Barn Find: 1939 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead

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This is quite a discovery and the current bid price shows just how excited more than a few people are to potentially get their hands on this original 1939 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead with a few authentic accessories. The seller has this period-correct time capsule listed here on eBay in Dinuba, California, there is no reserve, and the current bid price is a whopping $50,600!

The seller says that this early Knucklehead has been in a barn since 1998, so it was hidden away from buyers, investors, and the elements for the last 25 years. That had to have helped to preserve it, but it sure looks as if it had been loved for the 60 years up until that point, doesn’t it? They say that it’s mostly original, other than new tubes and tires so it can be rolled around.

That windshield is great, as are all of the other accessories. I love this era when Harley riders didn’t just load up as many death-is-cool skulls as they can, but maybe having 237 chrome skulls on your all-black Harley wasn’t a thing back then. If not, when did it start, who started that trend, and why? Do chrome skulls save lives? I don’t get it, death is not cool, what’s with the skulls and Harleys? Not to go way off-track there, but give me stuff like these vintage accessories over chrome skulls every single time.

Back to this time capsule. We recently saw a ’39 Knucklehead that appeared to be in excellent condition and was listed for almost double this price. This seller – not the gentleman in the leading photo, who was the previous owner who purchased this bike from someone in New York in the mid-1990s – said that they bought it and their plan was to have it nut-and-bolt restored, but their shop of choice closed, and now they’re selling it so the next owner can either restore it or just get everything working like new and enjoy it as it looks now. That’s exactly what I would do, I would not restore this one.

As we mentioned a few days ago, the Harley-Davidson EL was their OHV V-twin, which came out in 1936 and had 45 horsepower when new. It turns over and has compression, but hasn’t run since 1998, according to the seller. Hagerty is at $42,300 for a #4 fair-condition bike, which is a moot point by now with the bid over $50k, and their #3 good-condition value is $58,200. How much would you pay for this Knucklehead?

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. HoA Howard A ( since 2014)Member

    I suppose if I’m going to frequent the site, I have to accept how out of whack everything is. Just like I have to accept the foolishness at the grocery store every week. There’s like 50 bids, so unless that number can be fudged, like the “thumbs up” here, there is interest. This is nothing more than the “rusted Challenger/VW bus” commanding presidents salaries schtick, my opinions may be half baked at times, but a sane person wouldn’t involve themselves in this. There’s clearly a mental problem here.
    The “skulls” by the way, was a carry over from the war years. Many GIs coming home needed excitement, and rode and formed motorcycle clubs. I read, the “motto” was, the skulls represent “ride until death”, like our brothers before us, and I believe ALL Harley riders still believe in that.

    Like 24
    • Scotty GilbertsonAuthor

      Thanks for that explanation, Howard! That makes total sense and I can and do 100% respect that for sure. Although, when a dentist trailers his/her new skull-encrusted black Harley to within five miles of Sturgis and then rides into town like a warrior, that’s when more than a few of us roll our eyes. I guess it’s like anything else, though, most of us put on an act and a costume for whatever hobby we’re into, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all, it’s part of the fun and part of the game. I’m glad to know that so I don’t have to wonder about it again, thanks for the lesson!

      Like 14
      • Zephyr424

        There’s nothing wrong with the dentist who does that. It’s the new wave of jiggas that’s the problem

        Like 0
    • scooter8

      hope that isn’t in my future?

      Like 1
    • Idiot Boy

      The skulls of yore have lost not just their luster, but their meaning. Today’s skull is a dollar sign and history’s perfectly preserved (enter desirable vintage gearhead Americana of choice here) is just another mounted tiger for the anointed in the new American caste system.

      Getting back to reality, I will fight you for a pack of seven dollar eggs at the QuickeeMart once this vintage Harley fantasy dissipates…

      Like 5
      • Terrry

        you’re talking the “Harley” culture. You buy a Harley, it’s not enough. You have to customize the bike and yourself for that matter. I don’t care to join the culture. The bikes are good enough for me.

        Like 0
    • Terrry

      This bike isn’t nor could ever be an investment. This is for someone who just has to have one and dollars be damned. Apparently there’s quite a few people who want it too. I just hope whoever buys it gets it ready to rumble down the road again without trashing its originality.

      Like 2
      • Brett Lundy

        Terry I feel the same, I waited till my mid 50’s to get my first street bike and only because I realized that I no longer had the need for speed of my younger days. I have a high stress, multitasking type job and the bike was meant for me to put all that away and just focus on 1 thing and enjoying the ride. I don’t have tattoos, or leather riding apparel, I don’t ride with groups, and I stay mainly on back roads and under 45 mph. ITS RELAXING and thats why I ride. I ride an Electra Glide because I like the classic looks. As soon as I find a reasonable priced WL I’ll change over to that.

        Like 0
  2. geomechs geomechsMember

    Well, I can’t get over a good knucklehead; it will always be my favorite of the big twins. If I was allowed my favorite in anything it would be a knucklehead, a ‘38 Ford pickup and a ‘69 Chevelle 300 2-door. I once had the Chevelle and came close to the other two but, as they say, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Now, this bike. If by some miracle I could swing it, I would completely restore it. Motorcycles either look showroom or like dirty road warriors. An 84 year old bike deserves to be showroom once again. Ride it—yes, and ride it lots, but have some pride in it…

    Like 20
    • Dennis Stoeser

      My first bike a 47 FL. Long gone. Traded it for a new Honda 305 Dream. Who would have guessed., I still have a nice 38 Ford pickup.

      Like 1
    • Todd

      You’d ruin it if you restored it. You can have pride in the fact that it is an original survivor. And the fact the tanks aren’t correct, is part of the history too. I have a 1915 barn find, and I wouldn’t think of restoring it.

      Like 1
    • RexFoxMember

      Close counts in dancing too.

      Like 2
  3. LCL

    Would someone please explain the origin and meaning of knucklehead?

    Like 3
    • Scotty GilbertsonAuthor

      LCL, we talked about it in the fourth paragraph here:

      It’s due to the shape of the rocker boxes looking like fists, or knuckles.

      Like 5
      • LCL

        Thanks. Following Barn Finds and learning such details has become a hobby.

        Like 1
    • 38ChevyCoupeGuy

      The top of the engine looks sorta like knuckles when viewing from the side. Just as the panhead looks like two upside down pans on top and the shovel heads resemble two upside down shovels on top of the engine. Hope that helps.

      Like 3
    • Dave

      Rocker box nuts ,like knuckles on hand

      Like 0
  4. Maggy

    I’d say ask the 3 stooges but sadly they’ve passed.It’s because the contour of the valve covers look like knuckles on a hand.REALLY Cool original bike , you’d have to be a knucklehead to restore it imo. I’d just getting mechanically dialed in and cruise it on nice weekend days.

    Like 10
    • J Martell

      I agree.Explanation may be needed for knuckle sandwich’d be proud to ride it cleaned up “as is”. They’re only original once.

      Like 4
  5. James

    Seems like a nice enough knuckle but.. given that the tanks are earlier year, the muffler, seat, air cleaner etc. are all wrong, looks a fair bit less than original than the seller claims. And throwing in the name of a reputable restorer that you never actually used well, that’s just silly. $50K plus $20-30K to make right. Pass

    Like 6
    • Derek

      The year-wrong parts were probably replaced with bits from breakers over the 60-odd years that it was in use. Given the vast amounts of vehicular scenery in the photos, it’s quite possible that the original bits weren’t chucked.

      The bike’s may have been dropped a couple of times over the years.

      I like them, but I wouldn’t pay /that/ much for one.

      Like 2
  6. Brett Lundy

    I ride a TC Electra Glide Classic, and am looking for a WL(A) to replace it because it just suits my riding better, slow and only back roads, no interstate plus I just love the looks and the mechanical aspect. I have seen the rear bumpers on the older bikes but just dont understand the reason unless its just for decoration. It surely wont protect you, your still going down and the mounts dont look very substanial to survive anything but a gentle bump. was there something in this time period I’m missing that made them actually usefull? I know with all the older guys on here surely some one knows.

    Like 0
    • Bob Novotny

      It’s just for decoration. There are a lot of period pieces on this bike, the saddle, saddle bags, rear brake pedal etc, that were aftermarket add ons. Much like how ppl put chrome this n that on HD’s these days.
      Those items themselves are worth $$.
      Get it running & safe for the road & ride it like it is, it’s a time capsule.

      Like 7
      • Todd

        No kidding….to many ppl think a bike this old should be in showroom condition. You lose all the history when you restore and paint. I have a 1915 11f barn find. I’d never restore it. And it has parts on it from 16 & 17. It’s what ppl did.

        Like 1
  7. Todd

    You’d think in all the years the seller has had it he’d at least be able to get it running. Hmmmm

    Like 0
  8. Donald Pachkofsky

    My dad bought a 38WLDR IN 1939. Rode it till 1968, when he put it away in the garage. He pass away a few years back and now I have it. And yes it still runs. The breaks suck and it seams to smoke more than I’d like. But this bike is all original except the gas tank

    Like 1
  9. Terrry

    “I wouldn’t pay that kind of money for one”. And that’s true. But there’s people who will. And if you rode this bike just as it is to a bike gathering, guess what’ll attract all the attention?

    Like 3
  10. Tony T

    Is that guy the “Knucklehead?”

    Like 0
    • Grant

      Do you mean the fool who thinks he is a Rebel Civil War veteran? I doubt he can even afford a bicycle at Walmart from the clearance rack. I know personal appearance is someones right to display as they wish, but for petes sake people, do you have to wonder why people point and stare? I once heard from a guy with a tattoo on his face that most would consider obscene and he kept crying to one and all that he was being discriminated against during job interviews. Sooner or later common sense should take a position front and center.

      Like 1
  11. Scotty GilbertsonAuthor

    Auction update: this one blew Hagerty out of the water, selling for a mind-blowing $67,100!

    Like 0
  12. Jay rock

    If I had the money I would buy every knuckle I could get my hands on

    Like 0

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