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Ex-Police Bike: 1954 Harley-Davidson FL

The 1954 model year was an unusual one in the history of Harley-Davidson. Even though the company now recognizes any anniversary models in line with its founding in 1903, they chose to mark their 50th Anniversary in 1954. This Harley FL hails from that year, and started life in the service of the Police Department. It is an original survivor, and comes complete with its red and blue pursuit lights, along with the saddlebags. It is located in Pacifica, California, and has been listed for sale here on eBay. Bidding has reached $18,500, but the reserve hasn’t been met.

The Harley is beginning to show its age. But I don’t see any reason why it needs to be restored immediately, if at all. The paint is consistent across the whole bike, and it might respond positively to the application of some polish. The original 50th Anniversary badge remains in place on the front fender but would benefit from some restoration work. The saddlebags are included, but the lid is missing off one of them. The original seat is still in place, and it is looking a bit worn around the edges. However, I believe that it could be restored rather than needing to be replaced. The three painted screws remain in the rear fender, which indicates that this has been a solo-seat machine for its entire life. This would be consistent with its claimed law enforcement history. There is also a tag on the frame that confirms that this bike was used initially for Police work. I would be interested to see how the Harley would respond to some detailed cleaning work. There is little doubt that it would be stunning if fully restored. I can’t help but think that detailing it might be a better option because it would make an eye-catching original survivor.

Harley-Davidson introduced the Panhead engine in 1948. This replaced the Knucklehead and remained in use until 1965. This FL features the Panhead, which has a capacity of 74ci. The power finds its way to the ground via a 4-speed transmission. Traditionally, Harleys had featured a hand shift/foot clutch combination, but the company introduced a hand clutch/foot shift combination in 1952. We find that configuration on this machine, although the original setup remained available if a buyer should choose. This bike is virtually complete, although the original air cleaner is missing. The Harley had been sitting for an extended period, but the owner has successfully revived it. I have included a video of the bike running at the bottom of this article, and that Panhead sounds crisp and clean. There are no signs of any smoke or any odd noises. The owner doesn’t indicate whether it is roadworthy, but if it isn’t, it shouldn’t take a lot of work to return it to that state.

When I was younger, I enjoyed the whole idea of throwing my leg over a motorcycle and hitting the open road on a sunny day. I will admit that back then, I was critical of anything that wore a Harley-Davidson badge. However, that can best be put down to the ignorance of youth. I failed to understand what a Harley represented. It isn’t just a motorcycle, but it is a lifestyle. Unlike modern machines where you find yourself wrapped in plastic and fiberglass, a Harley represented “boots in the breeze” freedom. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate these classics. Apart from that freedom, a Harley-Davidson also represents kinship. These are a notoriously long-lived machine, and fellow owners are happy to assist each other in times of mechanical trouble or when rare or unusual parts are needed. Being part of the Harley family is a wonderful experience, so would you like to join it?


  1. Snotty

    Beautiful 2 wheeled machine. Nothing else in the world will ever produce the raw virile looks of a vintage 50’s Harley Davidson big twin. Excellent write-up. Mr. Adam Clarke

    Like 11
  2. Howard A Member

    “Grandpa, what’s a Harley-Davidson”? Don’t laugh, I read today, H-D is pulling out of India, not sure if that’s a cut and dry reason to panic, but it’s sales ( 30,000 bikes in India in the last 10 years) have plummeted, and it shows a fearful trend, H-D will be history in our lifetime. For the most part, H-D attracts older riders, and every older person that wants one, already has one, and younger riders , if any, are choosing rice grinders. That’s nothing new, but it’s getting serious now. I read Indian bike sales have not generated the sales it expected either, even though, were better than H-D, just because it’s different, no doubt. Well, cut the price in half, you greedy bast,,oops, sorry, just in these uncertain times, the last thing people will buy is a $20,000 motorcycle, especially when there’s a glut of “Hardly Riddensons” to choose from.
    This, on the other hand, there will always be a market for. Old Pans are pretty close to modern bikes, and while it will cost a fortune to restore this, and it surely better get restored, I wouldn’t be seen on a bike that looks like this. I sure hope the patina BS hasn’t crossed over to bikes. Motorcycles, like pets, are a direct view of the kind of person you are. They need to spotless. Only a schmoe would ride a bike looking like this. Old Pans are cool bikes, if you can get them started, that is.

    Like 5
    • Steve R

      Nice bike, but you might want to take a deep breath and calm down. The world is not coming to an end.

      You should find better sources for your news. Recently Toyota said they were permanently stopping plans to expand in India, GM pulled out out a few years ago and Ford moved their assets into a partnership with another manufacturer. These were all due to high taxes and regulatory burdens placed on these companies, because they are foreign.

      Steve R

      Like 10
      • Terry Melvin

        Along the same lines, Triumph is considering moving all of their production out of England over to Thailand, where they currently build some of their bikes. They’re built better there and cheaper as well.

      • Harit Trivedi

        Regarding HD in India, it is a fact that they were planning this move since at least 2 years. The maintenance costs are very high which was also a factor. That is not to say that there aren’t any successful automobile companies in India. Business decisions also can have repercussions. And they did.

    • Mike1955

      Put me in the “Schmoe” category!

      Like 14
      • Dusty Stalz

        Me too. It’s funny how whenever an old bike shows up here people who A) don’t ride and B) don’t understand the culture feel the need to tell everyone that unless they do things their way, they are wrong somehow. Anyway the weather has broken here for a while so I’m gonna roll my old bike out and take it for a ride. And Howard old Pans are quite different from modern bikes. Ask the guy whos ridden both.

        Like 11
    • Jt

      I fear H-D along with NASCAR, NSRA and some veterans group are going to face serious challenges moving forward as their core group dies out. I don’t know who H-D will get to ride their expensive bikes when the youth can pick up an import with greater performance and less expensive. I’ve counted them out many times and they have rallied. Maybe one more time.

      Like 1
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      Harley Davidson has enjoyed an immense popularity in Europe in the past 40 years. That’s why H-D has invested a lot over there. The younger Europeans want to ride instead of riot and destroy stuff. I might add that the local H-D dealer’s clientele is at least 30 years younger than I am so I wouldn’t be preparing an obituary just yet. I talk to the dealer from time to time. He says his sales are diminished over the last year but he blames COVID-19 and all the government interference more for that than deranged kids…

      Like 5

      Restoration is certainly an option but an old bike is only original once. Restorations are nice but far more common, if you don’t see he beauty in this bike you don’t get it……

  3. Richard Maundrell

    Yes, the “patina thing” has indeed crossed over to bikes. So many of these bikes got chopped or customized during the 60’s and 70’s, that complete and original examples like this are rare. They rightly command a premium. There are lots of shiny Harleys around. An oily rag restoration might be the best plan for this one.

    Like 6
  4. Bob

    Much like everyone else., I love the looks of an old motorcycle. But has anyone ever tried to start on of these? I don’t think this panhead has electric start so it must be a real skill to start one. Would this be a magneto start?

    Like 1
    • 370zpp 370zpp Member

      Up, up and away….over the handle bars.

      Like 5
    • Dusty Stalz

      Its’ not that hard to start one of these if you know what you’re doing.

      Like 8
    • Howard A Member

      ’65 was the 1st year for electric start.

      Like 3
      • terry

        With the Electra Glide, so called because of its electric start

    • geomechs geomechs Member

      Kick one when it doesn’t want to be kicked and you’ll get sent to the moon. Actually that was a line stolen from Cycle Magazine over 50 years ago when they road-tested a Sportster with electric start. I’ve kick-started lots of big twins (and Sportsters and 45s) and had very little trouble except for once. My Shovelhead’s kickstarter free-wheeled on me one time when I had my full weight into the procedure. My knee was rigid with my full weight (200 lb at the time) into it. I felt my right knee give way and my (then) GF heard it pop when the meniscus blew out. The bushing had slid out of the pinion preventing the dogs from engaging. It was an easy fix. Just treated the bush with green Loctite and all was well. My knee has never been the same though.

      Like 10
      • Terry Melvin

        Also, any “kicker” that isn’t timed right can send the guy who’s trying to start the thing either over the bars or into the hospital. Sportsters were notorious for that.

        Like 1
  5. Steve

    I have owned and ridden a 1955 FL since 1992. They really aren’t that hard to start. When they’re cold you just prime them a little bit by applying the choke, kick it through two full cycles with the ignition turned off, turn the ignition on and fire it up. The FL is a lower compression model than the FLH so the kick really isn’t too hard. To restore the bike shown here would be a crime in my opinion. It just needs a good hyper cleaning and left alone. They’re only original once.

    Like 12
  6. Jt

    Check out some of the prices at the Vegas bike auctions coming at the first of the year. However, survivors there are pretty rare. Anniversary edition and originality might bring a premium for this one. I rode a ’57 Pan for years. It was a great, dependable, fun ride. It was nicely restored and I sold it to a friend for $12.500 15 years ago.

    Like 2
  7. geomechs geomechs Member

    I’d love to swing my leg over this one. A good cleaning and detailing and just go for many rides. I seriously doubt if you would need to do much else to it. It’s a Hard-Tail so it won’t ride or handle quite as nice as one that would’ve come out four years later. But it would still be great. Nice ride!!!

    Like 4
  8. david R

    it’s beautiful the way it is. Perfectly restored Harleys are a dime a dozen. Just polish it up and leave it alone,

    Like 2
  9. David Ulrey

    My comment is basically about the history and current times of this and any particularly old vehicles. If you mentally picture it in use when new, imagine the law officer out riding and doing his job, dressed sharply in his uniform. This and any old vehicles that have survived would have so many stories to tell if they could talk. In most cases the original owner or rider in this case is gone. Some for a long time yet here sits the survivors ready to carry on or can be made roadworthy enough to carry on. Kind of wild when you think about it.


    “…clean and detail…” Wha…? & ruin it? This ana ’68 Chebby 4WD short bed is all anybody’d ever need, nation wide…

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