Original Knucklehead: 1942 Harley-Davidson EL

Being forced to sell any classic vehicle due to ill health can be heartbreaking, but that is the decision that the owner of this 1942 Harley-Davidson EL has had to make. It is a stunning classic that has been sitting for several years, and it will fall to the new owner to revive this iconic motorcycle. If you wish to be that person, you will find the Harley located in Chino Valley, Arizona, and listed for sale here on eBay. Spirited bidding has pushed the Harley beyond its reserve to $27,300.

Harley introduced the EL in 1936, and while the build-up to the launch was shrouded in rumors, the machine itself wasn’t revolutionary. The exception was the new engine, which we’ll get to shortly. The seller has owned this Harley for four years. It features its original frame and front end, both of which are in excellent condition. He hasn’t used the bike for three years, but it has sat safely squirreled away with the rest of his classic machines. It presents superbly for its age, with black paint that shines beautifully under the Arizona sun. Some of you will notice that the front fender is not attached. It is present and wears fresh paint. Reattaching it will be one of the tasks facing the buyer. With that completed, there’s little that the machine will require cosmetically. The chrome looks spotless, as does the polished alloy. The wheels shine as nicely as the rest of the machine, and the whitewall tires add the perfect finishing touch.

While the basic structure of the EL wasn’t revolutionary, it brought a significant engine upgrade. This marked the debut of the iconic “Knucklehead” V-Twin, and in its original form, its capacity was 61ci. By the time this EL rolled out of the factory, that had grown to 74ci. Power output was also pretty impressive for the time, with this V-Twin capable of producing 53hp that found its way to the rear wheel via a four-speed transmission. This Knucklehead presents as superbly as the rest of the EL, with both it and the transmission being original to this machine. The owner has upgraded the electrical system to twelve volts. He has added a new oil pump, powder-coated the fuel and oil lines, and fitted a new exhaust. He readily admits that he hasn’t attempted to kick the motor into life for three years but that it ran perfectly when parked. Given their bulletproof reputation, I would expect that some fresh fuel and a fluid change could see the Knucklehead roar back to life pretty easily.

Let’s not beat about the bush. A Harley-Davidson isn’t a motorcycle. It’s a lifestyle. Harley owners are a group of individuals with a level of camaraderie that is unlike anything you will find with any other classic brand. If an owner strikes trouble, a fellow enthusiast will always be willing to lend a hand. It’s also worth noting that on a dollar-per-pound basis, older Harley-Davidsons are some of the most valuable and best-performed machines of any sort in the classic market. They represent a sound long-term investment, but that isn’t what they are really about. These are designed for people to hit the road with their boots to the breeze. If you find that concept too hard to resist, maybe you need to drop a bid on this classic so that you can park it in your garage.


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  1. MattR Member

    Nice bobber.
    My ankle still creaks from my old Shovelhead, but I would suck it up for this.

    Like 9
  2. RKS

    Not exactly a bobber, it still has a full rear fender. I’m glad my shovel is kick and electric start I’m getting too old to kick that thing every time.

    Like 7
    • Terrry

      Maybe they meant “front” bobber, since there’s no fender there.

  3. geomechs geomechs Member

    You could park this at my place. The 61 inch EL designation stayed in production until the early 50s. I’ve seen a few Panheads that were 61s. I think the writer is a little off on the HP rating. I thought it was the FL that put out 50 HP while the EL was in the low 40s. Minor (and nitpicky) detail, I know. I see the owner changed the tail light to the Tombstone, which is a good choice because I never cared for the Beehive…

    Like 6
  4. SMS

    This is where my head and my heart look at something differently. Some of my best memories are of a trip on a Norton from west to east through the south. Then the trip in a Lotus seven west to east and back again, so I have known challenging rides and loved them.

    I look at this and my head sees my hips after starting it, my back after riding in the saddle for over an hour, and the maintance required, and straight pipes which I don’t care for.

    My heart sees a machine that I would have so much fun riding, looking at, and wrenching on. I like old cars and love old bikes.

    Like 7
  5. joenywf64

    Are the stock drum(i guess) brakes back in the day adequate to stop a beast like this?

    Like 4
    • SMS

      Had an Excelsior. Was older than this so these may be better. From the poor pictures they look much the same. I considered them coaster brakes.

  6. Terrry

    And why, exactly, hasn’t he tried to start the bike in three years? I’d like to know if I was paying all that money for the bike. ‘Ran when parked” means there was something wrong when he last turned off the ignition.

    Like 5
  7. Alex

    I rolled my eyes so hard I had to quit reading at “ Let’s not beat about the bush. A Harley-Davidson isn’t a motorcycle. It’s a lifestyle” Gross…

    Like 9
  8. Howard A Member

    While the author is correct in the “camaraderie” of H-D riders, there’s a reason for that. Most bikers today, don’t seem to have that “brand loyalty” and any biker gets “the wave”. While today, H-D’s are the pinnacle of improvement to a 100 year old design, they are comparable to any Asian bike( or better, in most cases), but that wasn’t always the case. H-D riders needed to “stick together”, because on any given outing, at least one would break down. It’s why most gatherings had someone driving the “chase van”. The mere design of these bikes has little, if anything in common with modern H-D’s. Anyone can ride a new H-D, but back then, it was only the heartiest of people. By todays standards, these are a nightmare, and still takes a special person to ride one. I enjoy motorcycling, but even this would test my limits. Few would even get this started, I bet. Kick starting takes a knack. You don’t just foolishly kick away, compression stroke, dude, get ‘er up on a compression stroke,,,
    And another thing, what is so fashionable about no air cleaner? If I was interested in buying something, a machine with no air cleaner, I’d immediately pass.

    Like 7
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      Yes, kick one when it doesn’t want to be kicked and you’ll be launched into space. I remember riding my ’45 on a particularly hot day and I forgot to retard the spark when I shut it down. There was an “earth-shattering Ka-Boom” (quoting: Marvin the Martian) and I was promptly displaced a couple of feet when I attempted to start it.

      As far as breakdowns went, everything was fair game. Back in the day it wasn’t uncommon to see a farm truck at the side of the road with a spent fuel pump or a distributor shaft that came unglued and tried to push itself right up through the cap. I remember a guy riding a Yamaha 350 when the clutch came apart. It had “young ones” with debris coming through the case and doing a “Don Garlits” to the inside of his leg. That was back in ’67 with an almost brand new bike. Blowouts (tires too), broken axles and all kinds of mayhem, even the exhaust system coming apart on our school bus and burning off the brake hose…

      Like 9
  9. its1969ok

    I don’t know a lot about bikes, but with no rear suspension and what appears to be a very stiffly mounted seat, his butt is probably still recovering from his last ride three years ago.

    Like 4
  10. charlie Member

    Actually the front fork suspension had an enourmous amount of travel, the seat had big springs, and it was not too hard on the butt. Keep in mind, these were road bikes, not trail bikes. Mine had a magneto, which sometimes had to be hit with a wrench to work to start it, much like the starter on my Camaro, no helmets, what were we thinking? But I was young and could not afford to own a car and it was better than a bicycle. In the two years I had it, before I got a car (inherited), it never broke down but it did leak oil, but so does my ’14 Audi.

    Like 7
  11. SMS

    Just my impression of reliability, no data to back this up. Have owned antique, vintage, and modern bikes. I feel that up until the ‘50’s the mechanical components were subjected to most of the road shock and vibration. This reduced the lifetime of parts. Riding these older bikes often makes you clean and tighten and adjust and grease and oil them regularly, which make them much more reliable.

    I think my ‘56 Matchless is the best bike I ever owned. Wasn’t the best at anything but felt just right.

    This bike is going to be the same for someone.

    Like 5
  12. chrlsful

    frnt springer, tank logo, push rods’n knuck? Sure is fine. Needs carb cover (A/C housing) but 30K$ is at the short end.

    Like 2
  13. Kenn

    Air cleaner off to more easily spray in starting fluid. There’s something wrong here, which the new owner will discover soon enough.

    Like 1
  14. Johnny

    Nice looking old Harley–ugly price. Reminds me of a friend. He HAD a 45 that looked brand new–all original. We,d talk about it and what it was worth. He said around $25,000. Then one day I stopped in and noticed the 45 gone. I asked about it and he said he sold it for $10,000. I asked him if he lost his mind. ? He said this guy would always ask him if he wanted to sale it and he knew the guy never had any money. So this day the guy was tired of the asking and he told the guy he,d sale it for $10,000. To sut him up,but the guy reached in his pocket and counted it out and handed it to my friend. My friend said he almost passed out and he couldn,t back out. As the guy drove away with it in his trailer–he almost cried. Seems the buyer had came into alot of money and he bought a bunch of other stuff that day. He was from Pennsylvania. He was a flipper.

  15. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    Ended:Oct 30, 2021 , 4:56PM
    Winning bid:
    US $31,200.00
    [ 50 bids ]

    Like 1
  16. Phipps

    Is amazing how much better these look when you lower the seat like this. Transforms the bike

  17. rob't

    If you actually read the ad you see exactly what’s up with this bike, ie: why it hasn’t been run in 3 years.
    Sold at $31,200. Somebody got a great deal. If you know your bikes in the current market …
    Back in the day Harley had something real going on, but these days … all that ‘biker’ cr-p is just wanna be posers, in my opinion. I say that as a proud owner of a 79 superglide, parked outside under a cover. I love that bike

  18. Lowell Peterson

    I feel sorry for the new owner! These were the worst Harleys of all. Couldn’t start ’em when hot, couldn’t stop’em from speed! Knucklehead was the term for the rider was always my impression.

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