50 Year Barn Sleep: 1937 Harley Davidson UL

This 1937 Harley Davidson UL Flathead was discovered after slumbering in a barn for 50 years. It’s a major project, but the seller has gotten it running. He does still note that a rebuild may still be in its future, which is likely a safe assumption for anything that’s been sitting for decades. Regardless, this generation of Harley Davidson is perhaps one of the most iconic bikes ever made, and even today is viewed as a high-water mark for classic motorcycle design. Find it here on eBay with bidding over $27,000 and no reserve.

The seller notes he is selling the Harley to fund an upcoming land purchase. Given the active bidding, I have to believe he’ll be able to afford it. This generation of Harley is a tough bike to find in unrestored-but-running condition, which I suspect has a lot to do with why the number is already approaching $30K with three days left in the auction. The baked-in patina is an attractive feature to the vintage Harley crowd, which features a strong contingent of owners who wish to keep their bikes looking as authentic as possible. The seller notes there is no title and no number pad.

The UL series bikes featured the larger of the two side-valve engines available, with the WLs fitted with smaller powerplants. The ULs could be spec’d with high compression pistons (known as ULHs), but the seller doesn’t confirm if this bike has them. Regardless, the fact that it still runs is impressive, but this Harley platform was also celebrated when new for being fairly robust. While the seller offers that a full engine rebuild may still be necessary, he doesn’t specify if that’s for a running issue like low compression, or just a general recommendation for any restoration project.

You can’t deny the style and personality this bike seemingly oozes from every direction, but the missing number pad and title may pose an issue for buyers in some states. I’m wondering if there’s more to this bike than I’m seeing, as auction results in the last two years show sale prices of $40,000 for a finished example. Check out this 1937 UL that sold in 2017 for $40,000 – is this indicative of what these bikes are worth in restored condition? If so, this barn find UL is doing quite well at the moment, but a lot can change in two years.

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Comments

  1. geomechs geomechs Member

    Wow!!! This has got to be one of the first of the UL series. These were about as indestructible as they could get. Not as fussy as the preceding VL in that these had an oil return; the VL ran a Total Loss’ system that required calibration. Most riders didn’t bother and consequently VLs had a reputation as oil burners. They tended to keep too much oil in the crankcase which often took out the bottom end because too much oil causes the needle bearings to skid instead of roll. This bike would look great at my place. Flatheads were easy to start and seldom tried to send you to the moon if you left the spark advanced.

    Like 10
  2. Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

    Geomechs, is the spring on the clutch pedal the reason we’ve heard so many of these erroneously referred to as having a “sucked clutch? Seems to me that as originally built these were a rocker type foot pedal until someone came up with the “brilliant” idea to substitute a spring for the rear pedal..
    This is A very cool bike! It’d be the big hit at the local drive-in on Bike Night I’ll bet.

    Like 5
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      The rocker pedal had that overcenter spring to keep the clutch disengaged in case your foot slipped off. That mechanism tended to wear out and a lot of bike riders got rid of all that ‘safety stuff’ and put a single pedal in that was much simpler. That was the ‘suicide’ clutch because it got a lot of riders in serious trouble. That rocker pedal could also get the rider into some major doo because if the linkage got worn out, it would pop over center and fully engage before you were ready. Honestly, I’ve never heard of the term: ‘Sucked Clutch’ but it could easily identify the overcenter rocker pedal…

      Like 5
      • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

        🤣 That was an overlooked Siri Correction!! I wrote “suicide clutch” but she, like many of the women that have been in my life thought she knew what I was saying before I finished the sentence…
        Thanks again, geomechs!
        Nevadahalfrack

        Like 12
  3. George Mattar

    Pile of garbage. Nobody rides this old junk.

    Like 4
    • ken tilly UK Member

      Wrong! Lot’s of us ride these old beauties.

      Like 21
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      I beg to differ: There are lots of us old scooter tramps who love the opportunity to ride those old bikes. It never gets boring, on the back of a hardtail…

      Like 21
    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      George Mattar,
      Some in the next generation will undoubtedly say the same thing about the bikes/cars/girls you hold in the highest regards currently,
      As my generation said, “Different strokes for different folks”. In my younger brothers idiom, it was “Dude!” During my daughters age of difficulty it was an eye roll and “whaevr…!”
      To each his/her own.
      LOL.
      Nevadahalfrack

      Like 4
    • Howard A Member

      Sorry, I have to reluctantly agree with you, only not in those words. It’s not junk, but nobody rides these, not where I’m from, and during the summer, this is motorcycle mecca. Packs of bikers come through the Rockies, never saw one of these or any old bike, for that matter. Again, we talk about this a lot, $30 grand is a lot of money for something that will just sit. Okay, I understand it’s an investment, like any other antique, but once this “American Picker” garbage ( there’s your garbage, George) fades, nobody is going to want this. They will, by then, have better things to spend $30 grand on, like maybe their health care premium. Sorry old bike nuts, me included, it’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s off the charts, and I just don’t see many that will participate in this foolishness in the future.

      Like 4
      • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

        Granted, we don’t see the older bikes as often as we did but you must admit that’s due in large part to the lack of skilled rider/mechanics as much as parts/money availability. A lot of riders show up in the area for Street Vibrations but the number of unusual old bikes is thinning (unlike a number of us usual old riders).
        Collecting anything has always been about the enthusiast and their budget-I collected baseball cards as a kid but as I grew up my Mickey Mantle and Shoeless Joe Jackson cards became more valuable than my Bultaco! That’s when I realized I couldn’t afford it anymore regardless of how much I’d enjoyed collecting them..
        But the appreciation for those cards and for old bikes/cars/trucks/airplanes/some kinds of old stuff is still there for those of us who understand.
        Nevadahalfrack

        Like 5
      • Paul R.

        This will be worth more in the future simply as a work of art. It could be in the Smithsonian.

    • John Smith

      I do, for over fifty years now

      Like 1
  4. mtshootist1

    Not sure what the seller means by “no Number Pad” there should be numbers stamped by the factory, under the air cleaner on the left hand side of the engine case. There were no corresponding number pad on the frame. Titles were issued on the engine numbers. I know, because I once owned a 1940 ULH 80 inch flathead, and the engine was stolen out of a shop in Rapid City, where it was being rebuilt, so I still have a title for it. I would be asking for a close up photo of that engine number on the case. It’s missing a few things like fender trim, beehive taillight lens, not sure if the seat rotted off or not, but I have an original spare if anyone wants to buy it.

    Like 3
  5. Somer

    It would seem that no number pad infers that the pad has gone “missing”. Some people like HD’s “sweaty” like this. Also often they will pull the engine and put in a Knucklehead engine.

    Like 1
    • mtshootist1

      the VIN number block is cast into the left hand case and stamped with straight leg numbers, anything else I would assume that the block numbers had been filed smooth, ie. stolen. Nobody in their right mind wants that. The big inch flathead and knuckle frames I believe were pretty much identical, with no individual VIN numbers stamped on the necks, but they did have casting numbers. My position, no title, no cash..

      Like 3
      • 38ChevyCoupeGuy

        Same kinda bike with same story sold last year at Mecum auction, is this a new fad?
        WRONG, a lot of us still ride old beauties, my 65 pan, and 5 shovels nothing newer than 77,all but the pan look like hell, but get the hell ridden out of them. Please speak for yourself in this case.

        Like 6
      • Stu Member

        The serial number boss is visible in one of the eBay pictures. It appears the numbers have been obliterated–usually an attempt to hide the fact it was stolen at some point. To be fair, I once had a UL motor with unstamped VIN boss. The belly numbers matched and I had an auto theft detective I knew look at it. He pronounced it all on the up and up. Also, many 45″ WLAs had no VIN numbers because we decided the enemy didn’t need any clue as to how many of those Army bikes we’d made.

        Mr. H. is correct about Knuckle motors going into lots of these old big twin flatheads. There are a few differences, the most notable being the right side gas tanks being specific to the motor style.

        And, yes, these old bikes are still great fun and there are lots of us still riding them! What’s disappearing is the number of people with the skills and patience to put one together right and keep it running.

        Like 5
  6. 86_Vette_Convertible

    I have to agree with the statement: no title, no cash. A very long time ago in my youth I had a Johnny Cash Bike (one piece at a time). Title said it was a 47 but if that was right it was likely only one piece that was from that year. 4 boxes, a frame and a lot of extra parts is what I bought. Luckily I had a friend that knew bikes and was able to make sense out of that pile of parts. Eventually got it running and it had the suicide clutch. Thank goodness I was learning to ride it on another friends farm or I’d have killed every driver within 2 miles once I got on the road. I’d ridden a few bikes by then with the hand clutch and foot shift but this was a foot clutch and hand shift (Till my friend helped convert the bike to something newer).
    I like the bike but I’m too old to relearn how to ride something like that (or risk the broken bones).

    Like 2
  7. Bill

    Way way back in the day, 1966/67/68 I rode a 1940 ULH. Bought it out a barn for $75 bucks. I restored it as best I could using many NOS parts. Later as dumb kid I chopped it. Then sold it for $300. Lost money on that deal. Then the bike went back in a barn and the barn burned destroying the bike.

    I’d love to have another one. But now as an old man it’s out of the question.

    Like 2
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      If only we could get a brief glance into our futures things might turn out a lot better. I bought my 45 servi-car for $50. Hauled it home and had it running that night. I tuned it up and just ran it around but I always had the notion to chop it. Fortunately I never did. Job, marriage, and moving around kept me occupied. A guy came around wanting to buy the trike. I was short of money at the time so I sold it. The guy was going to chop it but being an off-shore driller he was seldom home. I kept contact and when conditions improved I tried to buy the trike back. It wasn’t for sale. The guy lived at his mother’s place and the trike sat outside beside the garage in the backyard. Water from the roof dripped onto the dash rusting the cat’s eyes and speedo right out. Then suddenly it was gone. It looked like someone else lived there as the place was fixed up. I couldn’t get anyone to answer the door so the trail went cold. Fast forward 20 years and I was at the HD dealership. I saw this fully restored trike parked out front. Well done, it was white with orange and black trim. I asked him about it and he told me that he’d been after it for years. It sat in the guy’s mother’s backyard getting all rusty. When the guy took on the HD franchise he was able to talk the other guy out of it. Well at least it went to a good home but I still kick myself for letting it go …

      Like 2
  8. Bob in Keizer

    True: Young guy looking over my 1937 UL says, “I’ve never seen one of those”.
    I says, “Oh, a hand shifter”?
    Him: “A kick starter”

    Like 4
  9. Stevieg

    I wish I had someone around to teach me how to use and maintain something like this. I am not much younger than some of you fellers who have ridden these, but I am young enough to be the “next generation”.
    I hear you guys talking about how younger generations aren’t interested. Maybe that is true, but I am interested. I tend to be a leader, not a follower, so I might be able to influence others my age (or younger) to follow my lead. If not, I will be really happy as prices drop when the ol’ fuddy duddies die off lol.
    Just kidding guys. Like ai said, I am not far behind ya, at 49 years old.

    Like 2
    • Stu Member

      Stevieg, Try joining the Antique Motorcycle Club of America. We have thousands of members (now worldwide!) and put on numerous national and international swap meets and road runs each year. There’s also the local chapters with even more events.

      The color magazine alone is worth the cost of the dues. You’ll find all kinds of bikes, parts, vintage racing, expertise, kindred spirits, craftsmen and vendors committed to keeping things going, etc, etc.

      One thing that’s been interesting in recent years is the Century Medallion, judging, even racing for bikes 100 years or more old.

      You, too, will be one of the ‘old guys.’ The 20-40 year olds who have discovered the AMCA are having the time of their lives. We’re all so glad they’re interested, we can’t do enough for them. AND they don’t have the demographic competition we did as Baby Boomers representing the big bulge in the pipeline.

      “Ride ’em, Don’t Hide ’em.”

      Stu AMCA member since 1985.

      Like 6
  10. Dale

    I have a ’37 UL, and put many miles on it before I returned it back to a stock bike. Still playing with it. Many times no serial number means it was filed off, but in those days it was also possible to buy a new case that was not numbered. The dealers were able to number them.

  11. chuck

    money pit . if you pay more than a few thousand for this you need mental help .

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