Jamesville’s 1948 Harley Panhead

Harley-Davidson Panhead custom
James Roper-Caldbeck is English, lives in Denmark, and builds custom Harley-Davidsons. It sounds like a League of Nations recipe for disaster, but fear not—James has an amazingly good eye for stance and proportions.

This long, low Panhead is James’ latest creation, a ground-up build for a customer from Romania. Panhead customs are two-a-penny, but as you can see, this one is a level above the norm.

Harley-Davidson Panhead custom
“About a year ago I had a custom Evo Sportster featured on Bike EXIF,” James explains, “and a gentleman named Andrei fell in love with the bike. He emailed me simply saying ‘I want one,’ but unfortunately he now lives in Germany—where strict rules make it impossible to register a bike like that.” Instead, James decided to build a 1948 Panhead.

Harley-Davidson Panhead custom
The starter bike was in bad shape, but when it arrived in James’ Copenhagen workshop, it was in good hands. James rebuilt the engine and brakes, and replaced every bushing and bearing on the whole machine—from the forks to the wheels. The original Harley frame had been butchered too, with 36 holes drilled into it, so James re-welded it and cleaned it up to better-than-factory spec.

“After that (and a whole lot more) was done, the fun could begin,” he recalls. “I fabricated a new set of bars from the old ones—which were so wide, I couldn’t get them through my shop door!” The 3½ gallon tanks were narrowed, then pulled back and raised on the frame. James also made a blanking panel out of aluminum, which now houses the ignition switch and warning lights.

Harley-Davidson Panhead custom
The rear fender is a reconfigured 1930s Ford spare wheel cover, and James built a mini sissy bar to hold the vintage rear light. Straight exhaust pipes are hooked up to trumpet-style mufflers, which reportedly sound glorious. The foot controls and brake brackets were de-chromed and Parkerized, a process that was used on metal parts before chroming was available.

The final touches were to convert the Panhead to a foot clutch with a police-style shifter, and chop down the original seat pan and cover it with tan leather from an old suitcase.

Harley-Davidson Panhead custom
Once the fabrication was finished, it was time for the paint. Andrei chose petroleum blue, a deep and lustrous shade that’s difficult to replicate in photographs. Then James rewired the whole bike using vintage-style cloth wiring.

The first time Andrei saw the bike was when he visited James’ shop to collect it. “We didn’t really email or talk on the phone that much,” James reveals. “He said he trusted me to build him his dream bike, and he did not want to interfere. I would like to thank him for letting me do so.”

A smart move on Andrei’s part—and amply rewarded with one of the most beautiful Panheads we’ve ever seen.

Head over to the Customs From Jamesville website for more classic Harley builds. James Roper-Caldbeck is one of the featured builders in the book The Ride—which you can order here.