Single Cylinder Time Machine: 1912 Harley-Davidson Model 8

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Sometimes a vintage vehicle is more than an older form of transportation.  Examining how the vehicle was built and operating it can provide a window into its time.  This 1912 Harley-Davidson Model 8 for sale on eBay is an amazingly original motorcycle built in that fateful year that the Titanic sank.  Wouldn’t you like to have a glimpse into what it was like to be a motorcyclist 112 years ago?  If so, you had better talk to your bank.  Bidding on this single-cylinder time machine is currently sitting at $52,100 with five days left to go in the auction.  As intriguing as this motorcycle is, is the price out of line with the potential experience?

While everyone remembers the year 1912 as when the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage, there were other noteworthy happenings.  This was the year that Woodrow Wilson was elected President of the United States.  His policies would have far-reaching effects on both domestic and international history for decades to come.  It was also the year that the Ottoman War broke out as a warm-up for World War I.  Paramount Pictures was founded that year and Massachusetts became the first state to enact a minimum wage.  Perhaps most remarkable was the eruption of  Novarupta that happened in Alaska that year.  It was labeled as the second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century.  Have you ever even heard of Novarupta?  Doesn’t it sound kind of important?

1912 was also right in the middle of the time when automobiles and motorcycles were just starting to be plentiful and reliable enough to start replacing horses as basic transportation.  The proliferation of machining technology made it possible for manufacturers to spring up all over the place.  There were numerous enterprises making automobiles and motorcycles, and it was sort of a “Wild West” economic atmosphere.  The manufacturer may be there tomorrow if you need parts, or they may not be.  It took consolidation through financial and market forces to thin the herd and set America up transportation-wise for the next century.

While Ford and General Motors get credit on the automobile side for driving out the weaker competitors and producing the cars America needed, the same could be said for Harley-Davidson and Indian on the motorcycle side of the equation.  Harley-Davidson, founded in 1903, was gaining popularity and market share with their single-cylinder and V-twin motorcycles.  As you can see from the photographs, Harleys were still very much designed and engineered more as powered bicycles than the true motorcycles they would become.  This is evidenced by the pedal and chain arrangement used to get the motorcycle going until the leather belt can be engaged to enjoy the gentle propulsion made possible by the 30 cubic inch single-cylinder engine.  Looking closely at the picture above also reveals the simple design of the engine and the relative precision of the casting and machine work done back then to make these reliable machines.

The seller tells us that this particular Model 8 is equipped with a rare battery ignition and belts out four horsepower.  Before laughing, that is probably close to the power put out by the electric bicycles that seem to be proliferating everywhere today.  Back in 1912 road conditions were a lot more rustic.  Four horsepower provided sufficient thrills, and that small engine was frugal on the low-octane gasoline that was available at the time.  Another argument for low horsepower would be the lack of efficient braking on motorcycles of this era.  Motorcycle racing was very popular at this time, and those brave souls managed to race at breakneck speeds with no braking whatsoever in many cases.

Unfortunately, the engine does not currently run.  We are told that the engine does turn over, but the owner hasn’t made any effort to return this motorcycle to operation.  It still wears its original paint and striping.  The patina on all of the metal parts indicates that this motorcycle is not a cobbled-up parts bike but one that is close to how it left the factory.  Perhaps this goes a long way towards explaining why the price is so high.

In all, this is a highly desirable early Harley-Davidson that could surely be put back on the road with little time and effort.  Riding it in an isolated area that isn’t overloaded with modern reminders is probably the closest you can get to going back in time to 1912.  The sounds, sights, and feelings you would experience motoring down the road are irreplaceable and about as far as you can get from riding a modern Harley.  Progress is nice, but living in the past, even for a brief time, has its merits as well.

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  1. geomechs geomechsMember

    Daggoned!!!! Why is it that all the good stuff is so far beyond my means that I can’t even consider it. This bike needs to come to my place. I could become the later version of Nichols. Of course I could never hold a candle to James Garner. I watched that TV series for little else but to see the bike…

    Like 15
    • HoA HoAMember

      Hmm, never heard of that show, but in ’71, the last thing on my mind was telly. Besides, I always thought of myself as more of a “Then Came Bronson” kind of guy. Just a short rant on your dime,, I simply can’t wrap my head around why these have gotten so expensive. Some folks equate these to antique fine art, or some antique desk President Washington used, baloney, it’s a darn motorcycle, and an awful poor one at that. I think a more comical scene would be the new buyer trying to ride it, or even start it, for that matter. The power of TV over weak individuals is not more evident than this Mike Wolfe depicting everyone as gold. T’aint so, but another not so happy day, that doesn’t affect me, is tax time, and who knows what kind of write-off these may have become. I see these “collections” that guy visits, and literally PILES of these parts, mostly gotten from dumpsters. Clear at one time nobody wanted them, but here we are.
      Hope you are well, my friend, and an email is overdue.

      Like 7
      • Tom Verderam

        These old antiques are really interesting, if you go to Milwaukee Harley has many at their excellent museum, are they worth these big bucks, we’ll find out. Many high net worth individuals collect these as objects of art, of which they are, but toget in running and actually ride it would be pure bliss, howmany of these are there? Very , very few definately a true classic only to increase exponentialy in value as time goes on!

        Like 1
    • On and On On and OnMember

      As a 10yo kid (1961) I remember going with my dad as he looked for an old car in Chicago and seeing a garage full of this era motorcycles that no one really wanted. Could have bought one for $20.

      Like 6
    • geomechs geomechsMember

      Sort of a trip down Memory Lane, Howard? I knew I had a pic of a ’12 HD and here it was, with an added bonus. The trip to the museum was a worthwhile trip. Time to see it again, before I get old and my wife gets miserable…

      Like 8
      • HoA HoAMember

        That, my friend, was the zenith of my non-working days. So others are up to speed, this is the kind of guy George is. Before BFs, we met on another site,uhp, uhp, uhp, don’t say it, but they recently discontinued comments, and built a kind of “internet” friendship. Clearly brothers from different mothers. Well, what, 10 years already? I was in Milwaukee cleaning out my late parents home, when I get a call from Geo, saying, he’s coming into Milwaukee, the Missus can’t make it, would I like to join him at the H-D museum for the afternoon. I couldn’t believe it, and headed down to the museum. I had never met him in person, and walked right past him in the parking lot, but that experience, I will never forget, and secured a life long friendship. Thanks again, pal. :)

        Like 8
      • Brett Lee Lundy

        You guys need to make a trip to the Barber museum in Leeds Alabama, every thing motorcycle imaginable and every brand. over 900 motorcycles on display and a rotating inventory, plus if its a weekend with open track time you can walk around and watch the cars racing.

        Like 4
  2. Herbert

    1912 was not a stellar year for machinery. The Titanic sunk in 1912. In fact, 112 years ago tonight (around 11PM) it struck a berg and sunk around 2AM the morning of the 15th. Bad day in history, April 15th. Poor Titanic, Lincoln shot, and let us not forget tax day in America. Perhaps we need to ban April 15th for good.

    Like 22
    • Kevin McArdle

      Lincoln was shot on April 14th 1865.

      Like 0
  3. The Haves vs Nots

    Sorry, i just don’t see it.
    I wish the new owner best at displaying it like its in a museum but riding it at low speeds doesn’t do it.
    Take that money 💰 and get a vehicle that will kick it above 10 mph and not shake like a mountain bike.
    I ride motorcycles 🏍 but the ones that cruise at 80 mph.

    Like 4
  4. Paul JacksonMember

    To use and abuse these motorcycles by modern writers would be questionable at best in normal circumstances, but I personally have seen a few of these ride the 3500 to 4000 miles across country on the motorcycle cannonball. The winner of the cannonball was on the 1911 Harley, he drove the 4000 miles with a perfect score so yes they are capable of going that many miles. They are capable going 40-45 miles an hour.

    Like 2
  5. HCMember

    This is amazing 1912 Harley and I’m shocked it has survived, in this condition. I wouldn’t be surprised that Mike Wolf, from American Pickers isn’t all over this very early Harley. Interesting find.

    Like 6
  6. Jim Simpson

    There is a TIME for everything. Electric 5 hp motorcycles right now- (as mentioned previously) is a reflection of the similar innovations available at the time that produced the Harley. The current high cost of this piece of innovative history given the technology available in its time is worth preservation as a statement of creative thinking and execution. Unaffordable to most, this preservation icon bike is a monumental marker in time as a statement in history. I cannot afford to even garage it, only appreciate it. For me, a micro-chip converted automotive alternator/motor dragged on a single traction wheeled trailer behind a “Steam-punk” embellished bicycle using a 12 volt lead acid battery for traction is a statement of innovation in THIS time. Affordable, innovative, minimally functional, and outrageously fun. We all do what we can to build the future on the past. It is our destiny..

    Like 1
  7. Paul JacksonMember

    I’ve witnessed several of this era Harley, Indian, Thor, Henderson and more navigate the Motorcycle Cannonball with perfect scores. That’s 3500-4000 miles cross country, flat land and mountains

    Like 2
  8. Cycle Salvage NW Iowa

    Back in the 1990s I believe it was, we drove 2.5 hours down to David City, Nebraska for an auction. The deceased farmer had collected a wide assortment of old items like steam tractors, hit and miss engines, cars including a Plymouth Superbird w/oddly enough a 318 automatic. It sold for $30K is all. 1901 Cadillac plus some other oddball cars.

    The main attraction for me were the 12 antique motorcycles. I recall a Monark and a teens Indian board track racer, but the others save for one escape me now. That one was a 1912 Harley in absolutely stock and running condition. When bidding reached $100K, the auctioneer laughed and proclaimed he’d never reached that lofty mark before. It sold for a staggering $140K plus buyer’s premium. A museum in Texas bought it.

    That auction will always stick in my mind. It’s as if I’m there right now. You know that gems are still out there just waiting to be found. When I’m out and about I always ask complete strangers if they know of any old motorcycles in their area. How else could I have accumulated over 1800 motorcycles in my lifetime? Down to just 500 or so now. GLWTS

    Like 7
  9. HCMember

    These early 1912-1920 vintage year Harleys and Indians command some serious prices. An intact engine alone for these early bikes can be worth $12-$15k alone. Much less with a complete bike and frame, to go along with the sale.

    Like 4
  10. Chinga-Trailer

    Novarupta??? Sounds like a condition you would only whisper to your doctor about. But getting back to 1912 – Arizona became a state that year!

    Like 1
  11. Somer

    I have a friend who rode a 1910 across the USA in 2010. It was part of the Cannonball . No problem going , there was a problem stopping.
    As far as what’s worth? That’s up to the open market.

    Like 6
    • Fred Johansen

      Ah, that would be Victor. He has since criss crossed the USA many times since then, and still rides the very same bike locally!

      Like 5
  12. Old Beach Guy

    In 1961, when I was eleven years old, I mowed grass for my fifth-grade teacher. One Saturday after finishing, She, her husband, and I sat on their porch and had a glass of iced tea. He asked me if I liked motorcycles. “Yessir,” I said. He took me into a partitioned-off section of his basement. Inside were 14 Indian motorcycles. He said all of them were over thirty years old. Do the math. I can only imagine what they would be worth in today’s money. He died around 1972. I found out later they were auctioned off. I’m sure they brought a premium price, even back then.

    Like 6
  13. HCMember

    Sadly, the owner of Wheels in Time in Maggie Valley, NC passed away a few years back. He had 1912 Harleys like this one and other earlier year Harleys and Indians in his collection. He had a great passion for getting them running and working again. I think his name was Dave.

    Like 2
  14. Nomader 55

    try Dale (Wexler) sp?

    Like 2
    • HCMember

      Nomader, yeah I think that’s him Dale Wexler from Wheels in Time NC.

      Like 1
      • Harvey HarveyMember

        Dale Walksler is the founder, I visited the museum several times and talked with him. Very friendly and knowledgeable. He started several bikes as he explained about them. Museum is now run by his son. If you like bikes you can’t miss seeing this museum. Great stop while riding the Blue Ridge Parkway!

        Like 2
  15. Jim Simpson

    We recently restored an ancient DL76 Schebler Carburetor–similar in appearance to the Die-Cast Zinc carburetor on this Harley. Its patina was looked like a dry lakebed, having crystalline fractures throughout its structure.
    Was it a fair practice to re-cast parts? What other options available?
    Time is unrelenting obstacle in restoration. Maintaining originality requires research and decisions regarding the original designer’s purpose of the vehicle, that is, to run. Just another reason for the high value of older icons. Amazing previous reports of similar bikes making the cross-country runs and starting the bikes to indicate successful operation. Great work! Hard earned.

    Like 2
  16. leiniedude leiniedudeMember

    US $72,100.00
    21 bids. Ended
    Reserve not met,

    Like 2
  17. Terrry

    I just won a bet. Harleys were the first bikes to have belt drive, which they still have today!

    Like 0
    • Paul JacksonMember

      I wouldn’t order my beer just yet, Royal Enfield had a belt drive before Harley and perhaps some of the other dozen motorcycle manufacturers at the time had belt drive
      American manufacturer maybe worldwide no

      Like 0

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