I’d been riding all sorts of motorcycles – big and small – Harley and import for years before I bought my first handshift Harley. I’d ridden motorcycles that shifted with my right foot and others that shifted with my left foot. Some were four speed and others were five speed. So I figured it was time to tray a handshifted motorcycle, and that mean an old Harley – like a Shovelhead or Panhead. I think it might have been in 1990 or 1991 when I found a 1978 factory Harley Davidson police handshift bike in the local classified ads.
The Harley police Shovelhead looked like it had been used a fair amount by the local Bridgeport, Connecticut police department More on My First Handshift Motorcycle – 1978 Harley Shovelhead Police Bike
December 6, 2008
After the engine broke for the second time after less than something less than 15 miles I had pretty muc, Bobber Panh decided the bike must be carrying a gypsy curse or I needed someone else to handle the mechanics on this bike if I was ever to ride it any distance other than in the back of a truck. This bike has always been a case of “wrench, ride, repeat” which made me nuts long ago. I have never had such issues with any other bike. Not knowing what to do next I did what any self respecting magazine editor would do and I wrote about it in my column in American Iron Harley magazine.
About a week after the subscription copies began hitting mailboxes I got a call from my friend and world class engine builder Vito Sabato. in brief, Vito said I should drop the bike off with him and he would get it sorted out for me. I jumped at the chance for a world class high performance engine builder to open up my Panhead engine and remove the Gypsy Curse.
Well, to make a long story short, Vito and some of his friends pulled the engine down, inspected and rebuilt it to better than new. Aside from properly rebalancing the entire engine, they removed several pounds of weight from the flywheels and did a few other time proven hot rod upgrades to the engine. Then they took it out for a test ride before handing it back to me. The funny is that neither Vito or Neil – his top mechanic had ever ridden a foot clutch before. Turns out Neil was a natural and enjoyed riding it around the block a few times.
I got the bike home earlier this year and have put almost 1,000 virtually maintenance-free miles on her since then.
Knowing a project bike is never finished, I already have a list of changes I have in store for this machine. Among them I want to make it a bit less red. I like the red tin and wheels but feel the handlebar grips, shift knob and other red items are overkill. I’d also like to add some pinstripes and possible lettering. I need to remount the STOP lights under the seat – they are cool but hang a bit too low for proper clearance. And I’d like to add a support bracket to the 2 Linkert carbs hanging off the left side. Then I want to put a lot more miles on the old girl.
If this sounds familiar that is because we covered this build in American Iron Harley magazine several years ago. Wrench, ride, repeat! More details and photos to follow as I make more progress.
- Buzz Kanter, Stamford, CT
November 24, 2008
So, after years of gathering mostly original Harley parts I designed and Pete built this custom 1949 dual-carb Harley Panhead. The first time he test rode it the engine exploded and when he stripped it down discovered a previous owner had simply welded up seriously damaged cases and not bothered to tell us how bad they were. I found a replacement set of cases and Pete rebuilt the engine. Several months later Pete took the recently rebuilt engine out for a test ride. He called to report all went well on his brief test ride and I should come pick it up and take it home.
After waiting for more than 5 years to build and ride this bike I was pretty excited and rushed over. That evening I fired it off ad let it warm up for a minute or so – it sounded great! It was getting late and I have not ridden a 3-speed jockey shift before, so I took it for a brief ride around my neighborhood. In the few miles I rode it the oil light stayed light up. I stopped and checked the oil, which looked fine. I rode it back to the house and called Pete. He said it was probably an electrical issue and not to worry about it and just ride the bike to break in the engine.
The next day was Sunday and I was in the mood to try out my new Panhead so I fired it up with plans to ride to Marcus Dairy, about 20 miles away, for my semi-regular Sunday morning breakfast run. It was a beautiful early summer morning with warm glowing sunshine and perfect temperature for riding. I felt like a million bucks on my wonderful new custom dual-carb Panhead. I was getting the hang o the suicide clutch (my other foot clutches were toe/heel) and the jockey shift behind my left thigh. I was trying to get the hang of operating the foot clutch with my leg out wide to clear the two Linkert carbs on the left side.
I had ridden perhaps 10 or 12 miles from my house and was enjoying the open road when the engine started acting up and sounding wrong. Can’t really describe it but I knew something didn’t sound or feel right. I accelerated up a hill and the bike started losing power. I didn’t trust it , so out of instinct I pushed down on the clutch just as the engine siezed. I coasted down the hill with no power, and as I slowed down I twisted the throttle a few times, downshifted from top gear to second and popped the clutch. Nothing – the engine was siezed up tight and the rear tire wouldn’t move as I layed a patch of rubber five or six feet long. I pulled over and checked the oil, which was topped off. I tried to kick the engine over but the starter would not move even a fraction of an inch. It was hard siezed. I waited about ten minutes and it still would not turn over.
Dejected I pulled out the ultimate tool (my cell phone) and called my pal Jim Sims and asked him to get me on his trailer. He showed up about a half hour later and I tried to kick it over again. To my surprise the engine did spin over and I even got the bike to fire. I shut it off quickly suspecting I might be doing more damage. We got the bike home and I called Pete to ask what he thought might have caused this engine sieze. I won’t go into detail here, but let’s just say the conversation did not make me feel any better.
So, in recapping, I’d designed this bike, took several years collecting parts and had the engine self-destruct twice in less than a year. Not good. I was feeling there is a good chance this bike is cursed. But it was my motorcycle and I was committed to getting to the bottom of this and sort the bike out so I can enjoy riding it.
In my next entry I’ll tell you what happened next and how I struck gold with the engine. If this sounds familiar that is because we covered this build in American Iron Harley magazine several years ago. More details and photos to follow in parts 4 and later.
- Buzz Kanter, Stamford, CT