Barn Find: 1972 Harley-Davidson XLCH Sportster

Three Harleys in a week?! It’s raining V-twins here at Barn Finds lately, but who’s complaining? This 1972 Harley-Davidson XLCH Sportster is a dusty barn find, as you can see, having been sitting in the back of a barn for 30 years, according to the seller, who has it posted here on eBay. It’s located in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and there is a $3,000 buy-it-now price listed, or you can make an offer. Three-grand or offer for a 997-cc Ironhead XLCH? Yes, please.

Ok, one big issue is that the seller says that the touring (bigger) “turtle tank” shown in the photos isn’t included! They say that they’re including an early “peanut” tank, but they don’t show it in the photos. It’s not world-ending, but still, a few million of us would like to see the tank that’s actually included. I actually like the look of the smaller “peanut” tank much better, but you’re going to stop to fuel up more often. The exhaust doesn’t appear to be original so if that’s an issue, consider that in your offer, too. Thankfully, both the turtle tank and original-style exhaust pipes can be found on eBay on any given day.

Our friends in Milwaukee came out with the XL Sportster in 1957, basing it on the previous “K” model from the early-50s. It’s been made ever since, with many upgrades over the decades, and that’s a long time for a continuous model for any vehicle manufacturer. Harley came out with a welcome feature in 1971 when they went to a wet clutch, and period reviews gave the Sportster’s four-speed transmission two thumbs up for reliability and toughness. Maybe not smoothness, at least until it was warmed up, but they were tough as hell and can be worked on without taking the engine out. Unlike a certain 1965 Honda Sport 65 that I recently owned. So much for Japanese manufacturers always having a better idea.

I bet this Sportster would clean up fairly well. We like to see dusty barn finds here, but sometimes I really want to see a dusty, crusty barn find on YouTube being cleaned up with a dry ice blaster or some other method. This is a right-foot-shift model, a couple of years before the evil gov’ment made manufacturers give us all left-side shifters whether we liked them or not. We could spend a lot of time trying to decipher what the “CH” in XLCH stood for. Most reports say that it has an unofficial definition of “Competition Hot”. Some testers in the early-70s thought that the handlebars were pulled back a bit too far. They’re initially comfortable and cool, but the novelty wears off. It’s hard to beat that look, though, and with a peanut tank, you won’t be riding too far at a time anyway.

By the mid to late-1960s, the Sportster came with an electric starter and a 12-volt electrical system, along with new forks. In 1972, the engines were bumped up from 883-cc to 997-cc. This example has a 997-cc OHV V-twin, which had just over 60 horsepower when new. Sadly, this one is locked up, but they hope (as do most of us) that it can be freed up. That’s the real big mystery of this bike, otherwise, the price is maybe a bit high but not as ridiculous as a lot of vehicles that we see here. Hagerty is at $3,000 for a running, functioning #4 example fair, so maybe half that would be a fair price for this one, what do you think?


  1. Howard A ( since 2014) Member

    Now THIS is cool. It’s more than a Sporty, it’s an AMF Sporty.( 1969-1981) People trash the AMF years, but I’m here to say, it just wasn’t so. It wasn’t that the bikes were bad, just, Asian bikes offered so much more, for less, and only the most loyal stayed with HD. The Sporty was always known as the “beginner Harley”, on their way up to a “Big Twin”. Many women bought Sportsters, because it wasn’t some big road bike. My ex-gf had a ’99 1200 Sporty, and that was a really nice bike. She just wasn’t comfortable on my FXRT, and the Sporty was just right. The right shift would take some getting used to, and more than once, an inexperienced rider, mashed on the shifter in a panic stop. Was still better than a tank shift. Nice find, I always thought Harley missed the boat by not making a dirt version, although some have tried. THIS, I would take out a loan for!!! Spring is right around the corner, which corner isn’t clear, but now’s the time.

    Like 12
    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      I agree, I love these things. I thought that AMF started producing bikes in ’73, even though their logo was on the tanks since ’71? I read that the ’72 Sportster was the last one made by Harley-Davidson before AMF began production.

      I can’t argue with the AMF era, as with the Mustang II saving the Mustang for Ford, AMF surely saved Harley-Davidson from bankruptcy and limped it along until it could turn itself around.

      Like 12
    • Rob

      The AMF years were garbage- I know, I worked on a bunch of them. Once the Evolution motor came out, quality became much, much better.

      Like 2
      • stanley kwiecinski Member

        in my 31yrs owning my FXE; AMF means Another Monday F@$%^% still love it!

        Like 1
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      Some people really badmouth the AMF years but my Big Twin was an AMF and it was just fine. There was a guy, told me that there was a screwup in the machining of the flywheels and the odd one could be up to .005” out of whack. Mine was okay while one of my friends had one that was a shaker. We pulled that down one winter. I was expecting to see the flyweight bores out of spec but they were out of alignment. A half hour and I had them tracking less than 001.” What a difference!

      Like 1
  2. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    I don’t recall a tank like that with the emblems almost on the top of the tank. Could be why he is keeping it. A friend just offered me $4K for my 71 FX, maybe that is ball park. Looks like they do some jamming in the garage also, I see some amps and a guitar. With a t-bonewilliams handle it could turn into a fun buy.

    Like 3
  3. CVPanther Member

    I’d give ’em $50 for this heap.

    Like 4
  4. Rw

    Then came Bronson

    Like 0
  5. Big C

    An AMF for $3000 with a locked up engine? Hmm. These were made for going fast, and for guys under 5’7.

    Like 2
  6. Derek

    3k is a bit steep, seeing as it’s seized. They’re ok bikes, but if you try going briskly on uneven surfaces – such as cobbles – I found out that the front and rear suspensions feel only tenuously connected to each other…

    Like 8
  7. Dan August

    Then came Bronson.

    Like 15
    • Howard A ( since 2014) Member

      Dates you, my friend, that was a cool show. I think anyone that had a shred of rebel in them, wished they were Bronson. I used to wear a hat like his, but was no Bronson,,”well, hang in there”,,

      Like 8
  8. Terrry

    Break out the knee brace and the thick-soled leather boots. It’s kickin’ time! XLCH had no electric start. But this bike would be the ultimate project and because they’re stone-axe simple it shouldn’t take much to get her on the road again. I personally prefer Sportsters to the big Harleys. They’re just more fun to ride!

    Like 8
  9. Ricky Member

    Front fork tubes have been extended, as if the handling wasn’t bad enough!

    Like 5
  10. Bob

    If you look on Craigslist, there are a lot of nice Sportsters in the $3000.00 range. That being said, for $1000.00 this could be a nice project. I think you would have to strip it right down to the frame and rebuild everything. With modern brakes and suspension and a rebuilt motor this could be a nice ride.

    Like 6
  11. Al camino

    If these lazy people would clean it up it might look like a 3k bike!

    Like 1
  12. James
    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Uuuff, those are painful to see, or more like it, painful to have missed at those prices compared to this project Sportster. Nice work, James!

      Like 0
  13. mikethetractorguy

    1972 Sportsters have some one year only parts incuding the cylinders. I wouldn’t touch it wit a ten foot pole. Too many headaches.

    Like 1
    • Todd Flowers

      1979 Sportys’s we’re one year only parts as well.

      Like 0
  14. david r

    you can find running Sportsters all day long for 3 or 4 thou.. As for your Honda 65 engine having to be removed? C’mon, you can practically cradle that engine in the palm of your hand.

    Like 0
  15. moosie moosie

    ’72 was my first relationship with H-D. I bought a brand new XLCH it was “Sparkling Green” in color. I liked it a lot, it was my first experience with motorcycles of any kind and basically a good experience except for having to fix the “trap door” twice and the kicker too many times to remember, my right lower thigh just above the knee joint still aches when I think about that Sporty and how many times it ratcheted thru & smacking my leg on the corner of the oil tank. I was lucky my drive way was on a slight incline allowing me to roll start it. Choosing which tavern to stop at in a night of “TT riding depended on nearby hills. I think it cost me around $ 2200.00 brand new out the door @ Harley of Rockland in Sloatsburg N.Y. I wound up selling it in the spring of ’76 for $ 3500.00, The guy that bought it thought that the cigarette lighter that I put in on the gauge cluster , replacing the hi beam light was just about the neatest part of that Sporty. My neighbors were glad to see it go, it was very loud.

    Like 4
  16. R.J.

    ’72 was the first year for the 1000 Cc and they had oiling problems until the design change in ’74. Frames weakened over time and cracked the down tubes under the seat or the front wishbone…but tuned right they would accelerate hard up to about 110 mph with the right gearing. Band brakes were weak… I cange my ’71 to dual disc front disc rear and bobbed the fenders, added pull back tee handle bars and s&s bottom end, v-twin ported heads, Andrew’s cams (four). Rode it since ’76 and still part of the stable,along with a few other Harleys. First real motorcycle and im glad I kept her…

    Like 3
  17. Kevin E Foltz

    I had a ’76 “Liberty Edition” Iron Head 1000 XLCH. Sold it with about 20,000 miles on it, in boxes and a title for $900 in early ’80s. POS! I wouldn’t waste my time or money on this one! You can find nice looking, running, ready to ride Iron Heads all day for 3 to 4 grand or less. Somebody thinks they have found something special, not so my friend. If you buy one, you best be mechanically inclined to say the least. They require CONSTANT maintenance and adjusting. The vibration is amazing on the Iron Heads too! Always shaking things off or apart. The frames break right behind the gas tanks in front of the seat on a regular basis too. Buy an Evo Sporty, save some troubles if you really want the experience of being a Sportster owner.

    Like 0
  18. RexFox Member

    Four of my fraternity brothers had AMF Sportsters and only one was electric start. Once I was riding back from the Snake River (me on my 500four) and hit a poorly patched pothole, was thrown off the seat and almost over the bars, but I somehow managed to drop back down and avoided crashing. My ‘brother’ on his Sporty stopped moments later. I thought he had seen my almost-crash, but he just stopped to see if I wanted to ride his Harley. Rather than tell him about my incident, I said yes. As soon as I took off, I realized he could not have seen me almost hitting the ground because the mirror vibrated so much I couldn’t anything behind me. This was the beginning of my love affair with Harleys. Oh yeah, the next day another friend hit that same pothole on a CB350, but he did not fare so well.

    Like 1
  19. Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    Auction update: this one sold for an undetermined price as the seller accepted a “best offer”.

    Like 2
  20. Jack meoff

    Back in the day. A young 15 yr old rebel; Bronson was the cool guy. All my friends wanted the XLCH900. I’m really glad I waited 50yrs to buy my 07 heritage Softail instead. I test drove smaller bikes, and found that they were just bar hoppers. 2008 I drove from Seattle to Charleston SC and back, and I couldn’t of ask for a more comfortable ride. Harley cruiser’s 👍

    Like 0
  21. Philip Conrad

    I owned a bone stock ‘76 Sportster and a ‘77 Sportster that was customized. Now, I have a 2004 stock Sportster 1200 C which I feel is an incredible improvement over the previous two . I also have a Santori soft tail custom with a 103” Screaming Eagle engine. Now in the event of a SHTF situation and still having all four bikes and having to get out of town on one… the 2004 .

    Like 0
  22. Dave K.

    We just picked up a very clean 20+ year old 1999 sportster 1200C from an online auction for $1675. Carbureted, but no points, and it will actually stop in less than 300 feet! Looks like a great little bike, but certainly not rare.

    Like 0
  23. Melton Mooney

    I was soooo glad when my wife got past her ‘chrome angels’ cool-housewives’-riding-club phase. I bought her a ’04 (?) 1200 lowrider, which was typical for her group, but a terrible choice for a small rider IMO. Cumbersome, mediocre handling, terrible brakes, and lumbar shattering ride quality; I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Any other dyna or softail HD offering would probably have been a safer choice at the time.

    Like 0

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