Classic Harley Davidsons always make you stare.
Even in a motorcycle museum that spans three floors, and already has you grinning like an idiot.
Oh yeeeaah, we’ve been back to our favorite museum at the bottom of New Zealand.
Every time we go, there seem to be more vintage motorcycles added to the collection (there are easily over 300 of them on display).
And because things are pretty casual in New Zealand, these beautiful classic motorcycles are not roped off, or safely behind glass (even though they surely must be worth millions).
They’re just parked up in glittering groups, silently dripping oil on the polished wooden floor, and basking in the admiration of the motorcycle worshippers who stand and gasp in delight.
There’s so much to look at that you need to keep wiping away the drool, and go and take a break in their amazing coffee shop on the ground floor.
Trust me, when you’ve gotten outside one of their very strong coffees and you’re feeling strong again, it helps to focus on one kind of motorcycle at a time.
This time around, I was looking at the classic Harleys…
Classic Harley Davidsons exude a raw kind of confidence. These are the ancestors of the head-turning, roaring beasts you see on the streets today. Here are 8 beautiful classic Harleys, with some essential photos and their brief back stories.
8 Classic Harley Davidsons (And Why They’re Special)
These classic Harleys called to me in a room packed with beautiful vintage motorcycles.
They all have their own stories, and individual histories.
Here’s a little about each of these gorgeous vintage beasts.
Let’s start with the oldest one…
1. Harley 1915 11F
This was Harley’s first time offering a three speed gearbox, along with an electric light (which is enormous)!
Its inlet-over-exhaust, 45 degree, V-twin engine made 988cc and 11 horsepower.
An expanding-band rear brake used double action to make braking more effective, and the leading-link front suspension featured coil springs.
We have the pedal type of footpeg of the early vintage motorcycles, and the carefully sprung seat looks more comfortable than some pillion seats I’ve tried to live with.
2. Harley 1917 F
This classic Harley had a 1000 cc motor and inlet-over-exhaust.
It features the shade of olive paint that was so common during the US involvement in WWI.
And 1917 was the first year that Harley featured this adjustable, full-floating seat.
Features include a four-lobe camshaft, enclosed intake valve springs, and a newly rounded fuel tank.
Check out the high bars, and the proudly branded floorboards with that Harley stamp!
3. Harley 1926 Model J
In 1926, the Model J 1000cc ‘pocket valve’ motor had a three speed sliding gear transmission, wider mudguards, higher battery power and an upgraded exhaust system.
The last models were made in 1929, but by then, the Model J had a front brake, stronger forks and pumped lubrication.
This example has clearly been carefully restored, with an unusual blue picking out key features and really drawing attention to the frame.
It has pedals rather than foot pegs, and I wouldn’t want to be sitting on that thin seat for very long myself!
4. Harley 1926 1000cc striped stock racer
This beautiful yellow classic Harley is the cover photo for this post.
This model is a little mysterious, with very little published about it – if you know something about this stunning vintage motorcycle, leave a comment below!
5. Harley 1928 Peashooter
The Peashooter got its name from the unique “pop-pop-pop” sound made by the single-cylinder engine.
Again, you see that distinctive shade of olive green wartime tank color.
Crankcases were strengthened with the addition of gussets, and breathing was improved with a dual-port cylinder head.
The gearbox was three-speed, and a compact Bosch magneto improved the ignition.
And how often do you see pipes like that?
6. Harley 1949 FL 1200 Panhead
The 1949 Panhead had a more effective front drum break and improved suspension, with the ‘Hydra-Glide’ hydraulically damped telescopic forks.
As a result, the bike became easier to handle, and stop.
The bike was lightened up a little, too, with self-adjusting hydraulic lifters and aluminium cylinder heads.
This one’s a unique retro shade of turquoise, with massively valanced mudguards, and luggage that features more studs than a male stripper revue.
7. Harley 1952 model K
This was Harley’s first new model since 1936, and was designed to compete with the smaller motorcycles coming from the UK at the time.
It was also Harleys’ first use of swing arm rear suspension with hydraulic dampeners.
With a 750cc side-valve engine and integrated four-speed gearbox, it also had a foot shifter and hand clutch.
The model K eventually evolved into the Sportster.
Here we have much more modern looking foot pegs, and the sky blue of the paintwork is just perfect with the silver flashes of chrome, isn’t it?
8. Harley 1960 FL Duo Glide Panhead
With its 1200cc motor, this Panhead was considered Harley’s most comfortable motorcycle.
The Panhead engine was taller than previous models, which meant a wider ‘wishbone’ frame was developed to support it.
What a flashy statement of a motorcycle!
It’s so imposing and demands attention.
The chrome support for the seat could almost be a barstool, and you could carry a baby elephant on that rock-solid luggage rack!
And wouldn’t you love to hear that chrome horn honk…
These classic Harleys were such a joy to visit.
Each one represents a different stage in the evolution of an iconic motorcycle brand.
Spending time with vintage motorcycles is like hanging out with your favorite grandfather.
You always get a glimpse of how the world used to be.
And, just like your grandpa, these classic Harleys have a lot of fascinating stories to tell, too.
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