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Barn Find Panhead: 1950 Harley-Davidson EL

Harley-Davidson has long been known for its V-twin engines, but there are still some that are more famous than others. The Motor Company’s first V-twin was introduced in 1909, faltered, and then re-emerged in 1911 as the F-Head. This is not to be confused with the flathead, which was introduced in 1919 and continuously produced in one form or another until 1973. In 1936, Harley unveiled the next generation V-twin, featuring overhead valves and iconic rocker boxes that would give it the unofficial name of Knucklehead. Twelve years later when the next engine was released, those rocker boxes were replaced by what looked like upside-down baking pans, earning it the Panhead moniker. This brief history brings us to our feature bike, a 1950 Harley-Davidson EL Panhead. Located in Boise, ID, and found here on craigslist, its patina tells the story of a motorcycle well-loved until it was put in storage in 1974. After the barn that it was in collapsed, the bike was transferred to a new location and stored once more until recently. The current owner has done the work required to get the bike roadworthy again while striving to maintain its historical character.

The jewel of this motorcycle is, of course, the legendary 61 c.i. Panhead V-twin. While it may not be known for high-performance, its steady power and solid reliability enabled post-war riders to travel the country on two wheels. The ad states that while it has never been apart, it has been recently serviced and was ridden throughout the past summer. The overall patina of the bike is cool, but a little time spent detailing the engine with a light degreaser would surely help showcase those unique pan-shaped rocker boxes.

While 1949 saw the introduction of a new Hydra-Glide front end featuring hydraulic fork tubes that were a massive improvement over the previous model’s springer front end, the rear suspension was still non-existent. The only comfort at the far end was that which was provided by the sprung saddle. From this angle, one can imagine loading up the saddlebags with a few necessities, strapping a sleeping bag on the luggage rack, and heading off into the sunset for the next adventure.

If a 70-year-old motorcycle that has remained untouched for decades isn’t enough, the seller is also offering the full history of the bike dating back to the original purchase from the dealer, as well as older photos, and even contact information for the original owner. As a true barn find with what is likely original paint, tons of character, and a great backstory, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the next owner. Then again, a bike like this deserves not just an owner, but a caretaker that is willing to preserve a piece of history.

Comments

  1. Avatar photo Howard A Member

    With snow in the forecast for much of the country, except for you southern wusses,( I wish I had my toes in the sand right now) shouldn’t we be seeing snowmobiles? Scotty’s SnoRunner in action, maybe? I was thinking, we haven’t seen a bike in a spell, and what a bike to feature. Nothing is mentioned about the designer, Brooks Stevens, who took an outdated bike and transformed it into the modern machine still used today. The “Hydra” meant, hydraulic ride, and I never knew this, but the seat post, as well, was like the front fork, and even with a hard tail, it rode remarkably well. The headlight housing, traditional dash and gauges, chrome doodads, all spiffed it up and after ’53, the 61 inch was dropped, and the 74 was the only motor you could get. It wasn’t until 1958 with the “Duo-Glide”, HD finally got a rear suspension. Mr. Stevens was quite a guy and who knows where HD might have gone without him. Down the tubes, I bet.
    Great find here, dripping,,,with memories, oh yeah, they leaked worse than Limey’s, and tank shift/foot clutch may take some getting used to, but you could ride this bike anywhere today, and as an old man, these are looking better everytime I see one. Now, about that price,,,,if you freak out at outrageous prices, don’t look,,,I said DON’T look..

    Like 13
    • Avatar photo Terrry

      Just as “Hydra” meant hydraulic suspension, “Electra” meant electric start.

      Like 5
    • Avatar photo TC Oztralia

      Howard, didn’t anyone ever tell you you never have to add oil to the crankcase of early Harleys, Indians or British bikes, you just pour it over the top of the engine and it’ll find it’s own way in, same as it finds it’s own way out later on!
      Now my 1999 Honda Shadow ACE is a whole different story, it’s too damn clean, looks like it’s never been used, I’m waiting for the ‘patina’ to happen but I won’t hold my breath.

      Like 5
    • Avatar photo piston poney

      if there aint oil i nit there aint oil in it, same thing for anything older than a shovel head, my dad has 2 pans and they both leak, 1 is a chopper he built and the other is a stock 51.

      Like 0
  2. Avatar photo leiniedude Member

    I wish I would have taken your advice Howard. Strange, but in the last pic in the ad it looks like bullet holes in the tank and seat. Older pic for sure. Happy New Year to all!

    Like 1
    • Avatar photo Mike

      Looks like a picture of a picture that someone put some push pins in giving it the bullet hole look.

      Don’t restore. Carefully clean and get it running.

      Like 3
  3. Avatar photo Stevieg

    I looked too. That was an eye opener lol.
    Rellay neat bike, I would ride it as it is if I knew how to ride this one (how do you use a foot clutch if both feet are on the ground, amongst other questions).
    Back in the mid 1970’s my Dad had a 1959 Duoglide. I LOVE the sound a panhead makes!

    Like 2
    • Avatar photo Terrry

      They didn’t call them suicide clutches for nothing. I once rode an Indian with the same setup after riding a “normal” bike for years and it was totally confusing. That Indian wasn’t mine, it’s owner let me try it out in a field.

      Like 0
      • Avatar photo Tony Primo

        I always knew them by the name suicide shift. You have to take one hand off of the handlebars to shift, therefore you have a better chance of crashing.

        Like 1
  4. Avatar photo geomechs Member

    Well that is an ORIGINAL “Tombstone Taillight.” I put a reproduction one on my Shovelhead and really liked it. Someone changed the Kickstarter pedal because the original one looks more like one off a bicycle. I would change that back. A little out of my budget at this time but my attitude could change this weekend (lol). It’s close enough to home to make me sweat a little. While I would rather have a 74 I sure wouldn’t turn a 61 down.

    Leak oil, Howard? Harleys just mark their spot. And so did my HD 45, my BSA, my Norton, and my brother’s Triumph. About 50 years ago there was this remarkable new invention called silicone seal that really confused those people always spewing that leakage truism. I remember a bunch of us pulled up in front of a tavern in St. Mary, just on the east side of the “Going to The Sun” road. A guy pulled up on one of those new-fangled Beemers with that flat four. He shut it off and immediately a bunch of oil drips dropped off each corner of the engine. I didn’t say anything because I soon found out that those drips matched the drip that was riding that bike. You meet them sometimes.

    Anyway, back to this bike, I would take it home and give it the thorough “Summer’s Eve Treatment.” A good shine and a major tuneup, then go for a ride. If all goes well, I’ll go for many more rides. If all doesn’t go well I’ll fix what’s broken, THEN go for more rides…

    Like 8
    • Avatar photo Lowell Peterson

      In the 80’s I saw Honda/Yamaha riders put rice under parked Harleys! Pretty good absorber!

      Like 2
  5. Avatar photo gary rhodes

    $37k? Ho Lee Chit is he a dreamer. You can buy a restored one for that money

    Like 4
  6. Avatar photo Kenn

    Stevieg, I owned a 1945 Harley 45 in 1957, with the foot clutch of course. Easy enough to lean the bike to the side and support with just one foot. Isn’t that what riders do even today at a dead stop? Once rolling, clutching and shifting is not that difficult, one hand being off the handlebars notwithstanding.

    Like 1
  7. Avatar photo RexFox Member

    Good write-up and comments guys. Lots of interesting (and correct) Harley history. The price is high, but there are lots of people with what seems like too much money. I would prefer a restored Panhead or Knucklehead, but this bike would look pretty cool in a bar, restaurant or office building. Happy New Year!

    Like 2
  8. Avatar photo geezerglide85

    Just a little side info. This is not a suicide clutch, but is a foot clutch or rocker clutch. If you come to a complete stop you can leave it disengaged and put both feet on the ground. Move the lever to 1st and when it’s time to go push forward on the clutch pedal (toe to go). A suicide clutch is like a car in that you must keep your foot on the pedal or be neutral at stop. Also of note the front brake lever is opposite of today’s bikes. One the pitfalls of newbies riding these old machines is mistaking grabbing the front brake for the clutch.

    Like 4
    • Avatar photo navelengineer

      just rode my 47 indian today – has right tank shift and left foot clutch as original – agree not that hard – only difference is heel to squeal (go) and forward neutral.

      Like 2
  9. Avatar photo Jon Ard

    My dad had a ’43 Flathead, bought it used when he was a senior in HS in ’47 … said he loved that bike but said the worst part was shifting … he sold it when he married my mom in ’50, but was tempted to buy another with the foot shift in ’53 but my mom put an end to that … he bought a Buick instead …

    Like 4
  10. Avatar photo chrlsful

    kept in true Harley fashion.
    “…in a bar, restaurant or office building….”
    then Y own it? no rides, what it wuz made 4.
    ‘Only original once’ & this has been so over 70 yrs~

    Like 0

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