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It seems that it could only be coincidence. American exuberance came to an end on Friday, October 29, 1929. It took hours and days and weeks for the full impact to drift across the continent. Despite the despiration that drove stock brokers to leap from there wall street windows before the end of the day, the real impact of the crash was felt more slowly-if no less painfully- around the country. Engineering development is a time consuming process. From the idea to it's introduction to the public, time passes in a pace that counts in calenders not hours. Models produced by manufacturers are scheduled for removel from the market months in advance of the actual date it will happen. Still, it could only have been coincidence.

Harley Davidson's highest performance motorcycle yet, the JDH, was removed from the product line-up at the end of 1929. The roaring twenties were silenced as fortunes were lost and the luxeries of high perpormance single seat fashion accessories became insupportable and politically incorrect. the fastest bike yet was, surely it was coincidence, replaced by a line of slower, more practical, quieter, and more frugal machines: the side valve V series. Worse yet, the VLs were just not very good motorcycles at first.

These machines used a new valve configuration and new heads. This improvement allowed Harley Davidson to lower the motorcycle even more without having insets cut into the tanks to accommodate IOE mechanisms. These new engines had side valves and were known as Flatheads.

The new 74 was introduced to dealers in August 1929. It was massive, weighing nearly a hundred pounds more then the hotrod JDH. It's new, heavier stronger frame and front forks took the bike up to 530 pounds, ready to ride. yet the power output hadn't grown enough to give the new machine the performance of even the previous basic J models.

The biggest change was replaceing the previous IOE configuration with it's side valve combustion chamber. Now harley offered side mounted valves simular to what Indian had run for years. But wheather it suffered from insufficient testing and development or it was just another victim of all the circumstances surrounding the stock market crash, the new VL was a disaster.

Historian David Wright learned from William H. Davidson { son of founder William A.} that the frames broke, the flywheel was to small, the mufflers clogged with carbon { strangling the engine }, and the clutch wasn't up to the additional weight of the motorcycle when combined with the too light flywheel. The bikes, offered a standard Model V, the VL with higher compression, The Vs for use with sidecars and the VC for use with commercial package cars, all sold for .00. In August a number of owners enthusiastically traded their JD's for the newest Harley. They were quickly disappointed.

True they got a heavier, stronger duplex chain. Axle removel to change a tire was now down to loosening a single nut on either front or rear axle. Tire widths, growing steadily over the past 15 years, had reached 27x3.85 inches as an option on the JDH. Now 19x4.00 inches was standard on the VL. But it was the engine that took the heat.

As Jerry Hatfield has pointed out the facts in his {Inside Harley Davidson: An Enigineering History of the motor Company from F-Heads to Knuckleheads 1903-1945}, Harley Davidson had two ways to go when it decided to replace the aging IOE engines. Some European motorcycle makers were using overhead valves, refining the technology an obtaining impressive performance an reliability from a other wise noisy, complicated set of machinery. At the same time, Indian had virtually perfected the side valve head an the models with those heads were showing their tails to Harley bikes on the tracks and on the streets. Racing was still important in the USA but by the late 1920's, the most important speed trials going on in America were the impromptu ones against the Indians that began when any traffic light turned green.

Harley Davidson adopted side valves. For reasons never understood, the same seventy-four-cubic-inch engine that had been the JD, was not quite the same engine in the VL Seventy-Four. A new light weight flywheel allowed rapid acceleration to 50 miles per hour, thereby addressing one of the concearns of police riders and street racers. But at the same light flywheel ran out of energy at higher speeds. Power and ecceleration faded dramatically. Also, above 50 miles per hour, the imbalances inherent in 2-cylinder engines with 45 degree V-angles were not managed by a heavy flywheel. The bike began to shake in ways that historian Harry Sucher described as "teeth loosening and wrist shattering." Clearly an unpleasant experience.

It was so unpleasant that Harley Davidson lost hundreds of potential police sales after departments tested the bikes and found them wanting and unwanted. The factory began a hasty-make that frantic-redesign program an put into effect a kind of early day recall. A replacement heavier flywheel was unfortunately also larger, and it necessitated a new crankcase that would not fit into the existing frame, which had to be modified by repacing the bottom frame loop. In addition, the factory changed valve and the cam action. All the pieces were shipped to the dealers who were told to contact customers an replace the parts at no charge. Experienced mechanics could accomplish 2 change overs a day. But the factory made no offer to pay the dealers for their mechanics time, and some of the dealers refused to do the work without pay. Harley Davidson wouldn't bend, so more than a few dealers deserted, switching over to-or in some cases, back to-Indian. In all, more then 1,350 motorcycles had to be signifcantly modified to change the image of the VL. The damage was done. It lead to some of the earliest myths about Harley Davidson's motorcycles: that last years models were always the best an that JDH engines were the absolute best.

THE END!