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Harley Softail gets the classic treatment

March 24, 2006|by ARV VOSS / Motor Matters

Not too long ago, I reviewed Harley-Davidson's FLSTSC Softail Springer Classic in this column. I wrapped it up by stating, "Add fishtail exhaust tips, swap out the seat for the deluxe saddle and you're on your way back to the future. Now, if there were a way to add retooled heads to resemble the 1948 Panhead that served as the bike's inspiration, and a floating single seat, it would suit me even more."

The bike that I tested was a fuel-injected model finished in Lava Red Sunglo over Vivid Black. The "horseshoe" oil tank was done in black, sporting the motor company's vintage patent label for nostalgic emphasis. The bike's base sticker was $18,070 while the "out-the-door" total came to $21,356.58.

Perhaps the biggest problem with reviewing Harley-Davidson motorcycles is that I tend to hang out at the dealership more frequently than most, which exposes one to some pretty cool iron on a regular basis. I was smitten with both the Softail Deluxe and the Softail Springer Classic when they made their debut in Sturgis in 2004, but I actually gravitated more toward the Springer due to its greater nostalgic flavor.

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I had been toying with the idea of acquiring a genuine classic bike, but given the reality of reduced dependability, higher upkeep, sacrificed comfort (face it, pushing a button is much easier and less strenuous than kick-starting an ancient ride) and puddles of oil, I decided to go in another direction - making a new bike look like an older one, while enjoying modern technology and reliability.

There just happened to be a carbureted, Softail Springer Classic finished all in black that had been sitting on my dealer's showroom floor for a couple of months. Nobody except me showed any interest. It seems that most potential buyers tend to shy away from springer front ends in general, while also preferring fuel-injected motors over carburetion.

Increased exposure during repeated visits intensified my interest (make that lust). Then I received a letter from the Motor Company as a HOG member, offering $1,000 in parts and accessories for the purchase of any new Softail model before the end of the month. That did it - but how was I to justify the purchase of another Harley, since I had just gotten a Police Road King and modified it the year before? Not to worry, just use the "sale" psychology that my significant other always uses: "Honey, guess how much money I just saved?"

First things first - a deal was negotiated for the neglected model that had been sitting on display for too long, then a seat swap was made with the Deluxe model, and parts were ordered to enhance the bike's "Old School" flavor and look.

I sat down with in-house custom guru "Raider" Jeff and picked his brain during more than one lengthy session, selecting parts that would blend harmoniously to give my ride that vintage, collectible look. I chose teardrop-shaped mirrors to match the front axle covers that I had picked out, nostalgic handlebar grips and floor boards for both rider and passenger, a classic derby cover and round air cleaner, a unique solid tank cap for the left side to match the right, with edge LED fuel level indicators, a lay-down license plate holder, a vintage horn and extended directional light bezels.

With my first service, I opted for a Knucklehead Rocker Cover kit to replace the stock units, Flash Gordon (or Classic Fish Tail) slip-on exhausts and a carb modification kit. Shop mechanic Barry, having installed a couple of PanHead conversions, would perform the surgery. It turned out that the Knucklehead kit was nowhere near a bolt-on application, and required both internal and external grinding to fit properly, along with shimming the rear tank mount for clearance. The exhaust necessitated shortening and adding spacers for the desired effect, and since there is no stock mount for the vintage horn, a custom bracket was fabricated courtesy of shop Service Manager Terry. Thom MacIlhattan, the dealership owner, actually surrendered his Knucklehead Rocker kit for my bike and found reproduction FL stainless front and rear fender trim pieces which will become a project for later on.

The mechanicals for the bike remain essentially the same - a 1450 cc (88-cubic-inch) air-cooled, Twin Cam 88 pushrod-operated OHV, V-Twin connected to a five-speed, sequential manual transmission, driving the rear wheel via a final belt drive. There's a better throttle response with the carb mods, and the exhaust note is definitely much sweeter. At 3,000 rpm, the motor delivers a satisfying 85 lbs.-ft. of torque - further tweaking will yield even more.

The nostalgic Tombstone taillight was already in place on the rear fender, adding to the bike's heritage look. Wheels are standard 16-inch chrome lace types, with fat blackwall Harley-Davidson Series tires by Dunlop.

No, my ride isn't an 88-inch Knucklehead, though there are those who believe that it is, while others have mistaken it for a restored vintage bike. The key here is that I made it my own, with the help of a few friends and experts - OK, and a few extra dollars too, but you can't take it with you. After all, Harleys (all bikes actually) are about personalization.

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2006

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