I’VE OWNED various old Harleys over the past 17 years, from a ’62 XLCH Sportster to a Shovelhead rigid chopper, but I’d always wanted a Panhead. I still think it’s the nicest looking Harley engine.
Because of the stupid prices they go for in Australia, I was never going to be able to afford a matching numbers, super-original example, so this chopper is a bitsa—it’s based on a registered roller I bought a few years ago, and rebuilt using eBay and swap-meet finds. I call it Pankenstein for reasons that will become obvious.
At this bike’s heart is a stock displacement (1200 cc) ’55 FLH motor, sporting vintage (and rare) CCE finned rocker covers and a S&S L-series carby. It has later, mid-’60s, external-oiling heads, and you may have noticed it’s been converted from the original generator to an alternator… this wasn’t uncommon in the ’70s and ’80s, especially if the original left-side case went south.
The frame is a stock rake and stretch aftermarket wishbone rigid, with custom tabs and brackets.
My welding skill is pretty much non-existent and the bike wouldn’t be on the road without the help of a good friend, Justin ‘Buzz’ Munday from Geelong. He flew up to Sydney, TIG in hand, to help me prepare the frame and fabricate the upsweep pipes over a long weekend (or rather, I helped him). He also created the neat seat-spring hangers, rear brake anchor tab and tank mounts, and even donated a bearing support for the open belt primary.
I wanted the Pan to reflect the style of the outlaw clubs of the ’60s and I watched my collection of trashy biker films from that era again and again for inspiration (check out the bikes in Wild Angels and Hells Angels on Wheels and you’ll see where this bike’s coming from).
I also wanted this bike to be the total opposite of billet-laden, swoopy-tanked, puke-paint-job ‘choppers’ that never get ridden.
Those chopper guys in the ’60s often used H-D VL model springers (1/2” longer than the standard Harley springer) on their choppers, so I removed the horrible extended springer the bike came with, sold it on eBay, and picked up this VL-style fork made by W&W in Germany. It’s a lovely bit of kit, and less than you’d pay for a vintage VL fork… if you could find one.
I also sold off the disc front brake (hello again eBay) and bought a lovely Twin-Cam front drum from 45 Parts Depot in Holland.
The repo oil tank is by Paughco, and the Shovelhead four-speed transmission came with the original bike.
I swapped the Fat Bobs it came with for the Frisco-mounted Sportster tank, another eBay find (though it’s not truly a Frisco tank as it retains its tunnel).
The bike came together pretty smoothly, but one of the biggest headaches was lining up the rear wheel. The Harley ‘juice’ rear drum brake came with the bike and went through a number of configurations even during the Panhead range’s life (1948—65). It was only after I identified the brake I have (post-1963) that I could get parts to make it work and spacers to make it fit. That’s the problem with bitsas.
The 21-inch and 16-inch rims came with the bike and are connected to star hubs.
The fender is a NOS English ribbed piece from a shop in Melbourne; I made the struts and the licence plate holder.
The ‘Cheat’ ‘Death’ pegs are by Chopper Dave and the kicker pedal is from Mullins Chaindrive, both in California.
The vintage headlamp is off a snowplow and the brake-light is original Model A Ford, both cheap swap-meet finds.
The bike runs well and fast and only takes a couple of kicks to start—usually! I ride it pretty often and am planning a few changes to make it even more ’60s-infliuenced: an 18-inch Dunlop rim on the back, an original chrome Wassell fender, mid-controls, and mini apes instead of the z-bars. Got the parts, but a new baby means I just don’t got the time right now…
Everyone I ride with hates Harley-Davidsons and I do too—at least anything younger than 25 years old. People call this a rat bike and ask whether my back hurts with no suspension or my foot hurts with no electric start or my leg hurts with an open belt—but only a few people understand what bikes like this are about. And that’s good: real choppers are meant to be dirty, dangerous and fun—and they’re definitely not for everyone.
words by Guy; pics by Wasko