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Archive for the ‘Antique’ Category

1970 Harley-Davidson XR-750

I’m talking about the Harley-Davidson XR-750, which last month marked the 50th Anniversary since it’s debut.

From 1953 to 1969,  Harley-Davidson manufactured the KR750, the backbone of American dirt track racing.

The motorcycle engine was an air cooled, side valve 4-stroke 45° V-twin (flathead), 45.125 cu in (739.47 cc) displacement built for racing.  Unique for Harley’s at that time, the KR model shifted on the right, like a British bike, which worked great for dirt track.  It wasn’t until 1975, when DOT specified that all motorcycles sold in the U.S. had to have a standardized, left-side gear shift.

Harley-Davidson Flat Track Racing

Prior to 1969, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) rules for the Grand National Championship were structured to favor “sidevalvers” (side-valve engines) rather than overhead-valve (OHV) engines.  The intent was to deliberately favor American made bikes such as those from Harley-Davidson with their side-valve engines, and disadvantage the competition which was mainly from British manufactures i.e., Triumph, BSA, and Norton. The AMA rules allowed side-valve engines of up to 750cc capacity but OHV engines were limited to 500cc. The 50% engine size advantage stacked the odd in the favor of the side-valve bikes.

As you might imagine, the British manufactures complained…about everything—the rules, the manufactures, the officials, the drivers, the races, and the racing itself.

Harley-Davidson XR-750

As a result, in 1969, in prep for the 1970 race season, the AMA approved that all professional Amateur & Expert dirt track and speedway engines could be 750cc, regardless of configuration or valve style. This rule change eliminated the 250cc penalty for OHV engines that had existed since 1933.  Many British manufacturers begin designing and developing OHV 750cc engines for competition. To be approved by the AMA (for Class C competition), a motorcycle must be a standard catalogued production model and at least 200 units of the same model with identical engines and transmissions and must be available for inspection and/or purchase within the United States.

XR-750 Engine – Ported and Polished Heads

Unhappy with the decision, but with a desire to continue the racing legacy, Harley-Davidson set out to create a new overhead-valve racing motorcycle.  The Milwaukee motor company leveraged their OHV V-twin racing engine based on the Sportster XLR.  However, it’s engine had a displacement of 900cc (55 cu. in.) and would need to have its capacity reduced to 750cc. Harley-Davidson engineers accomplished this by decreasing the engine’s stroke from 3.81″ to 2.983″ and increased the bore from 3.0″ to 3.2″ bringing the engine in just under the 750cc maximum.

The AMA approved the Harley-Davidson “XR”, a 750cc V-twin overhead valve engine, for Class C competition on Feburary 27, 1970. It had been tentatively approved in late-1969 as the “750 Sportster”, but the motor company lacked having 200 units available for inspection at the time. The motorcycle is dubbed the “iron XR“, or “Iron Head,” due to its steel cylinders and heads.

Even Knievel

For the 1972 race season, there were a number of changes.  A vote was taken on November 18, 1971, and the AMA Competition Congress voted to allow qualified women to compete in all forms of AMA Racing.

The Water-Cooling was approved, as long as it is an integral part of a production motorcycle.  Titanium frames were outlawed from all AMA competition. The AMA approved the Harley-Davidson XR-750, an updated version of the XR, for Class C competition on April 12, 1972. The updated engine used aluminum cylinders and heads to address the overheating issues that plagued the XR model. However, due to delays in getting all 200 units completed, it wasn’t approved in time for the Daytona 200, but debuts at the Colorado Springs national on April 30, 1972.

Speaking of aluminum heads, they were made, then shipped to Jerry Branch of Branch Flowmetrics in Long Beach, California to be ported and assembled. The new cylinder head design included larger valves. The cylinder heads were then shipped back to Harley-Davidson’s factory in Milwaukee for fitting to the new engines. This V-twin engine was not quite of the same dimensions as the Iron Head. The bore was increased to 3.1” and the stroke reduced to 3”. Carburetors were 36mm Mikuni, one for each cylinder. The exhaust systems were mounted high on the left side of the motorcycle well away from the carburetors.  Power was 82hp at 7,700rpm giving the bike a top speed of around 115mph.

Harley-Davidson Flat Track Racing Team

Branch wrote engineering books on his engine air flow work and eventually sold Branch Flowmetrics to Mikuni in the late 1990s.  Branch was the only independent company to ever supply Harley-Davidson ported and polished heads!

In 1972, Harley-Davidson was the first-ever “Grand National Manufacturer’s Championship“, which compiles the highest finish of each brand at every Grand National Championship event.  Between 1972 and 2008, the XR-750 won 28 of 37 AMA Grand National Championships. The XR-750 racked up more wins than any other motorcycle in AMA racing history and earned the description of being the “most successful race bike of all time.”  In addition, the XR-750 became a cultural icon with legendary stuntman Evel Knievel at the handlebars. Evel Knievel began jumping an XR-750 at the height of his career from 1970 to 1976.

Harley-Davidson created one of the greatest bikes in the history of American motorcycling.

For 2020, the Harley-Davidson Factory Flat Track team will use the updated Harley-Davidson® XG750R flat tracker, powered by the liquid-cooled, fuel-injected and race-tuned 750cc Harley-Davidson® Revolution X™ V-Twin designed for the Street 750 motorcycle.

Full details on the Flat Track team can be found HERE.  Flat Track racing news is HERE.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson

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SS Thistlegorm Bow

I like fish.

When SCUBA diving, as you descend through the water, just at that point where the reef or wreck features become clear, fish of all kinds will often swim right up to you and nibble anything they can, in order to get a better idea of just what you are.

It’s common practice to tuck away longer hair and keep your fingers balled up to avoid having them nicked by pesky fish passing-by.  In some parts of the diving world, the nibbles seem to take this habit to another level.

SS Thistlegorm Stern

I’ve dived in some of the same pristine blue waters as the “Father” of SCUBA diving, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, and his legendary dive team, but I’ve never descended through water in the Egyptian Red Sea where these were first ‘discovered.’

I’m talking about the SS Thistlegorm.

It’s a 4,900 ton British armed freighter that was launched in April 1940 during World War II.  In 1952, Jacques Cousteau ‘re-discovered’ the SS Thistlegorm Wreck after following fishermen’s information and in 1956, the National Geographic with Cousteau made the first documentary on this war grave.  The local folklore is that Cousteau chopped down the mast so others would not as easily find the wreck.

Cousteau on SS Thistlegorm.  Article in the February, 1956 National Geographic Magazine.  Photo by Luis Marden

After the SS Thistlegorm three successful voyages to collect war related resources from the United States, Agentina, and the West Indies, she set sail on her fourth voyage from Glasgow in June 1941, destined for Alexandria, Egypt.

The vessel’s cargo included trucks, armored cars, Norton 16H and BSA motorcycles, guns, ammunition, radio equipment , aircraft parts, railway wagons, and two steam locomotives, which were carried on deck. The cargo was to resupply allied forces in Egypt, which would become part of the famed British Eighth Army in September 1941.

The Albyn line named all of their ships after the thistle, the national flower of Scotland. Gorm is Gaelic for blue.  Between 1901 and 1960 the Albyn Line owned 18 ‘thistle’ ships, from the first Thistledhu, the black thistle, to the last, Thistleroy, or red thistle, the second of her name.

Motorcycles in Hold #2

Notably, there were more than 100 motorcycles aboard the SS Thistlegorm. The Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) produced the famous motorcycles found on the wreck, which are located in Hold #1.  The Norton 16H’s are in the lower level of Hold #2 and many are loaded onto Fordson War Office Transport (WOT) trucks.

Norton was the primary motorcycle supplier to the British Military during WWII, almost 100,000 of the Norton 16H Model were built for service. Due to the relatively high ground clearance and solid reliability the Norton, it was favored for despatch work, it was also used for training, reconnaissance, convoy control and escort duties.

Motorcycles in Hold #2

The Norton 16H had an extraordinarily long lifespan, they were originally introduced in 1911, then built through to 1954. The 16H was fitted with a 490cc side-valve engine and had a bore/stroke of 79/100mm. The “H” in the name simply means “Home”, the Nortons that were built for service overseas with the Australian, New Zealand, Indian and the Canadian Armies were denoted with a “C” for “colonies”.

The SS Thistlegorm was part of a convoy of 16 ships heading to Alexandria resupplying the British 8th Army at Tobruk.  The convoy was halted at Sha’ab Ali (Safe Anchorage F) because a tanker had run into a German mine at the entrance to the Suez canal, and the convoy had to wait until the wreckage was cleared.  The Thistlegorm was sunk during a surprise attack by a pair of Heinkel He-111 bombers dispatched from Kampfgeschwader (flight squadron) KG26 in Crete.  The German bombers were originally ordered to search for, and sink, the RMS Queen Mary.

After failing to find the RMS Queen Mary, they were heading back to base in Crete due to being low on fuel when they came across the ship convoy by accident.

SS Thistlegorm Prop

Four sailors and five members of the Royal Navy gun crew died in the bombing (Wreck Location Map: 27° 49′ 03″ N, 33° 55′ 14″E) as ammunition stored in Hold #4 exploded and ripped open the hull.

Most of the cargo remained on board following a long period of disinterest.  Until Dr. Adel Taher, the founder of Sharm’s Hyperbaric Medical Centre, ‘rediscovered’ the wreck in the early 1990s with three friends and dived it in secret for a few years.

Then growth of sport diving took off in the Red Sea and Sharm El Sheikh became a popular scuba diving destination.  The depth of the wreck is around 100 feet and makes it ideal for diving without the need for specialized equipment and training, but dive operators didn’t practice social distancing and word spread as the location became the most popular scuba diving and tourist destination in Egypt and the Red Sea.  Now there are severe issues with preserving artifacts and the history of the ship wreck.

1940’s Norton-Model-16H-Military

It would be tempting, even with unexploded ordinance, to retrieve a Norton or two, but the ship wreck is a war grave and not to be disturbed.

Bonus: A 1942 training film prepared for the British Army during World War II on maintenance of the Norton 16H via YouTube HERE.

References: Wikipedia, Dive Magazine UK, Dive Zone, Red Sea Wreak Project, The Thistlegorm Project 

NOTE: Trademarks, copyrights and other names or brands may be claimed as the property of others.

Photos courtesy of Denis Zorzin, National Geographic, Luis Marden, Dive Magazine UK, Super Jolly

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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Highway 50, just outside of Great Basin National Park

You might not know, but there are 59 national parks and 4,092,729 miles of roads in the United States.

All the roads in Brazil, Germany, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, and France combined would not equal the length of America’s roadways.

Believe it or not, there was a time in our not-so-distant past when there were no paved roads bridging the gap between civilization and the North American wilderness.  The earliest Harley-Davidson motorcycles had the same suspensions as bicycles of the time: none at all. The roads were a hodgepodge of dirt, stone, and other materials. Bumps were everywhere!  Harley-Davidson’s weren’t necessarily the fastest bikes on the market, but they were built with reliability in mind and were among the first truly heavy duty motorcycles in the world that could be relied on for safe running over the atrocious roads of the day.

1913 Harley-Davidson Model 9-B Single — Valve Side

The transformational American road-trip essentially became touring wide-open spaces from the saddle of a motorcycle.

In last months posts, I touched on a collection of classic motorcycles in the northwest and provided tribute to an inspirational man (Bob) with a genuine love of wrenching motorcycles.  I also illuminated his first restoration in the collection — a 1937 Harley-Davidson Model U-Series Flathead.

In this post, I’m plunging head first into another motorcycle in the collection, a Harley-Davidson 1913 Model 9-B Single.  It was already Harley-Davidson’s 10th anniversary when this bike originally rolled onto the showroom floor. From their humble beginning and that first bike built in their 10′ x 15′ shed, they had overcome the competition to produce over 1,000 motorcycles in 1909 to almost 17,000 bikes in 1913.

1913 Harley-Davidson Model 9-B Single — Transmission Side

According to an advert for the 1913 Chicago Motorcycle Show, Harley-Davidson states (page 10) that they sold out their entire manufacturing output in 12.5 weeks!  Clearly, the Milwaukee motor company had grown past the “motorized bicycle for fishing trips” into planning  motorcycles for large volume production.

Postured affectionately in the corner of the vintage collection showroom, you’ll want to gaze at this motorcycle for hours, and each time notice something new. A small hand-turned screw on a throttle linkage, a one-off brass cam on the carburetor body, a perfectly machined castellated nut on the rear hub that firmly holds the pedal sprocket – a few indicators of its origins as a commercial motorcycle. All of these details amaze and remind me of just what this bike was built to do – both by its original designers and by its inherited restorer.

1913 Model 9-B Single — Valve Side Close-up

It was interesting to learn that Bob’s motorcycles were never chosen for specific “provenance” or heritage — the range of manufactures in the collection represent personal tastes as well as unique expressions — beauty, performance, functionality and style that resonated with him through the years.

This 1913 Model 9-B single originally sold for $250.00 at the factory in Milwaukee and it took Bob more than 15 years to fully restore.  It’s the oldest motorcycle in the collection, and was one of Bob’s top-three favorites, but not the rarest or most collectible in the world.

Restoring a Milwaukee icon is no easy task, but with Bob’s guiding hands this motorcycle showcases exceptional restoration craftsmanship, pristine attention to detail, and along with some unique history it might well mean that it is destined to be in a museum some day.

1913 Model 9-B Single — Transmission Side Close-up

The condition of this single-cylinder, four-cycle, air-cooled model is truly immaculate and a bill-board poster of simplicity.  It’s also the foundation of what generated the Milwaukee motor company mystique.  The motorcycle features a 35 cu in (565cc) motor with a nominal 5 HP, an overall weight of 235 pounds, a 2-gallon fuel tank, a 3.5 quart oil tank, and a Bosch magneto placed behind the motor to keep out road grit.

For the 1913 model year, the Harley single was updated with the mechanically operated inlet valve (replacing the ‘atmospheric’ type), which was developed first for the twin cylinder models, and at the same time boasted a balanced bottom-end, alloy piston and improved carburetor.  The stroke was increased to 4 inches as compared to 3.5 inches of the former model.  The wheel-base on the singles were 1 inch shorter than the twins.

1913 Harley-Davidson Model 9-B Single — Front Fort Close-up

Harley-Davidson also made a small change to the form of the clutch lever operating the “free wheel” in 1913.  On the flat belt models a guard was mounted.  These motorcycles were popularly known as the ‘5-35’ (5 horsepower, 35 ci displacement).  The 9-B single was available in belt and chain-driven versions while ease of use was considerably enhanced by the adoption of the rear hub clutch first seen on the twin cylinder.  As the twin’s popularity grew, the single declined, accounting for only 4% of sales in 1917 and production of the Harley-Davidson ‘5-35’ ceased in 1918.

The gray color paint on the restored motorcycle includes a bold striping scheme, which complements the original manufacturing process of taking great care during the enameling procedure with three hand rubbed coats of paint followed by a protective varnish.

1913 Harley-Davidson Model 9-B Single — Transmission Side

Manufacturing the Model 9-B single made up the majority of the company’s production in the early years.  By 1912, all Harley-Davidson’s had gained mechanical inlet valves and all-chain drive, but this restored model, included the belt option, which was offered for several years.  Both singles and V-twins had single-speed transmissions with a robust rear hub clutch operated by a tank-side lever, and their new mechanical inlet valve meant more power and higher revs were possible. The valve side has a pedal-and-chain drive. With the rear wheel raised up by the stand and with the clutch engaged, the pedals are used to crank the motor. The brake is engaged by a slight backward pressure on the pedals.

The rider sits on a leather brown saddle, mounted with a central, sprung pillar sliding with the frame’s vertical saddle tube, which was positively located by an articulated lever pivoting from the top frame, just ahead of the saddle nose.

1913 Harley-Davidson Model 9-B Single — Top Looking Down at Valve Side

Harley-Davidson called this the “Full-Floteing” seat—a riders comfort not-with-standing accurate spelling—as the system should be quite familiar to any Duo-Glide owner.  The oil tank hid with the tool box. While the engine’s drip oil feed was “automatic,” any hard riding owner could give a visible shot of fresh lubricant from a tank-top hand pump.

The 1913 motorcycle frame was reportedly stronger than the previous year models and provided better handling, while the new vertical fins atop the cylinder head allowed the engine to run cooler.

1913 Harley-Davidson Model 9-B Single — Transmission Side

As mentioned earlier, the Bosch magneto was placed behind the motor to prevent collection of road grim, and proved to be a reliable instrument, making the machine easy to start via its bicycle pedals on the stand or off the stand using the valve lifer to take off.  The motorcycle has 28 X 2.5 tires with an Eclipse Knockout front hub that allows the tire removal by taking only one nut off.  The brakes are “coaster type” on the rear wheel like today’s simple pedal bikes.

In the late summer of 1913,  a new board track was opened in Milwaukee, right in Harley’s back yard.  The company’s professional race abstinence came to an end as Harley-Davidson change its corporate mind and the Racing Department was formed, with William Ottaway as its first Assistant Engineer to racing engineer William S. Harley.

1913 Harley-Davidson Advert — Courtesy of Motorcycle Illustrated and Google Books

The Harley twins pulled ahead of Indians and would dominate motorcycle racing in 1914.  The Racing Department was referred to informally as the “Wrecking Crew.”  However, one of the racers acquired a pet piglet, which was quickly adopted as the team’s mascot, and helped popularize the nickname ‘the Harley Hogs’ due to the race team carrying the team’s mascot around on the motorcycle fuel tank during victory laps.

The 9-B single is truly a peppy machine and can be ridden all day long at 40-45 MPH, as proven in the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run, where a 1914 single-cylinder Harley-Davidson won the 2018 event with a steady, thumping pace.

This 1913 Model 9-B was a frame-off full restoration which Bob completed in the 1980’s.  Parts were sourced as needed from various swap meets, nickel ads, flea markets, yard sales, and scanning newspapers to find an elusive part!  There was no Dubya, Dubya, Dubya (i.e. Internet) in those days.  Most of us will never know the feeling of satisfaction derived from unearthing the perfect part at a swap meet and haggling its price down to a bargain.

1913 Harley-Davidson Model 9-B Single — Transmission Side

During the course of multiple interviews, I ask if anyone knew why Bob was so fervent about recruiting parts from swap meets. It turns out that Bob and his wife loved to travel. And, in the course of seeing America from a motorcycle, he recruited ever more vintage enthusiasts to help him find and locate parts for motorcycles he had in the restoration queue.

Those early days began the tradition of keeping motorcycles running and riding as much as possible.  It was called “self-assemble.”  Buying a complete front end may wipe-out your budget, but if one guy has a set of tubes for $40, and you remember seeing a triple tree on that table over by the Port-A-Potty, and you manage to negotiate a wheel and axle for $35… well, you are most of the way to having a front end cheaper than buying a complete unit — if it existed!  The rides and swap meet experiences were some of the best and fun times for Bob and his wife.

This is one of the finest restorations of an early Harley-Davidson model anywhere!

Previous posts on this vintage collection:
Vintage Restorations Uncovered In The Northwest
A Northwest Collection Gem – The 1937 Flathead

Photos taken by author. The black & white Motorcycle Illustrated advert courtesy of Harley-Davidson and Google Books.

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Harley-Davidson 1937 Model UL — Flathead

In a previous post, I briefly touched on a remarkable collection of classics in the northwest and how I was most fortunate to interview the family and learn more about an inspirational man with a genuine love of wrenching on vintage motorcycles.

In this post, I’m taking a deeper dive on the first (frame-up) restoration in that collection — a 1937 Harley-Davidson Model U-Series Flathead.

According to Harley-Davidson, the UL production in 1937 was 2,861 units and the motorcycle sold for $395 or the equivalent purchasing power of about $7,100 in 2020.

Harley-Davidson 1937 Model UL — Teak Red

There is nothing more alarming than a motorcycle that has been built, modified or customized by someone of dubious talent and knowledge. All it takes is a quick spin around Craigslist, searching for the terms “project,” “bobber,” “custom” or “café racer” to turn up any number of bikes that will have you saying WTF.

Many times these projects are started with the best of intentions, but the absolute worst are the ones that are started in an attempt to make a quick buck, or resurrect a wadded up bike.

However, this ’37 wasn’t someone else’s project.  It would need help bringing her back to life, but it had all the original sheet metal, flathead engine, transmission, speedometer, leather saddle bags, solo seat and more.

Instruction Manual

Bob spent several years on the identification, collection of manuals and parts search for this exceptionally high caliber restoration.  He completed the motorcycle restoration in 1975 and was often seen riding it at various antique club events through-out the years. The motorcycle has lots of crowd-pleasing brightwork, is an excellent runner with showy pieces of Art Deco styling and old school looks.

A fascinating backstory is the original restoration color on this ’37 was Olive Green with Black striping. Bob loved spending time with his grandkids who were all very involved in taking things apart including motorcycles.  It started with bicycles then mini-bikes and later on with motorcycles and automobiles.  In his workshop, he’d show them how to take apart things and repair them — the correct way — with the correct tools!  Several years after completing this restoration, he decided to work on a project with his grandkids and taught them how to disassemble the ’37 inorder to repaint the sheet metal Teak Red.  Those kids meant the world to him and passing down his tradesman skills might be his legacy.

1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL

The ’37 is an excellent example of the — Flathead Engine — a charming, honest, beautiful bike that doesn’t rely on diaper-shined chrome or flawless paint to impress.  Named for its flat-topped, vented cylinder heads, the side valve-equipped (using tappets) 74 cubic inch V model Big Twin actually came out in 1930, but in 1937 the U-series motors were of dry-sump oil design.

At first flatheads seemed out-of-step or backwards compared to higher-horsepower overhead-valve designs. But, out in the real world, the “flatty’s” broad spread of torque, less clattery operation and cheaper buy-in continued to win over riders.  The 74 cubic inch “F” motor has a 4-speed tank-shift transmission and a Linkert M51 mechanical butterfly carburetor.

The teardrop-shaped fuel tank is adorned with an instrument panel (dubbed the “Cat’s Eye”) that bundled all the gauges into one graceful package. It even has the rare dash panel with the oil and amperage indicators.

1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL — aka “Cat Eye”

The Big Twin model was built in part to compete with the 74 cubic inch Indian Chief.  The U and UL models featured 74 cubic inch power plants, and the UH and the ULH models were outfitted with 80 cubic inch engines. The 80 cubic inch models were produced until 1941, and the 74 cubic inch U and UL models were in production until 1948. The three-wheeled Harley-Davidson Servi-Cars made from the early 1930s through 1975, were powered by flathead engines during their entire run of production.

One of the most notable improvements found on the ’37 U-series, was the new design, which recirculates the oil from the oil tank, through the engine and back to the oil tank. Up until 1936, all Harley-Davidson motorcycles used “total loss” systems, which essentially ran the oil from the oil tank, through the engine and ultimately onto the ground.  Thus the nickname: “road oilers.”

1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL

The valves are actuated by four gear-driven camshafts (one per valve) and used adjustable tappets to maintain precise spacing between the cam lobs and the valve stems. Although the cylinder heads don’t contain any moving parts, they do play an important role in cooling the engine. Initially Harley-Davidson outfitted the U-series motors with cast iron cylinder heads, but soon switched to forged aluminum alloy heads with deeper cooling fins for improved cooling. The engine has brass spark plug inserts added to address the former engines’ problems of stripping threads. This motorcycle doesn’t have them, but at the time customers could opt for optional silicon aluminum heads.

1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL

Fuel and air are fed into the motor using a single Linkert carburetor, which is positioned on the left side of the motorcycle. Harley reversed this arrangement for its overhead motors, which all have right side carburetors. Exhaust was routed and expelled via a single fishtail muffler on the right side.

The primary chain, located on the left-side,  transmits power from the engine to the 4-speed transmission. The transmission is hand shifted via a lever mounted on the left side of the fuel tank and the clutch is controlled with a foot pedal. A secondary chain transmits power from the transmission to the rear wheel using a brake drum mounted sprocket.

The front and rear drum brakes are engaged manually with no hydraulic assistance. The front uses a cable to connect a right side mounted hand lever to the left side mounted drum. The rear uses a series of adjustable rods to engage the motion of the right side brake pedal through the frame and out to the left side mounted rear drum.

1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL

The ’37 Model UL rides on a “hardtail” frame.  Basically, there is no rear suspension. The sprung solo seat helps offset the lack of any rear suspension, and the “Springer” front end is the main suspension on the Model UL.  It’s a two piece element that uses six external springs on the top and moveable rocker arms on the bottom. The springs absorb impacts while the rocker arms permit vertical movement of the front axle.

The left hand grip operates the engine timing, allowing a rider to retard the timing for easy starting and advance the timing for normal running. The horn button and the high/low beam switch for the headlight are located on the left side handlebar as well.

1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL

Shifting the 4-speed transmission is accomplished using a hand lever that is attached to the left side of the fuel tank. A shift gate helps the rider find the gears without skipping gears when shifting. The foot operated clutch, known as a “rocker clutch” is used to engage and disengage the clutch. All Harley’s use the “toe to go” set up where pressing the clutch pedal forward with the toe engages the clutch and pushing the pedal back with your heel disengages the clutch. A friction disc is used to keep the clutch pedal in the heel back position, so that the rider does not have to keep their foot on the pedal when the motorcycle is stopped.

It’s challenging to explain the ’37 Harley-Davidson Model UL mystique.  There is both excitement and apprehension in managing the technique of a rocker clutch and tank mounted shifter.  Adding to the rider challenge is counteracting the heavy Springer front-end during a corner. Stability, if there is such a thing on this model, is a complicated matter and the manufacture of motorcycles in the 1930’s were very reluctant to talk about it.

In the fast moving world we live in today, it’s difficult to wrap your head around the bicycle-like origins starting in the Davidson family’s backyard more than 116-years ago.  If we had the luxury of going back in time, we could ask the young inventors, but I’d anticipate the founding group would be exceptionally proud of Bob’s restoration treasure and the enduring craftsmanship on “their” 1937 Model UL.

UPDATED: March 8, 2020 — The third post on this vintage motorcycle collection is: Every Restored Motorcycle Has A Story — The 1913 Single

Author Comments:  Although my name appears on the post, it takes a “village” to pull together this type of information.  I’m not only delighted to be working with Bob’s family, I also get the honor of thanking them here.

Photos taken by author and courtesy of Harley-Davidson.  

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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Archives Warehouse — Harley-Davidson Museum — Milwaukee, WI

Before jumping into the nuts and bolts…

Disclaimer: Some of the names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

This article is the first in a series of planned posts about a collection of vintage motorcycles in the northwest and the man whose work was steeped in the craftsmanship necessary to become proficient at restoring this collection.

Outbuildings, Workshop and Showroom

I’m not a motorcycle archivist, but definitely a fan of reflections in a classic motorcycle headlamp. Vintage motorcycles turn heads wherever they go.

You might find on a typical road trip to Sturgis, a classic motorcycle rattling along in it’s own space in the slow lane.  You’ll roll up along side to pass then with a nod to the rider, be momentarily distracted from the road as the vibrating antique parts try and reach out to tell their story.

I came to know about this remarkable collection of classics in the northwest and was most fortunate to interview the family.  Getting a tour of this private collection is a slow-walk through motorcycle history in America.  I was not only impressed with the number, but also the significance and uniqueness of them.

January 1937 H-D Enthusiast

As a general rule, bloggers are impatient and eager to illuminate a story, especially when it comes to finding a rare stash of motorcycle history.  But, I wanted to be deliberate in the research of the bikes and truly capture the ‘soul’ of the story — the man who is behind the restorations and who made the magic.

Let’s call this man, Robert (Bob) — the heartiest of men with a large stature, a strong handshake, a friendly smile and a genuine love of wrenching on classic motorcycles.

There’s something a little magical about taking an old, neglected, forgotten motorcycle, bringing her back to life, and restoring it to her former glory.

Why do classic motorcycles grab us fiercely by the heartstrings?

There is no simple answer to that question, but one thought is they intersect with our own history.  If not you, then your father or granddad, all who would’ve been lucky to ride one of these works of art and as is often the case, it triggers a flood of fond memories.

1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL

To provide some historical context and mental imagery — it was a time when there were far fewer people around, fewer laws and regulations, when gas was cheap, when driving was a pleasure, and if you owned a powerful two-wheeled machine you could point the chrome headlight down an empty road and go!

In 1937, the San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge opened to traffic — at about the same time, a new generation of side-valve engines were introduced from the Milwaukee motor company.  Replacing the V series which had a “total loss lubrication” system, the new U series motors in 1937 were dry-sump oil designs. Most of the motorcycle parts were made in common with the Model E 61 inch OHV motorcycle that debuted a year earlier.  As it turns out, Bill Harley was granted patent 2,111,242 for this oiling system on March 15, 1938.

1913 Harley-Davidson Model 9B

The completely revised engine had many upgrades that separated it from the earlier V motor including new cases, cylinders and now had roller bearings throughout the lower end. New forks, frame and sheet metal improved the image of the new bike, with styling cues heavily influenced by the Art Deco movement, something that the flowing lines of paint and emblems reflected.

Fast-forward to 2020 and my private tour was finally here!

1948 Harley-Davidson Model 45

I’ve aspired to attain eminence in photography and my bucket list includes photographing motorcycles in a professional studio.  But, finding a studio with a large white soft-box that’s big enough to ride a motorcycle into is an obstacle.  Well, it is for a regular guy and renting a commercial studio with light stands, multiplex flash strobes, drop clothes and diffusion panels to eliminate reflections in the paint wasn’t in the budget.

But, I’ve digressed…

I stepped through a side-door entrance and onto the wooden floor of the showroom that houses the motorcycle collection. The space is huge and it’s open and airy with an industrial aesthetic and light pouring in through multi-paned windows.  There is a lingering smell of oil and I noted a few drops on the polished floor.

1916 Indian Power Plus

A beautiful collection!

I didn’t want to be that annoying “tourist” snapping too many photos, but I was that irksome camera-happy dude on this day.

It was a “ride through history” on rare and collectible motorcycles. More significant, were the remarks about the attention to detail and listening to the fascinating backstories, anecdotes, folk-lore and the restoration tales that my “tour guides” shared on each of the motorcycles.

A panoramic scan of the showroom is an overload of storytelling. Side-stepping across the wooden floor finds a person gazing across more than a dozen motorcycles stacked side-by-side.  Set up like an academic library, against an outer wall are multiple bookcases and shelves, where hundreds of engine manuals and parts catalogs were filed away.

The only item missing in this showroom was an onsite cafe!

1925 Henderson Four

There is even an old draughtsman drawing board complete with an articulated protractor head displaying some vintage documents.  The illustrations contained a collection of various engines schematics from their earliest incarnation.

Deep breathing makes a person more aware so, I quickly exhaled, then took another big breath while meandering my feet slowly across the showroom floor.

A bright Teak-Red restoration caught my eye; it was a stunning 1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL flathead.  It’s a little like seeing a childhood photo of someone you miss.  Then I turned to look at a bicycle form of mechanical sculpture…a tribute to the original “Silent Grey Fellow” was gently positioned in the corner — a rare 1913 Model 9B single cylinder… the very essence of simplicity!

Engine Manuals and Parts Catalogs

These old motorcycles were made when clunky was normal and oil leaks were expected. It’s oddly endearing.

Gleaming in the middle was an Azure Blue over Silver 1948 Harley-Davidson Model 45 and at the far end of that row was a shiny Dark Blue 1925 Henderson 4-cylinder.  And placed at a right-angle near the Henderson was a beautifully weathered 1916 Indian Power Plus that looked as if it had just been pulled out of a barn for the first time in many decades.

I’ve listed only a few of the motorcycles in this gem of a collection.

It’s striking and every motorcycle reaches out to tell a unique story of the time, money and effort required to be restored. Imagine how often you’d want to call in sick to skip work so that you could tinker with these bikes.  It speaks volumes of Bob’s discipline, persistence and the decades long practice of his craft.

If you are like me, old things make you feel young.  Admittedly, I have a fascination with dusty items and will be posting several articles on these vintage motorcycles, the workshop and the man behind the restorations.

Stay tuned…

UPDATED: February 27, 2020 — The second post on this vintage motorcycle collection is a deep dive on a restored 1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL Flathead (HERE).

UPDATED: March 8, 2020 — The third post on this vintage motorcycle collection is at: Every Restored Motorcycle Has A Story — The 1913 Single

Photos taken by the author and courtesy of Harley-Davidson.  Cover of the 1937 Enthusiast is courtesy of Harley-Davidson Museum.

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1922 Spare Parts Directory

Harley-Davidson has been preserving its parts history for over 116 years.

When the motor company incorporated in 1907, Arthur Davidson acted as secretary and general sales manager. He traveled the world recruiting new dealers and establishing the dealer network. He knew the importance of a strong dealer network, but also understood the importance of having skilled mechanics to take care of the customer and thus he also oversaw the development of the Service School.

Harley-Davidson first instituted teaching courses in 1917. Production in 1917 was devoted to the military and the motor company developed the Quartermasters School to teach military personnel how to fix their machines in the field. Recognizing the value of the classes, they continued the classes, which were referred to as the Harley-Davidson Service School. The Service School was a success and adjusted to needs of the company throughout years, even including managerial and sales classes.

1922 Exploded View of Parts

During WWII the focus again turned to military training. Harley-Davidson produced approximately 60,000 WLA models for the military and converted the Service School into the Quartermaster School to train military mechanics.  From 1941-1946, motorcycle models did not change and, due to the many shortages brought on by the war, even paint was hard to come by.

The name “Service School” lasted into the late 1990s when training efforts were consolidated into the Harley-Davidson University (HDU).

Photos taken by author of the nostalgic November 1, 1922 — Directory of Spare Parts

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Ted Gilbert on his Sport Model on top of Larch Mountain

Did you know, that in August 1919, Ted Gilbert became the first motorcyclist to ride a machine to the top of the rocky butte near Portland, Oregon?

His motorcycle of choice was a Harley-Davidson Sport Twin. Sitting at 4,045 feet above sea level, Larch Mountain is 11,000 feet of narrow, brushlined trail. Rugged and heavily timbered, with huge boulders, sharp stones, and logs lining its sides, it had previously withstood all attempts for anyone to reach its summit on a motor vehicle. The three-mile climb took 2 hours and 20 minutes and needed neither chains nor a tractor band to help the Sport Model along. A big sign measuring 4 feet by 6 feet nailed to the side of a huge fir tree marks the time, the name “Harley-Davidson Sport Model,” and the name of its rider, so that when Mazamas and various other organizations of mountain climbers would later reach the top, they would be able to see that a motorcycle could climb the hazardous cliffs of Larch Mountain.

“Hot Road” Perfume and Cologne

Did you know, Harley-Davidson offered a line of perfumes and colognes?

During the “Disneyfication” era which included branding any merchandise product such as T-shirts, leather jackets, caps, helmets, socks, gloves, knifes, signs, wedding cake decorations and key chains.  This was a product to complete the all-encompassing Harley-Davidson lifestyle and smell like your favorite bike at all times. The line of perfumes and colognes were called “Hot Road” and featured woody aromas with hints of tobacco.  It was 1996 and Harley-Davidson thought they’d attempt to capitalize on the company’s unique brand loyalty and decided to produce their own line of perfumes and colognes.

The woodsy scent with faint traces of tobacco did not make the top of the list for even the most loyal Harley-Davidson fans, yet you can still purchase some HERE.

Jeffrey L. Bleustein

Did you know, Jeffrey L. Bleustein is considered the “Father” of the Kevlar Belt?

Mr. Bleustein was Harley-Davidson Chairman from December 1998 to April 25, 2009.  He retired as Chairman of the Board in April 2009.  Previously, he served as Harley-Davidson CEO from June 1997 to April 2005.  He also served at Brunswick Corp in many capacities and was President of Tri-Hawk, Inc., a subsidiary of Harley-Davidson, 1984 to1985.  Mr. Bleustein was a technology consultant with AMF.  In 1969, AMF merged with Harley-Davidson and in 1975, AMF assigned him to help reorganize H-D engineering operations.  Led by AMA Hall of Famer Vaughn Beals and 11 other Harley-Davidson executives (including Willie G. Davidson), Bleustein helped execute an $81.5 million leveraged buyout of the company from AMF Corporation in 1981.

Mr. Bleustein was responsible for engineering innovation which included the rubber engine mounts, redesign of the V-Twin and introduction of the Kevlar drive belts.

More on the CEO’s of Harley-Davidson HERE.

Harley Owners Group

Did you know, Rich Teerlink established HOG?

Mr. Teerlink  — served as Chairman and CEO until 1999 at Harley-Davidson until he retired.  Mr. Teerlink joined Harley-Davidson in August 1981 as CFO where he enjoyed great success over his 18-year tenure.  He started just two months after a group of 13 Harley managers had bought the company from its then parent company, AMF, in a leveraged buyout.  Mr. Teerlink’s greatest accomplishment was establishing the Harley Owners Group (HOG) in 1983.

More on the CEO’s of Harley-Davidson HERE.

Did you know, the birthpace of Harley-Davidson in Australia, is considered to be Morgan & Wacker in Brisbane?

Many people don’t realize that Harley-Davidson started operations in Australia just 14 years after the U.S.  At the Morgan & Wacker dealership is a 1917 V-Twin, the exact bike that was one of the first in Milwaukee, and it sits half-way around the world in Brisbane, Australia.  Bill Davidson recently visited and was photographed by the motorcycle.

Oregon Fueling Experts

Did you know, Oregon Regulation of gasoline dispensing recognizes the special fueling requirements of Harley-Davidson motorcycles and makes the motorcycle rider the expert at fuel dispensing?

According to Oregon’s legislature, ORS 480.330 it’s all about the inconvenience and hazards of self service.  I feel it’s just another step in the government ladder of dependancy.  At any rate, the law states that an owner, operator or employee of a filling station, service station, garage or other dispensary where Class 1 flammable liquids, except aviation fuels, are dispensed at retail may not permit any person other than the owner, operator or employee to use or manipulate any pump, hose, pipe or other device for dispensing the liquids into the fuel tank of a motor vehicle or other retail container.  However, on June 11, 2001, Oregon motorcyclists won the right to pump their own gas. Governor John Kitzhaber signed House Bill 3885 into law, which gives motorcyclists the choice of fueling their own bikes. Oregon and New Jersey are the only two states which prohibit “Self-Serve” gas pumps, and motorcycles are the only class of vehicle allowed to actually dispense fuel into their own tanks in Oregon, which was effective January 1, 2002.

The law recognized the special fueling requirements of various motorcycles which then made the rider the expert at fuel dispensing. This bill also removed a liability for gas station owners who permitted the common sense practice of allowing motorcyclists to fuel their own motorcycle.

Bruce McGill “D-Day”

Did you know,  Bruce McGill, “D-Day” character in Animal House, rides a Harley-Davidson Sportster motorcycle up the Delta House internal staircase?

The 1978 John Landis movie was filmed in Eugene, Oregon and starred John Belushi. Many campuses rejected the filmmaker’s location request, due to the raunchy content of the script, before the University of Oregon approved it. Then-President William Boyd even allowed his office in Johnson Hall to be used as that of Dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon).

The movie’s Delta House was an early-20th-century Eugene residence that served as the home of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity from 1959 to 1967. Although it was demolished in 1986 and replaced by a suite of doctors’ offices, a large building outside the new building bears a plaque that commemorates the Delta House location.  Many of the interior scenes were filmed within the adjacent Sigma Nu house, which still stands today on East 11th Avenue; the exterior of the frat house was cast as a sorority house through whose window Belushi peered at half-naked coeds.

The movie’s climactic parade scene, featuring actor Kevin Bacon’s film debut, took place in downtown Cottage Grove, Oregon.

Did you know, Harley-Davidson has multiple manufacturing plants in Asia?

The motor company announced plans to build a manufacturing plant in Thailand where motorcycles will be assembled from parts manufactured and shipped from the U.S. The company said the plant will cater to the Asia-Pacific market, particularly China and Southeast Asia with plans to begin production in Thailand in 2018.  The factory is being erected in the Rayong province, Thailand which is geographically located southeast of Bangkok. This will allow the Harley-Davidson to circumvent Thailand’s tariffs of up to 60 per cent on imported motorbikes.

The Thailand plant is the second factory in Asia as Harley Davidson has a plant in Bawal, India, where the Street 750 model and Street Rod is produced. In addition, Harley-Davidson manufactures motorcycles at a plant in Brazil and has a wheel factory in Australia.

Tri-Hawk, Inc.

Did you know, Harley-Davidson sold a no-doors, no-roof, no-regrets, Polaris Slingshot knockoff back in the 1980’s?

Called the Tri-Hawk it was viewed as a semi-automobile.  Harley-Davidson acquired the company in 1984 and the cost for a Tri-Hawk was nearly $12,000.  Jeffrey L. Bleustein — who had a long tenure at Harley-Davidson, served at Brunswick Corp and was President of Tri-Hawk, Inc., a subsidiary of Harley-Davidson, 1984 to1985. Mr. Bleustein was also a technology consultant with AMF.

For many years Harley-Davidson made three-wheelers in the form of utility and police “trikes,” but they were not like the svelte looking Tri-Hawk’s.  They product appeared only briefly in Harley-Davidson showrooms as it was determined to be a marketing miscalculation and they were quickly pulled from the motor company line-up.  The two-passenger Tri-Hawk had already been in limited production before Harley-Davidson decided to take it on to fill some niche. In 1983, prior to acquiring Tri-Hawk, Harley-Davidson made a deal with an Austrian Rotax company for engine-gearbox racing units destined for 500 cc short track racing, but the Tri-Hawk was powered by a French-built Citroen four-cylinder motor.

Tri-Hawk

The Tri-Hawk design was developed by race car engineer Robert McKee with deep pockets by millionaire sportsman Lou Richards who was underwriting the project . The Trip-Hawk was assembled in a small plant located in the beachside town of Dana Point, CA. The 1299 cubic inch flat four air-cooled engine rode up front while the frame and suspension echoed McKee’s racecar experience. Borrowing even more from French technology, the builders incorporated a hydraulic braking system manufactured by Renault.  Weighing over 1300 lbs., and powered by 80 horsepower through a 5-speed transaxle transmission, theTri-Hawk had what marketing called, “exhilarating performance characteristics.”

The product had appeal, but the motor company decided not to sell them through their dealers, leaving only the factory in Dana Point and three other franchise locations to sell all the Tri-Hawk’s.  With limited availability and about eleven Tri-Hawks leaving the factory per month they became a sales failure.  Not from design flaws, but from management and company neglect.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson; Harley-Davidson perfume photo courtesy of Sofie Lindberg; photo of Bruce McGill courtesy of IMBD, photo of Ted Gilbert on his Sport Model on top of Larch Mountain courtesy of Motorcycle Enthusiast;

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Harley-Davidson V-4 NOVA Model

It’s not a discovery that ranks up there with the Egyptian tombs, but there are plenty of ‘skeletons in the closet’ about Harley-Davidson products that never made it to production.

One such item from the motor company was the NOVA Project which dates back to the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

The company made a decision to start a program for a new family of modular engines built with two, four or six cylinders, and in displacements ranging from 500 to 1500cc.  Design and development of the engine was in collaboration with Porsche in Germany.

Sound familiar?

This was “revolutionary” stuff back in the day when AMF owned Harley-Davidson and AMF Corporate initially supported the Nova Project with $10 million.  Keep in mind that in June of 1981, AMA Hall of Famer Vaughn L. Beals Jr. and other Harley-Davidson executives (including Willie G. Davidson), were in the middle of executing an $81.5 million leveraged buyout of the company so, AMF protested at the additional millions that would have been required to make the motorcycle a reality.  Harley-Davidson was unwilling to explore other alternatives and officially shelved the project in 1983.

Harley-Davidson V-4 NOVA Engine

The only known NOVA Project motorcycle was a “test mule” and it’s unclear how the final version might have looked or been re-styled for a product launch.  However, the prototype reveals a lot.

The engine was an 800cc water-cooled V-Four, with chain-driven dual overhead cams and wet-sump oiling.  Fuel was delivered by Bosch Jetronic fuel injection.  The horizontally split crankcases were made provisionally for a balancer shaft, though one may or may not have been fitted to the prototype.  The deep finned cylinders and heads revealed the fact of liquid cooling, as did the apparent lack of a radiator.  The radiator was, in fact, located above the engine shrouded by a false gas tank that would duct air across it.  The real gas tank was located beneath the seat. The fuel filler cap was mounted on the right side of the rear fender.

As previously mentioned, Vaughn Beals Jr. was chairman and CEO after the buy-back, and one of the company’s exec’s who actually rode an operational prototype of the Nova motorcycle.  Wayne Vaughn was one of the engineers that worked on NOVA under Mike Hillman. The motor company had completed the first phase engine development, and tooled production crankcases.  It’s estimated that Harley-Davidson invested between $10 million and $15 million on the entire project including the expensive tooling necessary to manufacture the NOVA before shelving it in favor of redesigning the company’s traditional V-twin engine.

Harley-Davidson V-4 NOVA Model Instrument Cluster

Though NOVA never went into production, the program clearly “paid it forward” on future motorcycles and designs.  For example, the fairing that was designed and wind tested for the NOVA made it into production the first time and was used on the 1983 FXRT Sport Glide.  The NOVA Project was a precursor for the eventual development of the liquid-cooled VRSCA Revolution V-Rod engine.  And some elements of the NOVA liquid-cooled design and fuel injection were leveraged in the Twin Cam 88 and Twin Cam 96 to help meet ever tightening emission and noise standards.  It’s interesting to speculate about how NOVA may have changed the market dynamics of motorcycle industry at the time and the effects these Harley “projects” may have made on future motorcycles and their engines.

Harley-Davidson likely finds itself in a position today with the Milwaukee Eight in spite of—or perhaps because of—the no-go decisions and the rejections it’s made in it’s NOVA engineering past.

Photos take by author at and courtesy of Harley-Davidson Museum.

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Harley-Davidson Two-Cycle Engine

When you think about Harley-Davidson motorcycles, it’s most often about the V-Twin engines, the retro-styling and the inescapable sound.

Many forget that the motor company manufactured a lightweight two-stroke engine and runabout motorcycle for 15-years.

In 1947 as a 1948 model, if you purchased an entry level runabout motorcycle it came with a two-stroke 125 cc single piston motor.  There were two motorcycles engines built — the Model 125 or S-125 (eventually called the ST-125).  The Model 165 or ST-165 replaced the ST-125 in 1953 when the engine size was increased to 165 cc. The ST models were the motor companies idea of how America motorcycle riding should be accomplished after WWII.

The Hummer

So how did Harley-Davidson develop or get the 2-stroke design?

The name “DKW” comes from a two-stroke engine built in 1919 by the Danish engineer Jørgen Skafte Rasmussen, in Saxony, Germany. It was a small engine, which Rasmussen called Das Kliene Wunder (the little marvel) that gave DWK its start in the motorcycle industry.

As WWII drew to a close in 1945, DKW’s factories had either been damaged or occupied by the Red Army. The Soviets took DKW plans, tools, and personnel back to Moscow where copies of the 125 were soon produced. The Soviet version of the 125 was first released in 1946 as the Moskva M1A and later as the K-125.

AMF Merger – 1969

As part of Germany’s war reparations, Harley-Davidson acquired the rights to the German DKW three-speed, two-stroke 125 cc Single.  Harley product shipments began in 1948 and thousands were manufactured in various incarnation until production ceased in 1966.

An updated model called the Hummer was added to Harley’s lineup in 1955, and subsequently all Harley single-cylinder two-strokes built between 1948 and 1966 incorrectly have come to be known as Hummers. The Hummer was named after Dean Hummer, a Harley-Davidson dealer in Omaha, Nebraska who led national Harley two-stroke sales.  The Hummer was very basic — it had magneto ignition and was sold without battery, electric horn, turn signals, or a brake light.

The Topper Scooter

In 1960, Harley-Davidson consolidated the Model 165 and Hummer lines into the Super-10, introduced the Topper scooter, and bought fifty percent of Aermacchi’s motorcycle division. Importation of Aermacchi’s 250 cc horizontal single began in 1961. The motorcycle had Harley-Davidson badges and was marketed as the Harley-Davidson Sprint. The engine of the Sprint was increased to 350 cc in 1969 and would remain that size until 1974, when the four-stroke Sprint was discontinued.

In 1962, Harley-Davidson built the Ranger, an off-road motorcycle without lights, made only for a year.  It had an extra-low final-drive ratio of 7.0:1 (12-tooth countershaft gear and 84-tooth rear sprocket) had neither a lighting system or front fender. Speculation was this motorcycle was built to consume the motor company supply of 165 cc engines, which would not be needed for any other models.

Aermacchi-built Harley-Davidson — The  Sprint

After the Pacer and Scat models were discontinued at the end of 1965, the Bobcat became the last of Harley-Davidson’s American-made two-stroke motorcycles. The Bobcat was the last of the 125-based Harley’s and manufactured only in the 1966 model year.  It was also the only 125-based Harley with a standard dual seat.

In 1969, American Machine and Foundry (AMF) bought Harley-Davidson, streamlined production, and slashed the workforce. The tactic resulted in a labor strike and lower-quality bikes.  Sales and quality declined, and the company nearly went bankrupt.

Harley-Davidson replaced their American-made lightweight two-stroke motorcycles with the Aermacchi-built two-stroke powered M-65, M-65S, and Rapido. The M-65 had a semi-step-through frame and tank. The M-65S was a M-65 with a larger tank that eliminated the step-through feature. The Rapido was a larger bike with a 125 cc engine. The Aermacchi-built Harley-Davidsons became entirely two-stroke powered when the 250 cc two-stroke SS-250 replaced the four-stroke 350 cc Sprint in 1974.

Harley-Davidson purchased full control of Aermacchi’s motorcycle production in 1974 and continued making two-stroke motorcycles there until 1978, when they sold the facility to Cagiva and ending it’s run of two-stroke engines.

Photos courtesy of and taken at Harley-Davidson Museum

For additional Harley-Davidson V-Twin Engine History see this page.

Sources:
Craig Hammitt LinkedIN Article
Wikipedia
Cycle World Article (1993) Article

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A Marketing Staff Meeting at H-D?

Reflection of a Marketing staff meeting at H-D?

I don’t know who the people in “People” are and candidly I don’t care.  I use to have some casual interest, but as I’ve aged, I realized that promoting faux stars is how an industry makes itself feel good about itself.

 
I grew up in a different time.  Yes, I’m getting older, put me down for it, as some readers do, but unlike some of you I’m wise and experienced. And when I grew up, hard work, a bit of skill and insight would not only get you a house in a reasonable neighborhood, but the ability to support your family and go on vacation. Now, most people can’t even pay their bills.

When you think of “aging boomers,” what comes to mind?  Accelerating retirements, workforce skill shortages, stagnant incomes, or runaway health care spending?  It’s unlikely you think about aging as an economic drag on Harley-Davidson, right?
H-D History

H-D History

Down the road from my place, in the rolling farmlands north of Sunset Highway (U.S. 26), is a greasy burger joint called Helvetia Tavern … a place I’ve been known to frequent a little more often than my doctor might recommend, but the burgers are oh so good!  If you stop there on any given summer weekend, you might see a dozen or more bikers parked in the lot, who are talking bikes and showing off their blacked-out or chrome-laden Harleys.  And nearly all of them are over the age of 45. Many are over 50.

This isn’t a coincidence.  Harley-Davidson is a brand whose sales depend disproportionately — almost exclusively, in fact — on middle-aged males. There have been business case studies written and stock investment analysis looking at the H-D demographics while espousing doom and gloom for the company.  The fact is that motor company has been working hard to try and capture a younger, more diverse set of riders, including women and are trying to appeal to the less experienced and younger riders who want cheaper alternatives.

Blackline Appeal

Blackline Appeal

I would submit that riders younger than 30 generally lack the time, interest or the bankroll to buy a Harley for touring. And by the time they get into their 50s or older, riding with the wind in the face loses it’s allure.  It’s the noise, it’s the traffic, it’s the increased dangers, it’s the joint pain of long rides, it’s hot, it’s cold, it’s raining, it’s… always something.

I know that many of you are riding into your late 60s, but my observation is you’re doing it less frequently and you’re not buying a new bike as often as you might have in your 40’s.  That means Harley has a growth problem with the boomer demographic that will not go away.  Even with a robust economy which we are not experiencing.

But, this is all well documented and debatably old news (“Living High on the Hog” (WSJ: February 5, 2007).

Looking at the challenges...

Looking at the H-D boomer challenges…

The challenge for Harley-Davidson, in my view, is how they will continue to tap into the enormous resource that older Americans can provide?  Boomers are generally healthier and more educated than prior generations.  They are the largest group starting new businesses both in Oregon and nationally.  And many economic projections about aging are misguided because they are based on outdated notions about retirement and what it means to grow older.

I can speak with some authority on this aging topic and it’s debatable whether Harley-Davidson can grow if boomers decide to quit riding in mass.  I wanted to offer up some observations:

  • Boomers are bombarded by media.  In an attention overload society it’s very hard for the message to get noticed because it’s noisy out there and hype is more prevalent than ever.
  • Boomers believe everything they’re into should last forever, but it doesn’t, just like them.
  • Have all the latest gadgets but barely know how to use them.
  • Boomers know the lyrics of “Hotel California.”
  • The boomers can’t square looking good with feeling bad. All the hogwash about 50 being the new 30 and 60 being the new 40 has convinced them that they’re breaking the laws of science, but the truth is people break down, everybody does.
  • Want to be anti TV, but talk about doing Netflix marathons.
  • Were into the Great Society, but now don’t want to pay taxes, especially if the benefits don’t flow to them.
  • Believed boil-able vegetable bags by the Green Giant were the future only to find out fresh and local was truly “in.”
  • Thought college was where you grew up and learned something as opposed to overpaying for an entry ticket to a job.
  • Still believe in government, and that their voice and vote counts.
  • Know that you work ever harder for less money.
  • Remember when companies were loyal.
  • Remember when you fixed stuff, now you just throw it out and buy a new one.
  • Want manufacturing to come back to the U.S., but still want very cheap electronics.
  • Boomers talk about their health. The pills they take, the conditions they have, it comes up in conversation, and it doesn’t bug them, it’s akin to discussing bands when they were younger.
  • Realize opportunity has slipped through their fingers. But are still dreamers nonetheless.
  • Baseball, motorcycles and big block automobiles are so twentieth century.  Baby boomers don’t stop talking about them, but their kids shrug their shoulders and lust for the latest mobile device.

Sure some of these observations are broad generalities and I’m painting a large group with a wide brush here, but I’m sure something resonated, right?   Once upon a time the baby boomers were the younger generation, champing at the bit to replace our parents. But now we’re fading off into the sunset, just like Letterman.  So long the era of the baby boomers. They were the largest segment of the population, who pushed and pulled and help change the world.

But, let’s face it, aging isn’t so much about the fact that we are getting older.  It’s about how the motor company is always going after the young buyer and often denigrates or discounts the older demographic.  They make an assumption that today’s Americans will behave in much the same way as prior cohorts did.  I don’t know about you, but boomers in general have reshaped every element of society as they’ve aged.  And, I would submit that Harley-Davidson is placing a disproportionate amount of focus and customer feedback on the youth lifestyle.  Sean Cummings, H-D senior vice president of global demand reinforced this by stating:  “We’re targeting the 55 million Generation X’ers to get them back out and riding.”  In doing so, it makes it harder for Harley to keep a finger on the pulse of the aging motorcyclist.

It might be someone else’s time (looking at you Millennials and GenX), but what is not fixed is how affluent boomers respond to Harley-Davidson motorcycle changes.  You have to give boomers motorcycles/features they can get excited about and you can’t be too catering to old age.  No one likes to admit they’re getting older and at the other end of the spectrum you’ll alienate the entire boomer group if you cater to youth.

Power, sex and youth have long been used to sell motorcycles, so anything that suggests older buyers might not be as virile and agile as they were could backfire and only serve to fulfill the “Silver Tsunami.”

Photos courtesy of marketoonist.com and H-D.
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