They say: “The most exclusive thoroughbred motorcycle ever produced.”
We say: “Of course it is…”
Confederate had to stay afloat to bring Ed Jacobs’ innovative design to the marketplace, r
Fifty grand ain’t exactly cheap for a motorcycle, but when it’s one of the exclusive products of Confederate Motorcycles, it’s practically a bargain. The starting price for admission to the Confederate Owners Group used to be $72,000, but the newly announced X132 Hellcat is priced at a mere $54,450. Well, everything’s relative…
Named after the legendary Grumman F6F WWII fighter aircraft, the Hellcat has been the mainstay of Confederate’s range since 1994. More than 500 first-generation machines powered by S&S Harley-clone motors were produced before the company went bankrupt. Re-founded in 2003, Confederate developed a second-generation Hellcat X124 designed by JD Nesbitt. Around 75 examples of this version were made, powered by a variety of Harley-clone motors, before the model was dropped in ’09. That’s when company founder Matt Chambers and current designer Ed Jacobs started planning this third-generation Hellcat, which uses an S&S-made version of Confederate’s own air/oil-cooled, 56.25-degree X-Wedge V-twin. Displacement is 132 cubic inches (2163cc), hence the X132 nametag. Confederate’s 13 employees hope to build 168 motorcycles this year, and there were already 62 orders for the new Hellcat when I visited the company’s 8000 square-foot factory in Birmingham, Alabama, late last year.
Having ridden each of the previous Hellcat variants, I was quite unprepared for what awaited me as I threw a leg over the X132 and nestled into the surprisingly comfortable, ultra-minimalist seat. Unlike its predecessors, this new Hellcat is no cruiser, but instead a 21st century re-interpretation of an old-school British café racer. So the wide-spread but low-set clip-on handlebars dictate a stretch forward over the gas tank, while the rearset footpegs mean your right knee will avoid contact with the large air cleaner sticking out on the side. This sporty stance gets to be hard work on your wrists and shoulders after a couple hours, however, and you’ll be wishing for some swan-neck bar-risers like the chaps fitted back in the day.
Brake and clutch master cylinders are cleverly incorporated into the fork caps. Black-face
Firing up the X-Wedge powerplant can take a little time, but eventually it bursts into life with a satisfyingly meaty peal of thunder from the exhaust canister beneath the engine, settling into a 900-rpm idle. Despite its rigid mounting and lack of counterblancer, the motor is improbably smooth by air-cooled American V-twin standards. It’ll pull cleanly off idle thanks to the huge amount of torque, which peaks at just 2000 rpm but holds hard and strong all the way through to the 5800-rpm rev-limiter, which you have no business ever approaching. The motor’s happy zone is between 1500 and 3500 rpm, and you’re best shifting up at 4000 rpm as shown on the bike’s only instrument: a large, black-faced analog tach containing a small digital panel showing speed and fuel level.
Though the surprisingly light-action, hydraulically operated clutch barely needs to be troubled, you’re best off keeping the revs above 1800 rpm to avoid any hint of transmission snatch. Gear-change action is a little heavy but quite positive, swapping ratios smoothly except from second to first, when there’s a big clunk each time you go down through neutral. With so much torque on tap, however, the gearbox is largely superfluous, as the X132 will go anywhere in top gear with magnificent roll-on performance.
X-Wedge V-twin uses a one-piece forged crankshaft (rather than a Harley-style, bolt-togeth
But you’d expect all that from a big twin. What I wasn’t expecting is the Hellcat’s sporty handling. On the old X124, you couldn’t lean over more than about 30 degrees without hard parts touching down. But on the X132, this problem is non-existent! You inevitably end up maxing-out corner speed by putting all your faith in the superb Pirelli front tire and the well set-up Marzocchi fork, after using the responsive and ultra-effective Beringer front brakes to stop what is still a pretty heavy package. Then, on the other side of the corner, just open the throttle and feel the rear Pirelli hook up to achieve truly impressive acceleration. The steering felt distinctly lazy but very precise, and the chassis proved forgiving over bumps in spite of the RaceTech shock’s short travel. Once committed to a turn, the X132 didn’t like to alter its line, but it was really confidence-inspiring in fast sweepers.
Swiss motorcycle guru Fritz Egli invented the V-twin café racer back in the 1960s, and today the Egli-Vincent is revered as a benchmark bike. Passing through the town of Vincent, Alabama, during my test ride reminded me of this—and also of the fact that the X132 uses a modern version of Egli’s trademark spine frame, with its large-diameter backbone doubling as an oil tank. But with roughly three times the horsepower and twice the torque delivered by the 2-liter X-Wedge motor, Ed Jacobs had to come up with a whole new design strategy to make the format work. The fact that it does to such good effect when ridden “pretty dam' hard” (as the good, ol’ boys say) is a tribute to his design skills.
The Hellcat X132 isn’t just the first of a new-generation of Confederate models; it’s the first in a new model sector: the café cruiser. Let’s hope the rest of the family is equally innovative and effective. Oh, and affordable, too. Relatively speaking...