This is my first panhead. a 1948 FL. A radical 70′s style chopper. I acquired it in 1974 by trading a complete running custom 66 BSA lightning for it.I wanted the Harley.
It had been damaged in a fire, along with a couple other motorcycles, at a rock festival in Iola Wisconsin in 1970. The result of a disagreement between bikers and other festival goers.
I was at the festival but did not see the fire or participate in the events leading up to it. I’ve tried to find information about the festival. Not much out there.I know a movie was put together at the time for circulation to county courthouses for public viewing.
I watched the movie at our local court house but have not been able to find any information on whether it still exists. ( If anyone has any info let me know).
The bike had no front end or front end parts, no gas tank or sissy bar, a flat rear tire. other than that it was pretty much assembled and complete.The front down tubes had been stretched 6 inches, the top rail had been lengthened at least 2 inches and the neck de-raked to correct the geometry. The rear of the frame had been modified by removing the cast axle loops and adjusters and replacing with quarter inch steel plate and two hex nuts on each side for axle adjusters. tool box mounts, foot board mounts, center crash bar mount had been removed. top motor mount fabricated from flat stock.basically not much left of original frame.
I was told at the time that all the welding had been done with a torch using coat hangers for
filler rod. could be true. All the welds looked good to me.
I was beside myself. It was a thing of beauty. in a week or so I would roaring down the highway on my panhead.
The first thing I decided to tackle was the rear tire that way I would be able to roll it around easier. No lifts back then, except at the Harley dealer. If you were lucky you had a metal milk crate and a friend to help you lift the bike onto it. I got the back of the bike up in the air removed the rear wheel got out my tire spoons and went about breaking the bead by forcing my heel into the sidewall of the tire. Then a rubber mallet then a block of wood and a 5 LB hand maul. Not budging. I felt foolish but that was when I made the first of many, many calls for help and advice. My friend dirty Jake came over after explaining that after being on a long time they could be stubborn. When he got there we started the process over again using any and every implement we could think of without damaging the rim. In frustration we ended up driving my car onto the sidewall of the tire. me driving him guiding so I wouldn’t drive on the rim. Still not budging?????????? I grabbed a very large hunting knife and plunged it into the sidewall and started cutting the tire off.
Turns out the heat from the fire had fused the tire onto the rim. I spent the rest of the day and part of the next peeling prying scraping and cleaning that rim.
Before my friend dirty Jake left he handed me a manual 48-57 rigid frames with a look at my pan he said “you’re going to need this. Call if you need more help” I am sure there were days he regretted the offer. I have to say that without dirty Jake and a couple others that bike would most likely never have seen the pavement.
As long as the rear wheel was off I decided to deal with the rear brakes. The setup appeared to be complete at fist look but what I actually had was the pedal, linkage and backing plate for mechanical brakes and a brake drum and spacers for hydraulic brakes. The hydraulic system would have been an upgrade. Much smoother more even braking, more stopping power (wider shoes) and less brake fade also didn’t have to worry about snapping the linkage which I found out was kinda common. But I was a newbie on a budget so after a few days scrounging around I was able to put together a mechanical brake setup.
While I was at it before putting the wheel back on I added some fender mount brackets grabbed some inch and a half flat stock and made a fender support/sissy bar. You can see from the picture it was ugly but it did the job.
Next I wanted to get the engine running to make sure it didn’t need engine work. I wired up an ignition circuit. I Set and old peanut tank on it for fuel. Made sure there was oil. And started kicking….and kicking … and kicking. I got an occasional pop for my effort. I wore myself out. Read the manual. checked the timing what seemed like seventeen times? Still all I got was an occasional pop.I wore myself out. Read the manual. checked the timing what seemed like seventeen times? Still all I got was an occasional pop. problem was I had a dual point distributor shaft and a single point distributor head. I’m not sure who figures that one out.I don’t think I was even aware at the time that Harley ever made a dual point ignition system. so a couple more days of scrounging to come up with a complete single point distributor. after installing, setting timing, adjusting points and giving it a few kicks it roared to life…..and immediately began pumping oil out of the left engine case main seal. it had run almost a whole minute before encountering a major problem. I was clueless. none of my my friends had ever seen one do that before and the manual gave no answers. I decided for lack of a better answer that the seal must be bad. so off to the nearest Harley dealer I went.
Owned by Roger Smutzler a truly unique and amazing man who had been riding since the 40’s.
(I intend to write an article about he and his wife Mary in the future so stay tuned for that. Great people)
I told him I needed the seal. He brought one out set it on the counter explaining how it worked. It was a metal seal pressed into the case with a counter rotational corkscrew on the inside that would not allow the minor amounts of oil that reached it to escape because the rotation of the shaft would force the oil back into the case. he also explained that they simply did not wear out. he suggested that more likely there were blocked oil return passages or a sheared oil pump scavenger gear key which he also laid on the counter explaining the only way the oil level could get high enough in the case for it to come out past the seal was if it wasn’t being returned to the tank and filling the bottom end.
I left with the scavenger gear key, oil pump gaskets,a whole lot of new knowledge and the seal. Roger shook his head at the last purchase.
Went home disassembled the oil pump and sure enough no scavenger gear key. I reassembled the pump buttoned up a few other things and a few kicks later a running Panhead with no oil pouring out.to say i was exited and happy would be a huge understatement.
The front end was the next. I had not had any luck finding anything already built that was nearly long enough to bring the bike up level off the ground. The only solution left was to build one. lucky for me dirty jake had built several and knew just what needed to be done.First I needed a front end and a wheel.I found a stock springer from an fl in all original condition. I still regret cutting that up but at the time these parts were plentiful. I also came up with an 18 inch wheel laced to a star hub with a good 350 tire. Jake came over early the day after I had found all the parts and we went to work. We blocked up the frame so it was level, put a broom handle through the neck so that it was touching the floor.jake measured the diameter of the wheel including the tire then measured from the floor to a point on the handle that was a distance half the diameter of the wheel and marked the handle then measured down the handle from the neck to the mark. it measured 28 inches. now, jake explained, “we need a pair of radius rods from an old ford at least
30 inches long to allow for cutting trimming and welding”.
Jake new of a junk yard owned by an old biker where he had bought radius rods in the past so off we went. The old guy was semi- retired and didn’t operate the junk yard anymore but still had a gas pump out front.he was really friendly when we asked about the radius rods and said he wasn’t sure sure there were any left saying “I think you boys might have gotten them all but your welcome to look” he still rode an Indian Scout that we stopped to look at on the way into the yard.
We spent the better part of an hour digging through the tangle of metal and overgrown bushes before we spotted and old ford laying on it’s side with the rear radius rods still intact. we went back to the shop and lugged a torch back and finnally got the radius rods cut off.
the owner charged me five bucks and wished me luck. We would stop occasionally and say hi when were passing by. he never stopped riding that old indian. One day we went by and the house was empty and the gas pump was gone.
At this point we decided to call on a pro that would have the tools and experience to build the front end. I called a chopper shop that was about an hour away I think at the time it was the only one in the state. They said they could have it done in about a week. Great!
I spent that week finishing up,wiring,adjusting chains,clutches,linkages,brakes and making sure all the nuts bolts and brackets were tight. Jake would stop over and and check up on the project always giving good tips and advice.
The week passed at a snails pace. I was really exited to be so close to my goal and riding my pan. They had my front end all ready to go, painted gloss black it was long and sleek the last piece of my dream. I got home and went right to work.In about two hours I was ready for my first ride.
What I thought would take a couple of weeks ended up taking a couple months. I learned a lot about Panheads in that couple months.
I also learned something about the value of friendship and the value of people in general.