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1947 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead EL Sidecar Rig (Frank Webb donation)

1947-Harley-Davidson-KnuckleheadEL-Sidecare-Rig_3

Except for their limited production racing machines, at the beginning, Harley-Davidson built only inlet-over-exhaust and then side-valve powered motorcycles for a little over twenty years. They first experimented with overhead valve engines in smaller single-cylinder bikes like the BA; this 350cc single was popular in export markets. But in 1936 dealers and customers welcomed their first big twin overhead valve bike. Considered more efficient and durable, the 61 cubic inch EL and later 74 cubic inch FL had remarkable styling; to this day the Pre-War ELs and FLs are widely appreciated.

How did the new big twin work? By comparison, most records show a 1917 J model produced about 16HP, a JD about 24HP, the JDH about 29HP, the VL about 30HP. But the first EL was up to 40 horsepower. Of course, in that time the bike’s weight went from about 350 pounds to 565 for that 1936 EL, or Knucklehead as they became known decades later. Still, American riders craved the torque and the highway-ready massiveness of this machine, great for two-up riding. In general, today’s big twin Harley-Davidsons have quite a bit in common with the original EL, and changes were gradual.

Frank Webb was a man who was taken by these first OHV Harleys, but waited until 1948 to buy a 1947, the year after the Knucklehead went out of production. (In 1948 the ELs and FLs got new heads with an enclosed valve train, bikes we now call Panheads.) Some time later, Frank located a sidecar for his EL and still later using its original parts restored the whole rig to its original bright red.

Though Frank is a resident of Southern California, one day he visited the National Motorcycle Museum way out in Iowa. Already about 92 years of age, Frank got a chance to sit down and talk with the late John Parham about the Museum and his Knucklehead. Everyone wonders what will happen to their cherished motorcycle when they leave the face of the earth. Frank came away convinced the Museum would be a good place for his 1947 Knucklehead sidecar rig and set the donation process in motion. Some of Frank’s original riding gear came with the bike; at 95 years of age he decided to give up riding. The bike arrived Tuesday, February 13, 2018 and is here for you to enjoy along with half a dozen other Knucks from 1937 up to Frank’s 1947, and dozens of other Harleys, older and newer.

Specifications:

  • Engine: 45 Degree V-Twin
  • Type: Overhead Valve, Air-Cooled
  • Displacement: 61 Cubic Inches/ 988cc’s
  • Bore & Stroke: 3.31″ x 3.50″
  • Compression Ratio: 7: 1
  • Horsepower: 40HP
  • Carburetion: 1.25″ Linkert
  • Primary: Chain
  • Transmission: 4-Speed, Hand Shift/Foot Clutch
  • Final Drive: Chain
  • Brakes: Drum, Front & Rear
  • Electrics: 6 Volt Battery, Coil & Points
  • Frame: Steel /Double Down Tubes
  • Fork: Springer/Oval Tubing
  • Rear: Rigid, Sprung Seat
  • Wheels/Tires: 5.00″ x 16″
  • Wheelbase: 59.5 Inches
  • Weight: 565 Pounds
  • Top Speed: 95mph
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5 comments

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  1. Keith Starcher

    Beautiful. My dream ride. Had a ’38 Knuck back in the late 70′s. Needed cash while starting a family, sold it for $1300. Been kicking myself ever since.

  2. Helmuth Heinz James Serjogins

    There is nothing like an old machine as it seems to have a soul of it’s own. I prefer the newer machine as I have a 1948 Panhead. A chopper it is but it still retains the old school class!

  3. Tim D

    Nice machine, I own a ’47 El thats been sitting in the basement for 15 years, time to get on it, thanks for the inspiration ..

  4. David W

    Very nice looking EL. I see the odometer is showing just over 21k. Is that the true mileage? My compliments to Mr Webb for the restoration and donation of this fine ride.

  5. Mark

    David W./ Mileage: I called Frank Webb and asked about the odometer reading. He says that’s accurate to the entire lifetime of the bike. In fact the tire which is now on the rear, formerly on the front, a Firestone, is original to the bike’s manufacture in 1947. “While apart, the bike never got any sunlight, so the tire stayed pretty good,” says Frank. Frank took the bike apart initially to re-ring it in 1956. Then he says he says he began devoting about all his time to his family, and the bike sat apart until 1994. He first painted it green, then went back to the original red. Since the final restoration and red repaint he’s ridden the bike just 300 miles, he says.

    Mark Mederski
    National Motorcycle Museum

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