From Steve McQueen’s Triumph TR6 Trophy Bird in 1963’s The Great Escape, to Peter Fonda’s custom Harley-Davidson Hydra Glide “Captain America” bike in 1969’s Easy Rider or Tom Cruise’s Kawasaki GPZ900R from 1986’s Top Gun, pop culture has given rise to a number of iconic two-wheelers over the years. One of the best-known scoots to be featured in popular culture is the bespoke, purple 1981 Honda CM400A Hondamatic Prince famously featured in 1984’s Purple Rain.
A total of three bikes were built for Prince’s 1984 rock opera, two of which were stunt bikes that were not automatics (or Hondamatics) though only one of the two was actually used. The third bike was the machine the pop star rode and posed on for the famous album cover. The production company wanted to use a badass looking chopper-type motorcycle, however “The Artist Formally Known As Prince” reportedly stood at just 5’2”, so placing him on a full-sized hog was gonna look a bit weird. For this reason it was decided that a small bike would be selected and then modified to give it an appearance more in line with the performer’s flamboyant style.
It’s unclear if the production just happened to select a automatic, or if this choice was motivated by Prince’s lack of experience aboard a bike, but either way they opted to utilize the Japanese air-cooled, 395cc, parallel twin. The CM’s seat height of less than 30 inches probably played a role in the production’s decision as well.
The Purple Rain bike was supposedly built by Tommy Summers’ Minnesota-based Low Riders by Summers – a shop founded in ’79 that specializes in custom choppers and, as its name suggests, low riders. Summers apparently had a difficult time finding the exact style of seat needed for the build, so he reached out to Drag Specialties to have a one-off high-back saddle commissioned, complete with pink diamond velour inserts and a trident sissybar.
The stock handlebars were jettisoned for a set of what are referred to as “6 bend pullbacks” a style of handlebar that was very popular at the time. The 400’s stock wheels were left as is, though the stunt bikes had their factory spoked rims replaced with Comstar alloy units. There is a lot of confusion surrounding the fairing on the Purple Rain bike. A lot of publications say it’s a Vetter Windjammer, however Tommy Summers says it’s in fact a Howe Kutter. “The Howe Kutter was used because Vetter didn’t make one .. at that time anyway,” explains Summers.
The bike was adorned in a coat of a color called “Plum Crazy” (seriously, how perfect is that?), and according to Summers, the specific hue is color code C-7 on early 1970s Mopar products. Interestingly the graphics painted over the coat of “Plum Crazy” were some of the very first versions of the “Love Symbol” that the artist wound up changing his name to. Half-a-decade after finishing the Purple Rain bike, it was returned to Summers who had it repainted in a black and gold livery for the filming of Prince’s lesser-known 1990 movie: Graffiti Bridge.
As of the time this was written, the original Purple Rain bike resides on display at Prince’s Paisley Park Studios, though that may change now considering Prince’s recent passing. The Paisley Park Studios also house one of the original non-automatic stunt bikes from Purple Rain which is still purple. While chances are you won’t be getting your hands on either of the two aforementioned examples, you can still purchase a pretty solid replica build that recently went up for sale.
According to the seller, he reached out to Tommy Summers to get a complete modification/parts list which was used to build this replica. Unlike the real thing (which is a 1981 model year) this replica is built around a 1979 Hondamatic CM400A. Aside from that, the builder did a stellar job of accurately recreating Prince’s mount. The exact original paint color was used, and the seat was supposedly replicated down to the exact grain pattern and stitch style by an expert upholsterer.
The sissybar and its bracket are also one-off pieces created specially for this build, as is the bike’s gas tank and custom made flare tip exhaust. In addition to authentic raised 6-bend handle bars, the replica also sports a genuine Howe Windkutter fairing and not a similar Vetter Windjammer or knockoff. The replica’s engine was reportedly given a complete rebuild, including a rebuilding of the carbs. The seller says the purple 400 – which reportedly has just over 18K miles on the odo – also recently got a new stator, tires, and brakes.
You can find this 1979 Honda CM400A Purple Rain replica for sale in Gainesville, Georgia with a BIN of $15,000