Dec 3, 2020

The Classics: Vintage Harley Davidson

Ericka Ellis

The Classic Harley-Davidsons that Started it All

So many companies these days are jumping on the technology, electric, and green bandwagon. While it's not all bad, I can't help but feel quite a bit of nostalgia every time I see futuristic and weird prototypes like this. So, let's throw it back for a bit and reminisce on the golden years of motorcycles.

As any company who is such a pivotal player in motorcycle history, Harley-Davidson has created plenty of bikes that have withstood the test of time and become immortal. There are still traits of these old-timers in the bikes we know and love today, and for good reason.

Here are the vintage Harley-Davidson motorcycles that started it all. Which one is your favorite?

Harley-Davidson WLA and XA (1940-1945/1949-1952)

Harley in WWII.jpg

Did you know that classic Harley Davidson models were some of the motorcycles in the military which made the biggest impact? When America entered WWII in 1941, Harley-Davidson also answered the call of Uncle Sam. Over 88,000 WLA classic military motorcycles were built for use overseas, while just over 1,000 Harley-Davidson XA models were built. Production ceased after the end of WWII, but resumed briefly during the Korean War.

Harley-Davidson K-Model (1952-1956)

Harley Davidson Model K

The K-Model was introduced by Harley-Davidson in response to the popularity of lightweight British motorcycles that were all over the market. The new motorcycle was designed in 1952 to be faster and lighter than Harley’s 1200cc Panhead, and behold, coming in at 400 pounds and 30-horsepower, the middleweight K-Model was born.

The K-model had hydraulic front forks with a swing-arm and twin shock absorbers at the rear, and was the first ever Harley-Davidson civilian motorcycle that used hydraulic suspension on both wheels. Harley quickly saw that this was the best handling V-twin they had made.

Photo source: Quickthrottle

1953 Harley K Model Motorcycle

Photo source: Classic Motorcycle Build

The K-Series was very popular, and even Elvis Presley owned one. He purchased his Pepper Red KH-Model in 1956. It was to be the first of many Harleys the King owned in his lifetime.

Elvis Harley Davidson 1956 KH.jpg

Photo source: Motorcyclist

Early Harley-Davidson Sportster (1957-1965)

Harley Davidson 1958 Sportster H

Photo source: Motorcycle Classics

Building off the success of the K-Model, Harley-Davidson carried over major components into their 1957 Sportster. The frame, wheels, brakes, suspension, and gas tank were some of the features were not unique to the first-year Sportster, but the American Super Bike of the era quickly came a classic in its own right.

The first vintage motorcycle Sportsters were 900cc bikes and featured such models as the XL, XLH, and XLCH. Harley-Davidson in the late fifties and early sixties truly saw the creation of a classic.

Harley Sportster

Photo source: Wikipedia

1957 Harley Davidson Sportster

1958 Harley-Davidson FL Duo-Glide

Harley-Davidson continued to build off the innovation of the rear suspension in the K-Series in 1952, and it all started with the Hydra-Glide.

Harley Davidson 1958 Duo Glide

Photo source: Classic Driver

In the 1950s, the FL was the large frame model of the Hydra-Glide. In the coming years, the frame design was tweaked, and a genuine rear suspension was adopted. This feature applied a swingarm that was suspended by a pair of coil-over-shock suspension units. This suspension system was first applied in 1958, and the FL Hydra-Glide was renamed to the Duo-Glide. This revolution gave Harley riders the smooth ride they wanted, and the touring bike was officially born.

1958 FL Duo Glide.jpg

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