Ok, so now I’m planning to work on one of my own projects. Working on other peoples bikes all the time took all the fun out of bikes…it was too much like work.
So I have piles of parts for Ironhead Harleys so I’m going to piece together one complete bike for as little expenditure as possible, having completed as much work on my own as possible.
Brief history lesson. The “Sportster” was considered the “performance” Harley (and I use that term loosely) and the “Ironhead” was coined as the cylinder head was, well, iron. These ran from 1956 to around 1986, before Harley released the Evolution engine and the Sportster engine became all-aluminium.
I really like them for a few reasons:
1. The Ironhead motor (alongside its big V-twin Shovelhead brother) I consider to be a good looking engine. Its just all function, with some 50-60s styling to boot.
2. They are dead simple engines. And every part is available new-old-stock or reproduction.
3. Vintage Harley platforms enjoy a massive array of aftermarket parts, and a healthy trade in used parts.
4. They are cheap.
5. They go surprising well (for a 40 year old bike) and much better with some simple head porting, performance cams, and a big carb.
I have a running ’78, a basket case ’73 and a ’75 motor. I also picked up a ’79 frame that has already been chopped and converted from swingarm to hardtail. Plus I’ve been collecting wheels and front ends and other stuff as it comes up cheap on eBay.
The 73 and 75 engines are right side shift, and left side rear brake pedal (before the world settled on left side shift). I don’t want to molest my 73 frame, so I think I will keep the 73 motor and frame matched for another project. The 75 motor is earmarked for another traditional chopper project.
So I’ll take the running 78 motor and use it in the hardtail frame. I’ve got a stock Ironhead 18? rear wheel with a drum brake, so I’ll use that. I’ve got stock and short length front ends to choose from, plus a 19? or 21? front wheel under the bench.
So the first step will be to get the 18? rear laced up, and choose a front end and wheel to see what the stance is like. Probably low. So a “short chopper”. Then starting thinking about bodywork.
Here is the starting point:
The first step (for me, anyway) is stripping paint and rust off the frame. At least I can weld on it when I need to.
This was all done with an angle grinder and wire wheel. I talk about that process in detail in this article (and watch the accompanying video too). Stripping this frame to bare metal took me precisely 1h15m.