Confederate Motor Company - After The Flood-Made In The USA

Confederate Motorcycles: From Ruin To Renovatio

One year after the holocaust Hurricane Katrina inflicted on the city of New Orleans, Confederate Motorcycles is back in business. Taking a page from the voodoo religion practiced in its former hometown, Dixie's only motorcycle manufacturer has been reborn-not in Louisiana, but in neighboring Alabama, courtesy of U.S. motorcycling's Southern patriarch, George Barber.

After the disaster that saw its historic Warehouse District factory crushed by Katrina's 120-mph winds, Confederate president Matt Chambers has reestablished the company in a city itself recognized as resurgent-not from natural disaster, but from decades of neglect through the slow decline of its traditional cotton and coal-mining industries. With automakers Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota now manufacturing in or around Birmingham, the city has reinvented itself as the Detroit of the South.

That sense of beginning anew was stimulated on the one hand by Chambers having to sit helplessly by, thousands of miles from his New Orleans home, watching CNN showing Katrina bearing down like a steamroller on his home and business, and on the other by an alliance with the man who has put Birmingham firmly on today's global two-wheeled atlas. George Barber, creator of the stellar motorsports park and museum that bear his name, has ridden to the rescue of a fellow Southerner by offering Chambers the use of one of his buildings in downtown Birmingham while the company reestablishes itself. In the longer term, Barber has secured permission from the city council for construction of a new purpose-built, state-of-the-art Confederate factory on the racetrack grounds, the first step in what's planned to be a world-class automotive center of excellence. In the meantime, Confederate Hellcat F131 power cruisers are now exiting the company's temporary home, shortly to be joined by the Wraith B120, the customer version of the fabulous futurebike which epitomizes the stated culture of Confederate Motorcycles embodied in its logo: The Art of Rebellion.

"When Katrina hit, JT Nesbitt and I were in the Middle East, talking to one of our customers who was interested in investing in the company," Chambers recalls. "We wanted to hit the town that night and celebrate coming to an agreement. So after this great night out I get back around 2.30 a.m. and switch on the TV. It goes straight to CNN, and I remember being rooted to the spot, unable to move. The Gulf of Texas is this enormous great swirl of red, and what started out as a tropical storm is now a Category Four hurricane headed straight at my hometown.

"It was such a roller coaster of emotion, going from such a zealous high to such an anxious low in the space of just a few hours. I saw my investor that next day, and told him I didn't think we should proceed any further because it didn't look like I had a business for him to invest in. He looked me full in the eyes and told me that as far as he was concerned, the arrangement still stood. He said he knew we would survive and grow strong again, and he wanted to be a part of a renovated Confederate. That's the word he used, and that's the name we've given to our new-generation motorcycle, the Renovatio."

With his company now homeless, Chambers decided to move to Birmingham last December, after considering cities as close to New Orleans as Shreveport and as far away as Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Affronting as it might be to see a motorcycle bearing the Confederate badge exiting a Yankee factory, Pennsylvania was an option thanks to the location there of Brian Case, the outside consultant closely involved in bringing Nesbitt's flights of two-wheeled fancy to the street. In the end, Chambers persuaded Case to head south full-time.

"Among the factors that set Birmingham apart were Alabama's automotive manufacturing infrastructure and a highly trained automotive workforce from which a motorcycle manufacturer could draw employees," Chambers says. "Since moving to Birmingham, we've found plenty more reasons that have reinforced our decision. Not only is there an excellent tooling and manufacturing capability, but we've also discovered tremendous business development and marketing support services. Our former home, New Orleans, is a very romantic and historic place, but Birmingham is clearly on its way to being way cool."

That's not to say Confederate disdains any connection with the U.S. automotive industry's traditional Michigan home base, as its choice of partner to develop an entirely new American V-twin for the next generation of Confederate motorcycles shows. Detroit-based Kaytech serves several U.S. manufacturers' factory race teams, and founder Fritz Kayl is frequently called upon to engineer the exotic-most recently the Cadillac Sixteen concept car's 13.2-liter, 32-valve, pushrod V-16 engine featuring so-called displacement on demand via deactivation of half the number of cylinders under reduced load. With that kind of technology at its disposal, developing a 101 cubic-inch (1655cc) motorcycle engine to power the forthcoming Renovatio is an interesting alternative challenge. Says Kayl, "Developing a motorcycle engine is the same but different to an automobile motor. You're looking for performance, reliability, compact build and reduced weight, just that these different factors have a greater relative importance to one another in a two-wheeled vehicle. We're going to enjoy working with Confederate on what we're calling the Foxtrot Project."

To create the Foxtrot motor, Kaytech is essentially slicing two cylinders off the end of the iconic LS7 aluminum-block pushrod V-8 that powers the Corvette Z06. The liquid-cooled, dry-sump engine contains many race-derived components, including titanium valves and conrods, forged-steel crankshaft, high-profile cams and CNC-machined two-valve cylinder heads. According to Kayl, the engine will measure 107 x 92mm, with a 56mm intake valve and 41mm exhaust; will run an 11:1 compression ratio with the forged pistons running in open-deck Nikasil chrome-bore cylinders; and will feature a gear-driven primary and belt final drive on the right side of the bike, via a multi-plate oil-bath clutch and either five- or six-speed gearbox. If that sounds like a motor that'll win any stoplight shootout, Chambers has a final trick up his sleeve: supercharging. "I haven't made up my mind yet whether all the applications for this new engine will be supercharged, but for sure the Renovatio will be," he says. "We're going to be looking at high horsepower, which maximizes torque to weight, and we already have a supercharger supplier who can deliver us what we need. I think in the Renovatio we're going to have the ruler of the highways!"

That bike will, however, be built without acclaimed designer JT Nesbitt, who for personal reasons felt unable to leave New Orleans. Will JT's absence be felt? "Of course," says Chambers.

"JT will always be a part of what Confederate has become, having designed the Wraith and the Hellcat. But Edward Jacobs, his conceptual design assistant, has taken over the reins, and I believe our customers will be very excited by what he's doing. It's his turn to stand in the spotlight, and I know from the response we've had from those who've seen the Renovatio renderings that he won't be found wanting."

Jacobs, 32, was born in Guyana and is thus endowed with Her Majesty's English rather than the Southern drawl of most of his colleagues. He'd already worked for Confederate pre-Katrina, mostly out of his Connecticut home assisting Nesbitt to flesh out his own innovative two-wheeled concepts, while developing some equally stimulating ones himself. These are represented by the Renovatio, the first new model he's entirely responsible for since moving to Birmingham to take over the Confederate design helm.

This hyper-minimalist New Direction for the traditional American cruiser is set to debut for the 2008 model year, and in doing so will surely shake up the established norm.

"The Renovatio concept was conceived from the idea of having a structural load-bearing powerplant, juxtaposed with the idea of how to communicate its function and true design intention visually," Jacobs explains. "To embrace the motor as a foundation on which to build the remainder of the motorcycle is the main driving idea behind the design.

"The concept of the design entails a hierarchy of mounting points cast directly into the engine cases. First, the larger matrix of hard points allows continual major reconfiguration of motorcycle architecture, which in turn creates a flexible foundation to allow a place for growth and further iteration. These points, in conjunction with a matrix of a smaller-diameter subset of hard points cast into the engine case on all sides, set in inherently strong geometric configurations, allow for limitless structural peripheral connections. The combination of these concepts creates a truly utilitarian modular flexible foundation.

"Another idea contained in the Renovatio is the concept of reducing the parts count by having the components be smarter, so that they provide multiple functional uses. For instance, the front blades of the girder forks not only support the front wheel and indirectly operate the steering, but also serve as a housing for the LED lighting, as well as fluid passages for the needs of the radiator mounted between them. Everything is designed directly into the mold. The radiator placement along with the powerplant platform both allude to the U.S. automotive industry, while the fuel cell now is a combination of structural neck, air box, fuel cell and interface for rider.

"Creating these structural arrangements with multiple cavities is possible because of the capabilities inherent in structural carbon-fiber technology, and allows us to push the envelope of convention. These structural possibilities allow the multi-use fuel cell to cantilever and float over the engine, creating a new motorcycle vocabulary that communicates intention."

With the support of men like George Barber, as well as his anonymous investor, Matt Chambers and his team of fellow visionaries have not only reestablished the Confederate Motor Company on a far sounder platform than pre-Katrina, but in Edward Jacobs' remarkable Renovatio they have answered the question I'm sure I wasn't the only one to have asked after the Wraith broke cover: What next? Now we know-and it sure looks worth waiting for.