Confederate Motor's P120 Fighter: A rebel yell for the rich
Some bikes are part of a scene. Others, like the P120 Fighter Black Flag, are the scene. Cranking 160 horsepower from its 120-cubic-inch radial twin, Confederate Motor’s latest not only guns it and runs it but also blazes a distinct and stylized path in American motorcycling.
One look at the P120 Fighter, and it’s clear it isn’t a Harley. It has a skeletal, minimalist style that seems to turn the bike inside out, revealing a design philosophy that challenges the look of each component as well as its placement.
It takes 120 hours to assemble the 480 parts on the Fighter, and many of them aren’t found in the usual places. The underslung compact dual exhaust, for example, puffs on to the rider’s gear-shifting foot from the bottom, front left side of the bike. The oil tank is a canister just below the handlebars with windows on either side that show the 20/50 churning.
The electrical system is embedded in the dual-sided swing arm. And the gas tank begins as the Fighter’s tubular backbone but is stored in a separate reservoir at the bike’s base; a pump then channels the fuel into an engine that is so high compression, riders must first push decompression valves on the tops of each massive cylinder before firing up.
I had the Fighter for a day, which prompted an inordinate amount of near "Exorcist"-style head turning and photo taking, and not only because onlookers could hear my unbaffled exhaust long before they could see me thundering toward them and could prep their phone cameras accordingly. By the time my low-riding wheels were in full view, they could witness the double-wishbone front suspension moving up and down like the cantilevered arms of an earth-mover, then take in the strikingly stretched and triangular profile as I sped toward the horizon.
The P120 Fighter has a hot-rod-esque, 63-inch wheelbase and a 240-mm balloon for a back tire, but its rake and trail geometry are optimized, so though it didn’t exactly corner like a Ducati, it didn’t send me into oncoming traffic either. The Race Tech multi-speed adjustable suspension prevented the bike from bottoming out, and the forward pegs were placed so high they had absolutely no chance of scraping in tight turns, even if I had managed to muscle the bike that far over.
There is a level of menace to the P120 Fighter. The transmission drive belt is exposed and could very well have chewed off my boot if the pegs weren’t placed properly. The small, hinged saddle looked more like a bear trap than anything I wanted to straddle.
Confederate’s inspiration for the P120 Fighter was the outlaw motorcycle clubs of the ‘60s. Outlaw motorcycling being born from WWII fighter pilots, it follows that Confederate would look to aircraft for some of the P120 Fighter’s inspiration, such as its riveted, “triple load path” construction. The Fighter’s monocoque backbone, bulkhead and fuselage side plate construction are all made from aircraft-grade aluminum. The squishy rubber buttons and silver toggle switches that operate the turn signals, horn, ignition and high beams are more likely to be found in the cockpit of a Piper Cub than a motorcycle. They’re also unmarked, so it takes some practice to figure out which squishy button does what and avoid inadvertently honking the horn.
Unlike the upcoming C3 Hellcat, which will employ an all-new Confederate/S&S powertrain architecture, the P120 Fighter uses a counterbalanced JIMS motor and transmission co-developed with Confederate. While the clutch is not for the arthritic, the gear shifter was quite soft. There was no crunching with up and down shifts. And it was actually possible to find neutral.
I had a slight problem with the Fighter at the tail end of my day. The bike's whopping 12:1 compression ratio pushed the bike's underpowered starter to the brink, causing it to fail. The starter has since been beefed up and will be replaced on all P120 Fighters, according to Confederate founder Matt Chambers, which is exactly what buyers would demand on a bike that costs as much as this one.
Starting at $72,000, the P120 Fighter isn’t cheap. Nor is it common. Just 63 will be produced, making the P120 Fighter the perfect rebel yell -- for the rich.
2011 Confederate Motor P120 Fighter
Base price: $72,000
Price as tested: $80,000
Powertrain: Air-cooled, carbureted, JIMS radial twin, six-speed
Displacement: 120 cubic inches, or 1,966 cc
Rear wheel torque: 135 pound-feet
Rear wheel horsepower: 160
Dry weight: 460 lbs.
Seat height: 27 inches
-- Susan Carpenter
Video: Don Kelsen and Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times