Is Harley-Davidson’s venerable Panhead the best looking motorcycle engine of all time? It’s certainly up there with the Triumph and Moto Guzzi twins. It’s nearly half a century since the last Panhead rolled off the production line, but its appeal has never waned. It’s a hit with both customizers and restorers, so we’re spoilt for choice with this Top 5.
The ‘Pan’ was the mainstay of Milwaukee’s production from 1948 until the mid 60s. It fixed many of the problems that afflicted its predecessor, the Knuckle, with oil-tight aluminum heads and chrome-plated rocker covers.
For some folks, the Pan has never been bettered. You can even buy a lookalike motor from S&S: It’s designed to slot into a post-1970 Harley chassis and will cost you a cool $8,000.
For this round-up, though, we’re focusing on custom Panheads that keep the retro vibe but crank up the style. The kind of bike you might want to take out early on a Sunday morning for a leisurely ride, letting the torque do the talking.
WRECKED METALS Matt Whitlock builds hot rods as well as motorcycles. An eye for a line seems to come with that territory, and Matt’s 1959 Panhead is super-clean. It’s running a rebuilt motor boosted to 93 ci and a 4-speed ‘box with suicide shift. The heavy-set looks of a stock Pan have gone, thanks to a rigid frame, a Springer front end and straight-shootin’ custom pipes. Matt fabricated the narrow bars, foot controls and rear fender himself, giving the Harley a timeless, classic look. [More about this bike | Wrecked Metals]
Image (and top image] by Dylan and Sara.
MATT MACHINE Australian Matt Darwon has a double life. By day he’s an award-winning architect, and by night (okay, by weekend) he’s a world-class bike builder. He focuses on twins, whether Moto Guzzi, Ducati or Harley, and rides his bikes hard along the highways and backroads of New South Wales. He built this 1950 Pan for a friend, meticulously re-welding the frame and then grafting on a Kawasaki tank and Yamaha rear fender. An S&S Super E carb gives the engine a useful power boost and Matt made the pipes himself. Believe it or not, he also applied the intricate paint job. Is there no end to this guy’s talents? [More about this bike | Matt Machine]
NOISE CYCLES Scott Jones is a true original, and this is one of the most original custom Panheads out there. It’s an 88ci 1952 EL model that won ‘Best In Show’ at Born Free, thanks to offbeat styling and remarkable craftsmanship. Jones cut his teeth working for Jesse James and then Ian Barry of Falcon Motorcycles, so he knows his stuff. In this case, that stuff includes a hand-fabricated aluminum tank, a drum brake from a Yamaha racebike, and a smattering of custom-machined components, including the triple trees. Fine work from a builder at the top of his game. [More about this bike | Noise Cycles]
Image by Jose Gallina.
CUSTOMS FROM JAMESVILLE There’s more to the Danish custom scene than the Wrenchmonkees. Denmark is also home to James Roper-Caldbeck, an Englishman who specializes in rebuilding vintage Harleys. In Europe, word has spread far and wide about his skills, and this 1948 Pan was commissioned by a Romanian enthusiast living in Germany. The need to pass strict German legislation resulted in a low-key build, but it still oozes style—from the Springer front end to the rear fender, which was crafted from a 1930 Ford spare wheel carrier. In between is a thoroughly overhauled and reconfigured machine, with neat touches like cloth-covered wiring and a subtly cut-and-shut tank. [More about this bike | Customs From Jamesville]
LOWBROW CUSTOMS Tyler Malinky of Lowbrow Customs is usually associated with the Brit chopper scene, but he can turn out a killer Harley when he wants to. This ‘garage-built’ Panhead caught the attention of virtually every custom magazine in the States last year; it’s not a radical build, but it’s beautifully proportioned and finished. Tyler cleaned up the frame, TIG welded any blemishes, and fitted a rigid rear section, a stretched neck and Triumph forks. After installing Amal carbs (yes, really), Malinky used a modified Bates taillight to supply the finishing touch. This Panhead is one of those bikes that just looks ‘right.’ [More about this bike on Hot Bike | Lowbrow Customs]
Reckon we’ve missed out a contender? Let us know in the comments.
Last week’s Top 5 covered the Honda NX650 Dominator.