March 21, 2012

1936 Harley VLH Flathead – Latest Addition To My Classic Motorcycle Family

Funny how things work out sometimes. I have known this particular bike and all three previous owners over the last 25 or more years. And now I own this rare 1936 Harley VLH fltahead. 

Buzz Kanter and my recently acquired 1936 Harley VLH classic flathead motorcycle

I was first aware of it when Andy Batsleer owned and rode it in the greater Daytona Beach, FL area in the 1980s. I didn’t pay much attention to it then and focused my attention on his more exotic classic Harleys and Indians. When Andy passed along his son, Indian racer Doc Batsleer ended up with his dad’s bikes.

1936 Harley VLH - A rare one-year only 80 inch flathead Harley model.

Doc is an active rider deeply passionate about the old motorcycles. I remember seeing him ride this bike a great deal over the years, with the old wicker basket on the luggage rack, including at least one time at our Classic American Iron rallies at the long gone Klassix Auto Museum in Daytona Beach.

Some time ago Doc sold this and a few other classic Harley and Indian motorcycles, and this particular one ended up in my pal Paul Ousey’s hands. Paul is a fellow Motorcycle Cannonball rider and an all round great guy and serious enthusiasts and rider of vintage motorcycles.

Rider's view of dash and instruments of 1930s Harley VL motorcycle

There is a long and funny story about how I ended up buying this bike from Paul. I won’t go into details here but it involved a 3 way, 2 bike deal in the middle of the swamp forrest of central Florida late at night during Bike Week with alcohol, crazy bikers and loud rock and roll.

The next morning we woke up with me the proud owner of this old Harley flathead and Paul owned a very nice custom Knucklehead. In the reality of Daytona sunshine we were all pleased with the midnight madness transaction.

Correct headlight, horn and shield on this one-year only 1936 Harley VLH

As best we could tell, this particular VLH Harley, a rare one-year-only 1936 80 inch flathead, has most of the hard to find, correct and original parts. This includes the lighted 100 mph Corbin speedometer, correct tool box, headlight. horn and shield cover, side and rear stands, and luggage rack.

After buying it I really wanted to ride this old Harley. We charged and installed a 6-volt battery, added fresh gas and drained the excess oil from the sump. And then I began kicking, and kicking, and kicking. Nothing. Turns out one of the wires at the dash was loose. We did a quick fix of the wire and the old flathead Harley fired up on the second kick.

One-year only 1936 Harley VLH 80-inch flathead engine with total loss oiling.

We checked the charging system, which seemed OK. Then I took the bike out for a short ride around the neighborhood. Initially I was very gentle with the throttle. I could hear the gears whining slightly, but as they oiled up the noise stopped and the bike ran surprisingly strong.

Very weak front brakes on this 1936 Harley.

 The front brakes were all but useless (even with the genuine and hard to find original brake lever) but the rear brakes more than compensated – they could lock the rear wheel easily if I was not careful. The clutch seemed strong and I was very impressed with how light and lively the VL chassis felt, even though we had not even checked the tire pressure.

Interesting place for a grease fitting. Anyone know if this is correct or original?

I left the bike in Florida with some friends at the end of Bike Week. The plan is to go through the bike and fix up whatever needs help to function properly and dependably. We will probably wash it but leave it looking pretty much as shown in the photos. We have a few things to do including remounting the rack properly, cleaning up some of the homebrew wiring, and swapping out some incorrect hardware for the right stuff. Then I hope to ride it. A lot.

In the meantime I am starting to read up on the V series Harleys, and the one-year only VLH in specific. Learning about these bikes is all part of the fun of these old bikes – while riding and wrenching.