Adhering to boundaries isn’t something Confederate Motorcycles of Birmingham, Alabama, can be linked to, not in the slightest. Ever since the company’s inception in 1992, Founder Matt Chambers made it his life’s work to do just the opposite. With the new Hellcat X132 Café, Confederate Motorcycles continues shifting the paradigm of conventional motorcycling.
We had the opportunity to pick Matt’s brain one afternoon. He’s a thoughtful gent that’s inspired by passion and many different forms of creativity, and his moxie and willingness to go against the grain is what sets Confederate apart from the rest.
HB: Confederate’s known for its radical designs…how did the X132 come to fruition?
MC: The goal with this particular bike was to make something that would really last. A motorcycle equivalent to your favorite leather jacket, with the dream and vision of it being something that was ageless. It’s our first motorcycle with a steel tank for that reason. Everything on the Hellcat X132 is so incredibly overbuilt I can’t imagine it wouldn’t perform 100 years from now like it does today. This particular model is patterned after the F6F Hellcat from WWII. There’s a certain lean minimal toughness we were going for and we were able to get the maximization of torque relative to weight. We were seeking the highest torque we could get from the bike. It doesn’t make a lot of high-end power but its got a lot of low-end capability right off idle. It starts to kick off power pretty fluently. As for the look of the bike…I think it’s a lovely thing. It’s kind of been keeping with where we were 20 years ago. It’s somewhere between an old Crocker or Vincent. It has a bit of a Vincent feel to me, kind of like a giant American Vincent motorcycle but not as small or dainty. This thing is built to look like it’s ready to break through a brick wall. I think it’s very industrial looking and it’s kind of beautiful, but for me it never was to be the most beautiful. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.
HB: Being that this is the third iteration of the one that started it all, which Hellcat is your favorite?
MC: They’re all quite wonderful. The first bike, what we decided to do was to take the transmission, four-speed S&S case back in 1992, and we re-machined it so essentially it would run in reverse. We built the package so it had the tightest center-to-center distance from crank output share. We were the first guys to really unitize that design. It was the first RSD architecture with the S&S motor we were running at the time, which carried over to the second generation [Hellcat], but this bike has the all-machined unitized case structure and that’s really the major innovation of this product because now the swingarm pivot is machined into the case and still has the vertical transmission. It’s also tighter than ever, which now makes an extremely rigid platform to build a motorcycle around. And that’s part of the reason the motorcycle is going to last so long is because it is built to such extremely robust specifications: the billet cases, giant swingarm pivot, and huge mounting system in the front. It was the first time we were able to take a clean sheet of paper and design the mounting system with a motorcycle. It’s also cradle-less, which made it easier to get the bike to meet its specifications. It’s definitely a bike that on the chassis dyno is going to line up perfectly. That’s always been a calling card for Confederate is that [the bikes] do line up very accurately and precise.
HB: It’s clear that aeronautics play a large part in Confederate’s architecture. Care to elaborate?
MC: It’s just the best place to start from. We have two guys, Rich Coon and Jason Reddick, that handle quality control on the final build of the Hellcat. Both were officers that spun wrenches in the military as airplane mechanics and they both love bikes and have built custom bikes, but at their core, they’re aircraft mechanics. And that’s what we wanted. They just understand about codification and the way you build, and how you make sure everything you do is memorialized the right way so it’s done properly. There’s also a certain intuitive emotion about it that when you’re flying you can’t have a mistake and we want to bring that to our motorcycles, because in a way they’re the same. The other thing is that for me personally, going back to Glenn Curtiss’ early motorcycle career, which some people think he was just as instrumental as the Wright Brothers in aviation, but he started off with motorcycles. Glenn Curtiss was kind of the initial guy that got motorcycling going, along with Harley-Davidson and Indian, but I think Curtiss gets less credit than he deserves. He was a real example of American exceptionalism and he won the first land speed record on a motorcycle [in 1903]. And he got out of motorcycling to go into aviation so that connective tissue goes back to the roots of American motorcycling. I feel like there’s a place in the market for a small batch of motorcycles to be built by a little company like this that would essentially be like what the Hellcat was to the Wildcat. Lighter, more powerful, better built, higher quality, more attention to detail, and no compromise and that’s kind of the niche we fill.