Spitfire Motorcycles’ ’56 Panhead

Written by  By Jeff Spicoli Photos by Jack “Please leave your message . . .” Cofano Monday, 18 September 2017 15:45
Published in Ultra Customs
   Whaddya do when you’ve got a 1956 Harley Panhead and transmission lying around? That’s a question most of us would like to be stuck with and every answer is good. You could restore it back to its natural as-delivered state and right now that’s getting to be a bigger thing than ever with the rising auction prices for restored motorcycles. Or, you could do as people have done for decades and decades and chop the living hell out of it.


    Obviously a 100-point restoration requires lots of knowledge, patience, skills, and deep pockets, but for some people that’s the only approach they would ever consider taking and any less would be considered blasphemy.  But for some builders like Paul Cavallo of Spitfire Motorcycles in Rancho Cucamonga, California, having a Panhead engine and tranny is only a starting point to something this cherished Harley engine had no idea it was heading to. Yes sir, chopping the hell out of it like builders have done since this was a fresh new design. Everybody loves a Pan and everybody loves a Pan chopper. Well maybe everybody except for the previously mentioned 100-pointers, but that’s a given. In the harsh economic Brightside of things they should be happier than ever as their restored bikes are worth more with every bike that strays from stock.

   After having Bill Chambers rebuild the 74” engine from the inside out with a few choice hop-up pieces like an Andrews cam and Wiseco pistons, Paul modified the heads for dual 38mm Mikuni carbs jauntily jutting out from the left side on one-off intake manifolds. Needles to say, Paul whipped up a set of pipes to compliment the glitter and glamour of a polished to perfection Panhead along with the also-shiny rebuilt 4-speed tranny. This was all intended for a custom that had its roots in the over-the-top ‘70s chops that still paint a mind picture of what a proper chopper should really look like. Yup, you guessed it, lots of glitz and glamour in an extreme machine with a complex paintjob almost guaranteed to bring back acid flashbacks.

    The chassis is a Spitfire fabbed bit of rigid fabulosity with a 4” stretch, a 2” drop and 40-degrees of rake. All the better to showcase the Spitfire springer that looks like it might be straight from an A.E.E. Choppers catalog. Sitting between the rockers is a 21” spool wheel whose main purpose is to keep the fork from hitting the ground and rolling on down the road unencumbered with any homely stinking brake. Like Fernando Lamas famously said to Johnny Carson, “It’s better to look good than to feel good” and having no front brake proves that point when you really might need it. Keeping the spirit hopefully alive, though, is courtesy of a Spitfire sprocket brake quietly integrated in the frame.

   Where this bike really takes a turn back to the ‘70s is that unreal paintjob you couldn’t miss if you were at the other end of a football field. There are lots of little techniques in place that I haven’t seen since they were new, but they’re done so much better than the schemes of 40-plus years ago. David Anthony Garcia of D.A. Designs in Whittier, California, is well known for his Lowrider paintjobs, but he certainly found the spirit of what makes an Old School bike paintjob so compelling to stare at even if it’s not exactly your cup of tea. Pascal Davayat of Riff Raff Leather stepped into the breach for Paul and not only whipped up one more beautiful piece of leatherwork for the seat, but took it to another level of leather. Check out his leather covered headlight shell and tell me it’s not way cool.

  And that about sums it all up as we all try to make the ‘70s seem a lot cooler than they were. With customs like Paul Cavallo’s, you just want to yell “Right on!” or “Groovy baby” for no apparent reason other than it feels right.

  For more info on Spitfire Motorcycles, please visit www.spitfiremotorcycles.com

Leave a comment