American pop culture history, but this bike is probably more relatable to a whole generation of TV viewers. While Happy Days wasn’t an artsy counterculture story, a lot of people watched the show, and that’s going to enhance this machine’s appeal.

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