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Harley-Davidson and the Marlboro Man Bike at Loess H-D

Is it Black Death Three or Four

By Bandit, Paul Garson, and Heath Rodney, photos from Loess H-D

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The movie Harley-Davidson and the Marlboro Man introduced many young riders to motorcycles, choppers, the cult, bikers and the lifestyle, much like Easy Rider rocked young men’s lives from a different era.

Heath Rodney, the 36-year-old, president of Loess Harley in Pacific Junction, Iowa, was impacted by this film, and forever sought some connection. He bought this movie chopper along with a 1957 Corvette several years ago and here’s his research:

**Below Info Courtesy of Harley-Davidson Internal Records**
1989 Harley-Davidson FXLR (Super Glide Low Rider) Not a FXRS as previously speculated/reported
VIN: 1HD1ELL12KY111583
Born: Vivid Black
Production Date: 08/14/1988
Invoiced: 08/14/1988 Chosa’s Harley-Davidson (Mesa, AZ)
Retailed: 09/12/1988 to a J Hleiva Jr. of Mesa, AZ

On or about September of 1990 the infamous FXLR was acquired by Bob’s Cycle Supply of Phoenix, AZ and then sold on 10/10/1990 to
Harley-Davidson Production’s, 8265 Sunset Blvd #106, Los Angeles, CA.

On 09/15/1990, the pre-apocalyptic FXLR was transferred to Bartel’s Harley-Davidson (Marina Del Ray, CA), where the magic happened. And to Heath’s current understanding, it was turned over to Gene Thomason and the crew at Bartel’s for the modified build.

Heath’s research lead him to an article titled “Mystery Movie Bike Solved, The Mickey Rourke Black Death” on Bikernet 03/31/2011:

This article by Paul Garson shed the most light on the bike and its history. It was Heath’s vivid understanding that two bikes were built. One was Mickey’s original “Stroker bike” and at the exact same time BD3 was built for “Harley-Davidson Productions.” This seems very consistent with what Heath gathered out of other articles over the years, but then again, maybe not. Here’s a quote from Paul’s piece right here on Bikernet: "Some say the Black Death bike has reached the status of the Captain America Easy Rider bike. So does that mean Peter Fonda and Mickey Rourke should duke it out in the ring? Probably not a good idea. Maybe a virtual wheel-to-wheel race between the two bikes? Maybe somebody has already conjured up a video game version?"

Here’s where the story gets hinckey according to Paul: "Back to the movie and the scuttlebutt about the bike or bikes. It seems the famous dealership, Bartels, located in Marina Del Rey, CA, got the contract to build the bike. They started with a 1989 FXR and eventually built Black Death 1 and Black Death 2, one serving as Mickey’s personal scooter, the other utilized for stunt work, jumps, crashes, etc. for filming. As the stories go, for some reason they were scrapped and a third version was then built, resulting in the final iteration of Black Death, aka BD3." 

Paul also reported: According to a blog entry, Mickey's bike was used for some opening scenes and basic riding shots, while the duplicate 80-inch version BD4 was used as the primary stunt bike. The two bikes are identical except for the S&S stroker kit.

Here’s more evidence of BD4 from Paul: "Another source stated that Black Death 3 was a 98-inch stroker built by Gene Thomason, Dave Fournier, and Allan Barsi at Bartels. At some point MGM approached Mickey to star in the movie, and he told them he already had the bike he wanted to ride in the film, DB3. The movie company then paid Gene to build a duplicate of the S&S 98-incher. According to a blog entry, Mickey's bike was used for some opening scenes and basic riding shots, while the duplicate 80-inch version was used as the primary stunt bike (BD4). The two bikes are identical except for the S&S stroker kit."

Heath also shed some light on where the bike went from 1990 till 1995, while being held in a Hollywood Prop house. On 03/15/1995 Gene Thomason purchased the bike from MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc) for $12,000 (Heath has all original documentation).

Then to Denver, and now in Iowa

In the July 1995 issue of HOT ROD BIKES there is an in-depth article by Howard Kelly. Bartel’s Studio Rentals handed the writer the keys to Black Death 3 and let him put a few miles on it. The article stated, “MGM commissioned Gene and Dave to build an exact 80 ci replica of Mickey’s ride. So this was the bike used in the filming of the movie.” Seems Mickey’s original stroker bike “98ci Monster,” complete with every conceivable hot rod modification, was not exactly civil for shooting low–speed passes for the camera, so is BD3 the actual the bike we all know from the movie, or BD4?

More from Paul: "Now we enter the territory of multiple clones. Mickey teamed up with Chuck Zito and his Black Death Motorcycles enterprise and also with Arizona builders Carefree Custom Cycles; the plan to produce exact re-pops of Black Death as seen in the movie, utilizing the original DB3 for a template. They did the strut conversion and followed the matching paint and graphics treatment, handled by Jason and Phil Smith/Cougar Ridge Rod Shop. The big change, and a major departure from the original, was a replacement of the FXR EVO motor with a 114-inch Powerhouse sourced from Mid-USA and pumping a purported 135 HP. Other components included a heavy duty Falicon crank, a 5-speed tranny, Andrews gears, and Primo belt drive. 

"The 'updated' powerplant outwardly looked much like the original BD bike. Mickey was reportedly seen riding one of the clones, and it apparently was indistinguishable from the original movie bike, at least to the general public. When introduced for sale, those DB reproductions carried a price tag of $35,000. (Didn’t find any figures on how many were minted or sold.)"

Paul grabbed a quote from Chuck’s book: Then on page 161, Zito states, “As for the Marlboro bike...Well, I borrowed it six years ago, and I still have it today. In fact, the inscription on the carburetor reads: "This is the original Black Death motorcycle used in the movie Harley-Davidson & the Marlboro Man.” That was BD3, with the stroker motor.

Over the years Heath, always a fan of Black Death, was moved by an article by Dave Aldridge, published in the May 1997 issue of Easyriders Magazine. This article broke down the build sheet of the bike, along with some history, “The Ultimate Lowdown On the Ultimate Low Rider.” The article concluded by saying “For you high rollers, the stunt bike was the actual bike you see in the movie. Black Death 3’s (that would seem to be BD4, if BD3 was the stroker owned by Zito) price tag stands at 50 grand in a paper bag. If you’re the serious sort, call Gene Thomason at 310-821-3626”

Well, a serious type did take Gene up on his offer and Gene loaded up Black Death in the back of a truck and drove it to Denver! AKA the Denver bike, or BD4, found a home with Stephen Quisenberry of the Denver area.

What happened to Mickey’s stroker bike? Does Chuck Zito still have it? He said he did in his book. What condition is it in after its well-published crash in the late ‘90s? New York Post reported, “Ran Over by a Car.”

Heath purchased Stephen’s BD3 or 4 and displays it at Loess Hills Harley-Davidson. Is this the home to the one and only original “Harley-Davidson and Marlboro Man” movie bike?

Here’s what Loess says about BD4

"This 80-inch bike harnesses true Harley power and ability to thrill. Sitting just 24 inches off the ground with California-style handlebars, Black Death 4 is nothing less than sexy. And if its custom, hand-formed design isn’t enough to get you going, the iconic image of the skull, cards and orange Harley-Davidson makes it a truly one-of-a-kind bike. Plus, did we mention that it is also autographed by Mickey Rourke himself? Pictures just don’t do it justice; Black Death is a bike you need to see in person. Come visit us at Loess Hills Harley-Davidson and experience Harley-Davidson and Marlboro Man bike for yourself."

Iowa Harley-Davidson Dealership Story
Loess Hills Harley-Davidson is your new Harley destination. You’ll be in hog heaven when you see our 30,000 square foot facility, full of a large selection of new Harley-Davidson bikes, accessories, and top-of-the-line clothing. If you’re in the market for a used bike, we can help you find the perfect pre-owned ride. Plus we take all trades...if it has a title and wheels, we can make you a deal! And if it’s service you’re after, stop in and see Buzz; he has over 25 years of experience and he’ll get you back on the road in no time. Visit Loess Hills Harley-Davidson for bikes, classic cars, maintenance and all of your Harley-Davidson gear.

--Heath Rodney
Loess Hills Harley-Davidson
57408 190th Street Pacific Junction IA 51561
Phone: 712.622.4000

Conveniently located off exit #35 on I-29, 17 miles South of Omaha

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Reader Comments

By chance does anyone know the vin -# to the stunt bikes used in the movies?

Jennifer Aguirre
Dale, Tx
Monday, October 3, 2022
Editor Response That's a tough one, but you can call Gene Thomasen at Bartels' H-D and ask. He built those bikes.
I used to have a {1991,Evolution,Harley.Davidson's,FXR}. I built it into a Pro,Street Style Harley,Davidson Motorcycles. I was thinking of building a {Big,Bear,Choppers}{Titanium Rubbermount FXR, because I'm 36 Years old & I've been building & working on Harley-Davidson Motorcycles ever since I was just 15 Years old.

Right now I'm building a 1995 Evolution Harley-Davidson Sportster with a Custom 18x250 mm Wide Rear Wheel kits & I Custom made a Legends AirRide kits To a Custom MonoShock Mountstyle on the Rear Swingarm & a Billet Alloy Mid, Glide Front Ends.

Vancouver,, British. Columbia., Canada
Monday, September 4, 2017
Editor Response I would say the Big Bear FXR frame would be the way to go. Can't wait to see it.
Hey, Yup like the article. I'm just an old n.mich biker, wanting help with specs on this scoot. Not trying to 100% copy, "can't afford that." Can you help with the neck degree. front wheel size (looks like 19), length of tubes. Or maybe you know of a site, where this info is available. Thanks, owe ya a beer. later

jim (rat)kramer
east tawas, MI
Monday, November 10, 2014
Editor Response Call Gene Thomason at Bartel's H-D in Marina Del Rey. He knows all the secrets: 310-823-1112. Ask for Deb. Tell her I sent ya. She will hook you up with Gene
The story is very interesting. I must of watched the movie more times than I can remember, and never knew the story behind it .

Thank you friend

sandy adair
mohnton, PA
Saturday, July 5, 2014
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