Live Auctions

Original Knucklehead: 1947 Harley-Davidson EL

Knucklehead is a derogatory term that denotes a stupid person and the tag attached to one of the world’s most iconic internal combustion engines. The production life of Harley-Davidson’s Knucklehead motor was surprisingly short, but it has demonstrated that it is as tough as old nails. This 1947 Harley EL has plenty of character and features its original Knucklehead. It has spent some time in storage, but the seller recently revived it and returned it to active service. It isn’t perfect, leaving its new owner with the choice of performing a restoration or savoring the delights of a largely original classic motorcycle. Located in Geneseo, Illinois, you will find the EL listed for sale here on eBay. Spirited bidding has pushed the price beyond the reserve to $41,101. With plenty of time remaining in this auction, there is still a chance for you to make a play for this beauty.

Harley-Davidson unveiled its EL model in 1936, proving an instant success. While mainly considered evolutionary, the EL brought a new frame, along with the company’s first OHV production engine. Early examples of the “E” series were prone to frame cracking, but running changes eliminated that problem. Today, a surprising number remain in active service. The seller purchased this beauty in 2012. They located it hidden in a North Dakota barn, a spot it had occupied since the 1960s. They determined that a previous owner performed a repaint, but this occurred before they placed it into hibernation. The seller used this machine regularly, but it has been inactive for the past two years. However, that situation recently changed. They state that most of the panels are original, although it wears a later Panhead rear fender. The paint shows its age, but if someone craves a motorcycle dripping with character, this could be it. The saddlebags are 1947 Loctites, and while they are dry, the seller says their condition is consistent with the rest of this classic’s appearance. The seat is a later OEM item, and apart from a repairable seam separation, it is in good order. Overall, this Harley EL is guaranteed to gain attention and respect wherever it goes.

While Harley-Davidson had previously dabbled in the world of OHV engines, the Knucklehead was the first such production engine the company offered to the general public. Initially introduced with a capacity of 61ci, Harley lifted this to 74ci in 1941. This EL features its original numbers-matching Knucklehead, and it is in excellent condition. When the seller purchased the machine, he treated its engine, four-speed transmission, hubs, and forks to a rebuild. It hasn’t clocked a million miles since, meaning that the engine will probably still churn out somewhere around its original 53hp. They rode this classic regularly until a couple of years ago when the owner essentially pushed it to one side. They recently returned it to active duty, and it performs as it should. They indicate that the buyer should treat it to a tune-up and that it has some of the characteristics typical of old Harleys. As they delicately say, “it barks, belches, and leaves its fair share of oil stains.” That’s all part of the unique ownership experience, but it sounds like nothing requires immediate attention.

In previous articles, I have discussed my past cynicism about Harley-Davidson motorcycles and how my attitudes changed once I understood the brand’s culture. Owners are like a family, always willing to assist their brethren in their time of need. The desirability of classic Harleys is graphically demonstrated by the bidding action and price of this 1947 EL. It has already attracted thirty-six bids, which is impressive for any vehicle within this price bracket. If considered on a “dollar per pound” basis, classic Harley-Davidsons are some of the best-performing vehicles in the current market. This one is a diamond in the rough, leaving its next owner to decide between restoration and preservation. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that the buyer would choose the second option. I acknowledge this is not a cheap motorcycle, but are you tempted to pursue it further? If you do and are successful, I know our readers would like to share your ownership experience.


  1. geomechs geomechs Member

    As always, the Knucklehead will be my favorite of the big twins. Like a ‘38 Ford pickup, I’ve tried my best to land one but there was always someone quicker than me. Or in this case, wealthier. At least at this kind of money it isn’t likely to be cut up into another custom sled. If I did happen to luck out with this one I would give it a thorough “Summer’s Eve” treatment and go from there. I sure wouldn’t hesitate to restore it if that’s what it needed…

    Like 12
  2. Frank Sumatra

    So why is it called a Knucklehead? What engine part resembles a knuckle?

    Like 3
    • Phil B

      It’s the rocker boxes. It was said they resembled a knuckle. Back when these were current, nobody called them knuckleheads. Just OHVs.

      Like 11
      • Frank Sumatra


        Like 2
      • Steve

        Yes but they were the only ohv model back then, there weren’t any pans or shovels and on and on to sort through

  3. Jim in FL

    In 1991, one of these was in an antique shop outside of Philly. Asking $5,700. In similar shape to this one, not running, unrestored. I thought the price was a little high and frankly, I would have needed to borrow the money. I paid $2500 for my sportster a couple years before.

    Didn’t know if the shop owner was savvy or just clueless. He really didn’t seem to care. Was more interested in the vintage watches he restored. A year later I saw him at the inaugural vintage races in Philly, driving a brass era car. He knew, was just being coy.

    Had I known these would appreciate as well as they did, I would have borrowed the money. These take some maintenance but run pretty well. The great thing about a bike is there are no weird and expensive bits to replace. No obscure trim piece in the back seat that disintegrates due to weather. Like these people did. The seat wears out, put a new one on.

    I rode sportsters, shovel head FLs and evos. The good thing was they were all very basic like this bike, even the 90s models before fuel injection. I hope the buyer cleans it up and rides it. These are a lot of fun.

    Like 4
  4. Howard A Member

    “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk”, ( in my best Curly voice) remember when I said, “oh, fiddlesticks on these, when was the last time”,,,well, one must be cautious what one says in Colomarado, why just the other day, I saw’r 2 guys on vintage bikes a putt-puttin’ along.. Anything goes out here. This is nice find, but as far as I’m concerned, this patina crap shouldn’t transfer over to motorcycles. Someone rides up on this, I say, instant schmoe. My bikes( and semis) were always clean and shiny, to coin a motto an old timer told me once, that I lived by, “A dirty bike( truck) is a dirty shame”.

    Like 7
    • Ike Onick

      And as another old-timer once said- “Each to his/her own”.

      Like 10
    • stanley j kwiecinski

      gonna clean my shovel as soon as i can! when it stops raining. I live in chiraq.

  5. moosie moosie

    Believe it or not this bike to me is the Holy Grail of Harley Davidson Motorcycles. We were both manufactured the same year. I think it deserves to be restored , not over done , just bought back to how it rolled out of the showroom and be ridden & maintained & thoroughly enjoyed. If I were able to walk I’d be a bidder.

    Like 3
  6. Super Glide Member

    The Knucks were great machines had some problems, but since man started putting two pieces of metal together something always screws up.
    The 47 Indian Roadmaster was also great, but a couple of ponies less.
    Now we have uber horsepower bikes, but back in ’47 the only thing called
    Hayabusa was a then retired Ki-43. The US Army Air Force called it an Oscar.

  7. Steve

    Get it running, rolling and stopping properly and do what’s needed to preserve it but paint it? No way. I’ve got a 59XLH and a 64FL Duoglide (Pan) and I wouldnt mind having this knuck.

    Like 1
  8. SeeMyGT

    Keep it as is… It’s only original once.

    Like 1
  9. david R

    Hope they do minimal restoration, not make it another dime a dozen immaculate showpiece. Wow, these things must take some real skill to drive with a foot clutch and hand shifter.

    Like 1
  10. Jim

    The bad dudes loved these and got a bad rap in many gangs

  11. Super Glide Member

    Nucks were great. Had some problems that were fixed in the Pans. Doesn’t matter, ever since man first put 2 pieces of metal together, something always screws up. The 47 Indian Chief Roadmaster was a great bike as well, a few less ponies though. They didn’t have the Hayabusa in ’47. Back then a Hayabusa Ki-43 was a retired fighter the USAAF called the Oscar.

  12. Kenn

    I got one for free in 1957, rode it for a year and gave it away for the same “price”.

    Like 1

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