Stock Is The New Custom

Written by  Story By Johnny Pants Photos By Jack “Not In My Book” Cofano Monday, 20 November 2017 15:29
Published in Vintage
You know it’s funny how perception changes with time. When I was a real young kid I thought all Harleys were black except for the over-the-top, fully-lit-up dressers I’d see rolling through town at night on the way to Cape Cod for the weekend. But then I don’t remember seeing too many of them in the ‘50s that weren’t old Boston Police bikes (probably all Flatties) sold at auction, bobbed just a bit and painted flat black or maybe they were just bad gloss black paint jobs. Somehow I associated stock with those Christmas tree dressers and stock would never do for me. They just weren’t tough enough for a young kid.

   Now, though, any of those vintage originals or restored Harley-Davidsons from that era is simply more beautiful than life to me. No, I’m not a purist stickler by any means and probably wouldn’t be able to tell an OEM part from a good modern reproduction. Nor would I particularly care, although I can appreciate it when I hear “everything’s original” from an owner looking for a deserved pat on the back. I just look at an original/restored bike as something beautiful and completely representative of a way of life that seems but a distant memory now. A person riding away from some tiny hole-in-the-wall 1950s Harley dealership on their new FL Hydra-Glide Panhead (61- or 74-inch) truly must have felt like a King of the Road long before that name got switched around a bit and became part of the Harley-Davidson lexicon.

   This particular bike you’re looking at is another one of those mystery bikes that our astute lens man, Jack Cofano, shot on the Boardwalk at Daytona Beach. Obviously it was just too damn nice to pass up and I couldn’t be happier that he captured it in all its beachy glory. Ocean boardwalks are truly Old School and plopping a stunning Panhead in the photo only enhances Mother Nature’s good looks. Something as well done as this Pan with the Atlantic Ocean churning away in the background is like the frosting on a cake made by old Mother Nature herself. They both go so well together and they couldn’t be more different and at odds with each other at the same time.

  What we’re looking at here is a 1950 FL Hydra-Glide Solo Sport 74-inch high-compression Panhead with a four-sped transmission as best as I can tell. Trust me, I’m no Panhead Colombo or expert in any way so don’t go nuts on me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m right. Although, I gotta say I’m completely guessing at engine size as I want it to be the bigger engine offering, but I can’t say I’d be the least bit upset if it were the 61-inch Panhead engine instead. They’re hard to tell apart to an amateur Harley historian like me, but all I know is I love ‘em even though I’ll probably never ever own one at this time in life. I was born the same year as this bike and I’m all original and showing the wear and tear of 67 hard, but no-regret years.

  I don’t know about you, but if something like this bike could talk, what the hell would it have to say? Where has it been? How many owners did it have and who was the best and the worst? If it’s an original paint bike in excellent condition I almost feel sorry for it. No bike should have to be sheltered from fun just so it stays pristine. How did this bike not end up as a chopper during the turbulent chopper years of the ‘60s and ‘70s? Or did it? The abilities restores have now amazes me so if I heard this beauty sported a long springer, Invader wheels and a king & queen seat among other choppery things at some point, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised. The end result of this restoration is all that counts and this one is a knock-out.

  Even though the first Panhead was a coupla steps up on the Harley evolutionary ladder from its Knucklehead predecessor other than possibly engine aesthetics, it still required an involved owner who noticed a tick out of place and probably had the skills to keep something this lovingly antiquated a runner even when new. Plus there were other things that have kept them in collectors’ and hard-core Panhead enthusiasts hands like kick-starting only until the last year of production in 1965 when it became a push button Electra- Glide. Then there’s the possibility of it having a foot-clutch/tank-shifter setup as the optional foot shifter didn’t come along until 1952. Foot-clutch/hand shifting experience is something not a lot of riders today have never mind what it’s like to kick start a Harley ─ any Harley. By the way, did you know tank-shifters were still optionally available until 1973 in the Harley lineup? Well, if you didn’t, now you do.

 Anyway, this lovely Panhead specimen outfitted in a lovely blue overcoat of paint looks simply wonderful just as it sits. It looks old, but historically young when compared to what Harley-Davidson is still knocking out these days. The family history is right there in the wide open views of what life must have looked like back at the mid-point of the 20th century. I’m not a fan of static display motorcycles, but if I did somehow get into that a machine like this jewel would be right at the top of my wish list. Like I said, perception changes with time and seeing old things in a new light is like seeing it for the first time. With a bike as beautifully restored as this, everything old is new again and I couldn’t be happier.

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