Before extreme sports took the world by storm in the 1990s, there were the breathtaking stunts of the stars and striped leather-clad man, Evel Knievel. Every '70s kid wanted to be just like this icon with his roaring hot rod and death-defying antics, but the closest many of them got was playing with his flying-fast toys. Yet, 70s kids aren't the only types of people who get to enjoy these toys and other Evel Knievel memorabilia, and with a few tricks of your own, you can own some of these collectibles in no time at all.
The Seventies Daredevil Decked in Red, White, and Blue
Robert Craig 'Evel' Knievel, Jr. was born in Butte, Montana, on October 17, 1938. Raised by his grandparents after his parents' divorce, Knievel got his first taste for the dangerous life when he was taken to an auto daredevil show when he was eight years old. Later, he attributed this show and the moment of inspiration for becoming a daredevil himself. After quitting school in the tenth grade, Knievel got a job working with a mining company. That position quickly ended when Knievel made an earthmover do a wheelie and drove it into the main power line for the city of Butte, leaving the entire area without power for hours.
This spark for testing limits would never go away, and he continued searching for adrenalin rush after adrenalin rush, participating in rodeos and ski-jumping events before finally settling into the Army. After leaving the military, Knievel spent a few years involved in shady business ventures, hiring himself out as a hunting guide and nearly creating an international incident when he cheated the Czechoslovakian Olympic Hockey team out of their funds. However, he eventually returned to his original love of that auto show and sought to promote himself as a high-flying stuntman on wheels.
Evel Knievel's Marketing Genuis
One of America's premier daredevils, Evel Knievel, was one of the greatest popular icons of the latter mid-century to capitalize on his work. Unlike musicians who were reliant on their record labels and actors who were only as powerful as the studios behind them, Knievel was in charge of his own destiny, and he took advantage of every merchandising deal that came his way. Best known for his failed jump across the Snake River Canyon in 1974, Knievel's gravity defying motorcycle stunts kept spectators breathlessly on the edge of their seats throughout the 1970s, and their insatiable interest in Knievel's exploits turned them into the perfect money-making audiences. From televised jumps to feature-length films, Evel Knievel could make money even off of his failures. However, the most lasting part of his marketing genius has to be his beloved toy line.
Types of Evel Knievel Memorabilia
In the short period that Evel Knievel reigned supreme, there were innumerable amounts of merchandise promoting his events and performances made. Taking full advantage of the growing outlaw energy of the 1970s, exemplified by the open road travels of Easy Rider, kids of the '70s are just as fond of the old stuntman as they were fifty years ago. Thus, while there aren't a ton of people collecting Knievel's memorabilia, the community that trades and collects it is incredibly passionate about the white jump-suited man.
Evel Knievel's Toy Stunt Cycle
While you could find Knievel's likeness on lunchboxes and pinball machines from the era, the toy that mattered the most was Knievel's Stunt Cycle. Originally released in 1973, this stunt cycle action figure came with a wind up attachment that let you launch Knievel on his motorcycle a good distance away. The company eventually released five different editions of the stunt cycle, with the original 1973 being the most valuable. Following the stunt cycle, there were addition toys added to the line-up, including the:
- Scramble Van
- Jet Cycle
- Trail Bike
- Funny Car
These toys are pretty popular with collectors, and ones in good condition with its original packaging can sell for a few hundred dollars. In comparison, you can find the same toys unboxed and showing some signs of use that will sell for a fraction of the cost.
Here are a few of these toys that've recently sold at auction:
Evel Knievel Autographs
Now that Knievel has passed, his autographs are at some of the highest values that they've ever been, and he autographed a lot of different things like jumpsuits, capes, helmets, posters, baseballs, photographs, toys, and so much more. On average, authenticated signatures are estimated to be worth between $300-$3,000. Signatures on insignificant ephemera will sell for the least amounts of money, while those tied to important jumps (such as ticket stubs and posters) or hard-to-find items (like vinyls and posters) will sell for the upper ends of the spectrum.
Here are a few of Knievel's autographs currently listed at market:
- JSA authenticated Knievel autographed vinyl - Listed for $1,427.95
- PSA certified Knievel autographed Snake River Canyon jump ticket stub - Listed for $3,477.95
Common Knievel Ephemera to Collect
Ephemera is considered paper collectibles, items that under normal circumstances would've been considered trash. Some fans would keep ticket stubs and other items stored away in memory of a special moment, and collectors nowadays find these sentimental items worth hunting down. During the height of Evel Knievel's popularity, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and there are numerous printed items featuring his likeness available from pictures to vintage posters and other magazine covers. Although these items--without any autographs or historical significance--aren't particularly valuable, they are a lovely piece of mid-century history to have.
Types of ephemera you can find include:
- Ticket stubs
- Magazines and magazine covers
- Newspaper articles
The Most Expensive Evel Knievel Memorabilia
Although you can pick up an Evel Knievel themed screen-printed t-shirt for 20 bucks online, that doesn't mean that there aren't a few of Knievel's goods that have sold for impressive amounts of money. Take these high-priced collectibles, for example:
- Evel Knievel leather jumpsuit - Estimated value between $40,000-$60,000
- Evel Knievel's walking stick with hidden liquor compartment - Sold for $78,000
- 1973 Evel Knievel white jumpsuit - Sold for $108,000
- Evel Knievel Stratocycle - Asking price was $125,000
Places to See Evel Knievel Memorabilia
If you can't seem to find the perfect piece of Knievel memorabilia to add to your collection, or you'd just like to find out a little more about the man behind the myth before committing to any collectibles, then these in-person events and collections are the perfect places for you.
- Evel Knievel Days - Butte Montana has a history of hosting Evel Knievel Days in the summertime, and although there haven't been a few of these celebrations, there's always a chance that these celebratory events filled with collectibles from far and wide will return.
- The Smithsonian Institution - The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. has an immense collection of American artifacts, and amid the constantly rotating pieces on display are a few of Knievel's, like his famous white jumpsuit with red and blue, white star chevron stripe.
- The Evel Knievel Museum - Housed in Topeka, Kansas, the Evel Knievel Museum, is a public institution dedicated to preserving and displaying artifacts related to Knievel's infamous career.
Where You Can Get Evel Knievel Memorabilia Online
Don't worry about sifting through pages and pages of Google's suggested websites; these are a few surefire places to find your favorite Knievel memorabilia with no difficulties at all.
- eBay - Ebay is one of the most utilized sources for memorabilia online, with tons of both authenticated and non-authenticated items spanning Knievel's entire career. Make sure that you carefully assess each of the listings for their authenticity before purchasing them.
- The Evel Knievel Museum - The official Evel Knievel Museum has its own shop filled with modern items for Knievel collectors.
- Sports Collectibles - Sports Collectibles is a great place to find authenticated, autographed Knievel collectibles.
The Legend Lives On
Evel Knievel's death in 2007 brought about the end of an era. To his many fans, he embodied freedom and courage, allowing them to achieve impossible tasks alongside him with his televised stunts. For some, collecting Evel Knievel memorabilia helps them to stay connected to him; for others, it brings them just as much joy now as it once did.