|With the fierce competition in the early days of the motorcycle industry, racing and endurance runs fast became an important aspect providing a means to test the latest and greatest technical features of the machines and its reliability.|
It was 1913 and it was Harley-Davidson’s 10th anniversary when this bike originally rolled onto the showroom floor. From their humble beginning and that first bike built in their shed, they had overcome the competition to produce almost 13,000 bikes that year. If you were lucky enough to have an extra $300 back then, you could be rolling down the road with your face in the wind.
Dudley “Dud” Perkins, a legend from the early days of motorcycling, was a racer back in the 1910s to ‘30s who was tearing up the track winning a number of west coast races on a variety of machines including a Jefferson racer. Perkins first entered the motorcycling trade with his own dealership in San Francisco when he partnered with Al Maggini in 1913 and sold Deluxe and Jefferson motorcycles.
Once in a while you come across a beautifully restored bike that is as old as the term “Hog” itself. It was in 1914 that Harley-Davidson established an official racing department. The race team became known as “The Wrecking Crew” and they had a team mascot which was a small pig. Team members used to take the pig for rides on victory laps which helped popularize the reference to Harley-Davidsons as “Hogs”. On April 4, 1915, team member Otto Walker gave Harley-Davidson its first national victory by winning the 300-mile road race national held in California.
When the conversation is going on about old bikes, the two names that you hear most often is Indian and Harley Davidson. The name that should also be mentioned that you don’t hear of often is Excelsior. In the early days of motorcycling with the long distance dirt or board track racing, the Excelsior set numerous records and constantly challenged Indian and Harley Davidson as they all strived to out do each other. The Excelsior still holds some board speedway records that were never broken. It was also the very first motorcycle to go 100 miles an hour and they did that in 1912.
Seeing a great future in producing a motorcycle having features never used before, William Henderson, a pioneer in four-cylinder motorcycle design, and his brother Tom founded The Henderson Motor Company in 1911 in Detroit, Michigan. That first year 25 bikes were produced and you could purchase one for around $325. The Henderson was a large and fast bike. It was because it was faster than anything else on the road at the time that Police Departments favored them for traffic patrol and although never intended for racing, numerous records were set on a Henderson.
The Enthusiast, published by the Harley-Davidson Motor Company since 1916, is the oldest continually published motorcycle magazine in the world and in 1929 it featured the first H-D cover girl. Dubbed “The Enthusiast Girl” by Harley-Davidson, Vivian Bales was not just some woman sitting on a Harley for cover of the magazine – she was one of the first great woman riders.
In 1930, this country was in a depression and everyone was struggling because money was tight. The Indian Motorcycle Company had been struggling also during the past years because of bad management and merged with DuPont Motors. When E. Paul DuPont took over, he ceased automobile production and focused on Indian and is credited with Indian’s survival through the depression era.
The Indian Motorcycle Company is the oldest motorcycle company in the United States but it was on the verge of financial ruin in the early years of the Great Depression. The company survived through those tough years primarily due to E. Paul DuPont’s efforts who took over running the company in 1930. It was during this time that Indian introduced the style of the Indian Chief that many motorcycle manufacturers still copy in their design. The “Chief” was introduced 1922 and it was known for its strength and reliability but production was ended in 1953.
In 1933, the full force of the Great Depression had reached Milwaukee, and production had dropped to the lowest figure in 20 years. There was not much sign of recovery in the foreseeable future. In fact, some said things were only going to get worse.
The 1936 Indian Four was designed to be the “worlds finest and fastest stock motorcycle” according to the Indian News publication. The Model 436 was Indian’s first factory produced four cylinder motor and it had been thoroughly redesigned from the previously supplied ACE motors. Dubbed the “Upside Down Four”, it featured a new “Exhaust over Intake” (EOI) design that was intended to keep air intake cooler, producing more power with its large radial finned head design.
While working for his father, W. E. Brough, George Brough had the vision of building a luxury large capacity v-twin motorcycle with a strong commitment to the quality of each motorcycle built. Since he father was hesitant, George branched out on his own and started the Brough Superior Works. The “Superior” proved worthy of the name and soon earned the distinction of being referred to as the “Rolls Royce of Motorcycles.”
In 1941, Harley-Davidson’s first overhead valve machine, nicknamed the “Knucklehead” had been on the market only six years and was by far America’s most popular motorcycle. New features for 1941 included a centrifugally controlled oil pump, new clutch design, positive grip hand brake lever, oxide coated piston rings, larger diameter air filter, redesigned muffler, and airplane style silver on black speedometer. Finally, stainless steel trim strips graced the fuel tanks both in front of and behind the teardrop emblem.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor the previous December, in 1942 we were at war. U.S. troops and their allies would be fighting battles in Europe, in the Pacific, and in Africa during the year. Rationing of food, gas, and other items began to support the war effort. Sacrifices were being made on the home front to support our troops but many brave men and women gave the ultimate sacrifice before the war was over.
During WWII in 1941, Field Marshall Rommel began his assault on Africa. Anticipating that we were going to be entering into some desert warfare, the government commissioned Indian and Harley-Davidson to build 1000 desert worthy motorcycles.
In 1946, President Truman declared the official end of WWII, the first computer was designed, the first bikini was modeled in Paris, Joe Louis was heavyweight champ, and professional baseball had their first night games. It was also the year that this Harley Davidson FL rolled out the factory door and seeing this bike on display at the 18th Annual Super Show and Swap in Colorado Springs grabbed my attention and required a closer inspection.
It was in back in 1947 that Harley-Davidson first introduced the classic black motorcycle jacket. It was also the year that approximately 4000 bikers attended a rally in Hollister, California and proceeded to have a good time. Events escalated to the point that it was more than the local law could handle alone so they called in the state patrol for reinforcements and by the time the event was over there were around 60 people injured and numerous arrests made. The media had a heyday and completely blew things out of perspective (imagine that!).
With the advent of Harley-Davidson’s overhead valve Knucklehead in 1936, the Indian Motorcycle company’s market share began to dwindle, as Indian continued to build the side valve or ‘flathead’ motorcycle.
Elvis Presley had his first hit in 1956 with “Heartbreak Hotel”, made his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, and was featured on the cover of the May issue of Harley-Davidson’s “The Enthusiast” motorcycle magazine.
Harley-Davidson produced the “Panhead” from 1948 till 1965 with the nickname coming from the distinct shape of the motor’s valve covers which resembled an upside down pan. They were originally built with either a 61 cubic inch motor or a 74 cubic inch motor but the production of the 61 cubic inch version was ended in 1952.
In 1964, Grace Haines and her husband owned Northumberland Harley-Davidson in Northumberland, PA which has some of the most picturesque riding country in the U.S. It was the last year of the 6 volt Duo-Glide kick start Panhead and it was also the year that Grace ordered her dream bike from the company that she represented.
This Harley-Davidson motorcycle was sold new at Vern McMullen’s Harley-Davidson Sales in Colorado Springs. The bike was purchased and ridden for a time by local barbershop owner, Tom Madrid.
In 1971 Ducati came out with the 750 GT 90 degree v-twin motorcycle. It was an immediate success, so in 1972 the factory took the 750 GT and changed the seat to a solo and the gas tank to a long narrow one, as well as the handlebars to clip ons. They also changed to a more radical camshaft, higher compression pistons, and bigger carburetors. Also the color was changed to a yellow.
During World War II Norbert Riedel had designed a two stroke starter engine for the first LUFTWAFFE jet fighters. After the war he designed a light motorcycle. The American army desperately wanted his jet starter engines and gave him production tools, which could also be used for motorcycle production.