Authentic EL: 1947 Harley Davidson Knucklehead

This 1947 Harley Davidson EL “Knucklehead” is an iconic bike among vintage motorcycles, and a particularly important milestone in the company’s history. Featuring a novel overhead valve engine that gave it both speed and reliability, it’s a highly collectible model today. This example is tired in all the right ways, with liberal doses of patina that can’t be faked and, according to the seller, it’s also one of the best starting, running, and shifting bikes he’s ever had. Find it here on eBay with bidding to $28,850 and reserve unmet and located in Minnesota.

The bike is for sale due to the seller wishing to pursue other projects, and thus needing the capital freed up to do so. The overhead valve design came at an important time for Harley, as the country had weathered the economic impacts of the Great Depression and WWII, and consumer confidence was again surging. Harley as a company saw its sales plummet during the volatile Depression years , so the success of the overhead valve engine was critical to getting back on its feet. Early reports indicated the engine was indeed a winner, but that top end leaks delayed its introduction.

Based on the seller’s description, the Harley doesn’t show many deviations from stock condition and the listing states most replacement parts are OEM, with the exception of a few. Among the original features are the frame, fork , tanks, engine, transmission, wheels, brakes, and more. It’s hard to tell if the paint is original, but the current crusty veneer it wears is just how I’d leave it. Other repairs/refurbishments include a new wiring harness, rebuilt original speedometer,  conversion to six-volt charging system, and rebuilt carburetor and tune up. The belly numbers match up, too.

There’s been a serious uptick in the number of vintage Harleys coming up for sale lately, most all of them a barn find like this or otherwise just highly original examples. I have to wonder if collectors see a shift happening, where the next generation of buyers may not be as interested in a vintage Harley Davidson motorcycle as someone who grew up idolizing them, making it more important than ever to sell it now while there’s a market still ready to buy. There’s a whole mess of vehicles in that category right now, but the desirability of a vintage Harley will never be in question.

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  1. John Skeadas

    Survivors will always command a premium in the marketplace. Showroom restorations has always been a US anomaly. Only in this country do we take examples of history and dissasemble them, paint them, chrome them, shiny them up and delude ourselves into thinking we have improved them!
    How many times have we seen ads which say, 20k dollars invested, as though they have made improvements.
    I’m a vintage Indian man, with a 46 and a 53, both unrestored running bikes with lots wrong, but that’s the way I like it!

    Like 17
  2. Fred W

    “Converted to 6 volt charging”… OK , not really a motorcycle guy here- what voltage did they originally run on?

    Like 6
    • MFerrell

      It would have been born 6 volt. Many owners convert them to 12. HD converted to 12 in the early 1960’s.

      Like 4
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      I think what they meant was converting it from a ‘Third-Brush’ generator with a cut-out relay to a ‘Two-Brush with a regulator. The cut-out was a bugger to set. You’d set the third-brush to supply 8-10 amps then set the cut-out to engage at about 1000 rpm. Then, after a great day, the daggoned thing would either decide NOT to cut in; or the points would arc and weld themselves together, turning your generator into a motor when you shut the engine down. What was just as bad was the drive gear was held onto the armature shaft with a steel pin, which tended to work its way out then go through the timing gears and clean house. In addition to the Two-Brush combination being more reliable the armature shaft was threaded, with a castlated nut holding the gear in place. And yes, the old gear slid onto the shaft of a newer generator and was retained with a nut just fine. I might add that Loctite was a great invention…

      Like 11
  3. Jay E.

    As the baby boomers age, their long hidden treasures are resurfacing. Financial squeeze or estate disinterest is putting them back into circulation. A lot of beautiful iron is coming to market.

    Like 13
    • Howard A Member

      More like, as baby boomers parents die, there’s gold in grandpa’s garage. No one to blame but ourselves, really, for not picking up every trashed H-D we’ve seen along the road of life. Someone kept one, and no reason it shouldn’t bring this kind of money. (I could have a lot of fun with $30g’s) I highly doubt, however, the new owner is going to have the fun grandpa did, and grandma was probably no angel either. They probably never talked about it. Nice find.

      Like 9
    • Chris M.

      I agree and hopefully such iron will begin to be sold at realistic pricing.

      Like 1
  4. geomechs geomechs Member

    It was difficult to tell the difference between the 61 inch EL from the 74 inch FL. Either way I sure wouldn’t kick this off my driveway. I wish that for once I could have a windfall that would allow me to get one of these…

    Like 2
  5. matthew B steele

    There were a lot of 90 year olds out there that knew how to raise a little hell in their day..they had hot rods and harley Davidson’ uncle was one.god rest his soul.ever sit down and get an old timer to open up to their personal life..many were much more colorful than today’s youth..

    Like 2
  6. Chas358 Chasman358 Member

    Quite a story. Great old bike.

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