Confederate Motorcycles has designed and handcrafted America's most substantive road bikes for twenty-four years.
Focused on creating an American Way Industrial and Mechanical Design culture, Confederate Motorcycles celebrates American Hand-craftsmanship and promotes heirloom quality, while de-emphasizing volume.
Taking the Art of Rebellion to the Streets
By Rick Harmon
Alabama Department of Tourism
Perhaps the biggest surprise about Confederate Motors is that the motorcycles it makes – motorcycles that sell for about $125,000 each – aren’t about money at all.
In fact, Confederate Motors founder and CEO Matt Chambers said he managed to create these motorcycles that are now being driven by some of the hottest film stars and musicians in the world, only after he realized making money was no longer a major goal.
But money was his goal when he graduated from law school.
“I became this guy who wanted to make a lot of money. I was very competitive and wanted to measure it by how much I made,” said Chambers.
And almost anyone who looked at the possessions he acquired – the mansion, the huge swimming pool, the vintage cars and motorcycles – saw him as someone who had become a winner in a very competitive business.
But Chambers didn’t think of himself as a winner.
Making a fortune as an attorney hadn’t brought the satisfaction he’d hoped.
“Once I made it, I realized that wasn’t all I wanted,” he said. “The caterpillar didn’t turn into a butterfly. I didn’t sprout wings. I felt I was pulled down more than ever.”
He said he won an $8.8 million verdict in his last case but still felt he wasn’t making a mark, that if he left what he was doing it wouldn’t make much of a difference – some other attorney would just do it.
But all that changed for Chambers, who said he learned to read using car and motorcycle magazines, when he started Confederate Motors.
“When I started this company, the whole concept was to create something that would be here for all time,” he said. “When I started this, I burned my boats. People would come to me and ask me if I wanted to take a case, and I knew I could make millions from it, and I still never considered taking them up on it.”
The reason was passion.
“I don’t think about this 24-7 and wake up in the middle of the night with ideas because it’s my job. I do it because I love it,” he said.
His goal changed from making money to making perfection.
The concept he came up with was to make limited numbers of work-of-art bikes that re-created what motorcycles were supposed to be about.
While other companies imitated Harley Davidson, Chambers wanted to re-create the passion, the rebellion of the original Harleys in an entirely different, modern form.
“Riding an American motorcycle is about being a rebel, which is what Harley was once about,” he said, adding that after it was sold, the company became content to live off its reputation and pretend to be for rebels while it sold conformity.
“What we wanted to do and what we have done is create a bike that is rebel-created, not something that tries to fit in,” he said. “Our priority became not to make money for stockholders but to understand and clarify rebel theory for all time, and I think people sense it when they see our motorcycles.”
The journey hasn’t been easy.
He started out with a factory in Louisiana. He tried to finance the designs using his own savings so he couldn’t be forced to take a more commercial approach. Chambers said that resulted in the company being underfunded and that he made a mistake by under pricing the initial motorcycles. The company had to sell 350 to 400 just to break even.
Eventually, he overcame those challenges and had the company poised for success.
“We came up with a plan that added even more quality and sold the motorcycles for a higher price,” he said. “We found if the product is good enough, people are willing to pay to buy it.
“We had a great shop, a great team, great spirit.”
Then in 2005 they had a great disaster – Hurricane Katrina.
“It wiped us out,” he said. “Our insurance company went broke.”
“When we came to Birmingham, we had maybe $20,000 worth of stuff. There was a period of like eight months when we couldn’t build anything. We had to completely start from scratch. That was a hell of a challenge. Probably the most difficult time in my life.”
Chambers doesn’t hesitate giving the three-word explanation – the Barber Museum.
“I knew if I were here I would soak in ideas and knowledge from the world’s greatest motorcycle collection,” he said. “I’ve been there enough that I know the motorcycles there intuitively and can make decisions based on that. Being there is just calm and easy. You can just drink it in. And we, as a company, are better for it.”
Confederate Motors is just better, period, according to Chambers.
“The quality of our motorcycle right now is just through the roof,” he said. “We are so far ahead of where we have been, and the quality has never been higher.”
He said the new Fighter design has been selling fast and is a “game-changer for us.”
“It’s hard to even define all the improvements,” he said. “It looks exotic as hell. It looks like a beast but is very friendly to use.
“We start with the Confederate motorcycle being the best motorcycle you can have, but then make it so that you can individualize it to fit you as a person. Our principle is no compromise and that if you are our client you will not have to compromise.”
Why does Chambers believe Confederate motorcycles are the best?
“I don’t think we have any competition whatsoever,” he said. “If you came to me and said you wanted to get the ultimate race bike, the ultimate speed bike, the ultimate engineered bike, I would suggest you get something else.
“But if you want something where cost isn’t a factor, something that stands for something, where the quality is 100 percent, and individualized to you and handcrafted, and where people can spot it as something unique 100 yards away, this is the motorcycle for you. It’s a motorized piece of art that we call a work of rebellion.”
It’s art that Chambers said more and more people will be able to own.
Confederate Motors plans to slowly increase the number of motorcycles it creates, so it can lower the price.
“We plan to grow from 72 motorcycles to 150, 200, 250, 300 maybe up to 500, but it will be slow, consistent growth over the years. With the higher production maybe we can price them at around $90,000.”
Still out of your price range? Chambers has a plan for that too. He plans to go global.
“We are negotiating to have certain products built off site,” he said.
He said Confederate Motors is working on a plan in which it may take some of its designs and hand them off to companies that would produce them in other countries, such as Mexico, and sell them at a cheaper price.
Chambers said the U.S. products would go by the brand Confederate Solid, while the more competitively priced motorcycles produced by foreign plants would be called Confederate Cast.
The former attorney now seems satisfied he has created something that will survive long after he is gone, a legacy to motorcycle enthusiasts that returns to the road a form of drivable art that is as passionate and individual as Chambers himself.
“If you are a rebel, this is your motorcycle,” he said.
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