Panheads Are My Kryptonite

Story By Geronimo Jones Photos By Jack “America’s Superman” Cofano
2017-08-18 15:55:15 Published in Panheads Are My Kryptonite

   Everybody knows all about Kryptonite and how it can be fairly dangerous for Superman to be around if Superman actually was around. If the man of steel is exposed to Kryptonite, he loses all his strength, goes weak in the knees and, well, you can guess the rest. Surprisingly, Panheads are my Kryptonite. Whenever I get close to one I too get weak in the knees and begin breathing hard. Yup, like a lot of you Panheads are my Kryptonite and always will be.

    There’s just something special about a nice Harley-Davidson Panhead that I’ve never been able to fully understand the why of. Oh sure, I see a cool Knucklehead and I really appreciate it for what it is, possibly the most beautiful engine Harley’s ever built.

But, they don’t hit me like a Panhead, almost any Panhead, does. They just seem so perfect for a vintage bike and as soon as you say“vintage” you have to understand that you’re not looking at a engine that has all the rough edges worked out. Compared to a modern Twin Cam, it’s not a modern paragon of reliability, but it requires owner involvement on a much larger scale as in all the time. That’s oaky, though, as the benefits far outweigh the detriments.

   Take the Panhead chop Jack Cofano recently shot at Smoke Out 18 this past June for instance. Just having an original Harley-Davidson Panhead sitting front and center makes anything built around it look better. Maybe that’s the Kryptonite talking but I can’t help but zone in on the engine of any build first and foremost to “see what it is.”  An engine makes it what it is more than a wild paintjob or a 12-foot springer or the tallest sissy bar you’ve ever seen. I always go to the heart first and on a motorcycle that’s the engine. 

   Whoever rejuvenated this engine tastefully knew what they were doing. It’s not all polish and chrome hiding an engine, it’s the perfect blend of  clean raw finishes, chrome and the right bit of high-contrast black paint on the cylinders. No engraving, no show-polished cases, no nutty colors just because and no crazy add-ons like multiple carbs or whatever. An engine like that almost makes whatever is built around it ten points ahead of the game before it’s even started. 

  This is probably a well-built garage bike like most of the bikes at Smoke Out and it’s gotta be the owner’s personal dream come to life through skill and hard work along with a dose of good Old School taste. The frame is raked out enough to be classified a chopper, but not so much it loses its street cred in exchange for show cred. The springer is something that looks like it was hot-forged in an old blacksmith shop with an industrial look of the early 1900s. At first I wasn’t sure what to think, but the more I checked it out, the more I liked it. 

    One thing I’ve got a real hangup about is the choice of wheels the builder chose. Good old 16-inch Harley wheels capped with classic block tread Avon tires front and rear is a look that never grows old. One thing the builder definitely cared more about than Old School correctness was the use of massive modern disc brakes front and rear. This is not some bike the builder knocked out for a well-off customer, but a bike he would ride for many years to come. 

   And, I’d like to think he planned to ride it hard and enjoy it and rebuild it as necessary. It’s not something to be handled with kid gloves and pampered in an air conditioned and heated garage. Riding in modern traffic with a spool front hub lets you enjoy it less than a well set-up brake system. Remember, there were no cell phones back in the day and people then felt like they had to pay attention driving. Same goes for skipping a hand shifter and foot clutch. Although they are cool beyond all cool, they do require a skill set and a bit of luck especially when combined with only a single brake. This guy knew exactly what he wanted to do and that was ride what he built and that’s about as Old School as you can get. 

   With a nice stance already in place, a couple of all-important pieces of bodywork became a design point to work around. Thankfully no coffin tank or something bizarre was involved, just a nicely shaped small, but not too small, fuel canister sits with a profile that’s quietly aggressive. Same goes for the simple back fender that’s wonderfully generic and cut well for the bike. Nice bit of work mounting it too as it seems like it’s floating in space. All the electrics (battery too) and oil are carried in the horseshoe-style chrome tank adds a bit of pleasant custom bling to the engine bay. It’s all engineered to be as clean as possible with nothing grabbing your eye that shouldn’t. Nice work. 

    The paintjob may be simple in design, but there’s a lot more going on there than meets the eye from 20-feet away. The toxic green picks up the sunlight the closer you get and breaks up into many shades of green with a hint of gold underlay. There’s not a single graphic on this bike and I think it’s better off for it. It’s more basic, more visceral and more interesting than goosing it up with a lot of crazy techniques all rolled onto one fairly small area of bodywork. I think the builder knows he got it right the first time and now it’s riding time, not pulling it apart for a cosmetic re-do time. 

   So whoever you are mystery builder and proud Panhead chop owner, my hat would be off to you if I wore one. You took an old formula beginning with a beloved Panhead engine and built a vintage hot rod ride that anybody would be proud to own. But, I probably don’t have to say a thing to you as I got a feeling Panheads are your Kryptonite too.

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