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The 2014 Donnie Smith Show

A force to be reckoned with on today’s bike show circuit

Story and photos by Marilyn Stemp (Images added below)

Innovate, evolve or get out of the way! That’s not the mantra of a famous business guru but it might well be because it’s very good advice. More to the point, after talking with Neil Ryan, head honcho of the Donnie Smith Show, and later reflecting on the show’s remarkable success in 2014, it occurred to me that this is exactly what Neil has done.


Long lasting events, especially ones centered on a specific topic such as motorcycles, beat the odds by making changes and additions while maintaining a sense of familiarity. That’s been Neil’s MO during his dozen-year-tenure as the Show’s promoter and it’s apparently been a good formula. The show continues to grow, not only in attendance numbers but in popularity and reputation, too. But in 2014 innovation pushed the Donnie Smith show to ever new heights.

The actual bike show has always been the centerpiece of this event and rightly so. Midwesterners itching to get riding by mid-March never fail to impress, bringing a striking variety of machines out to shine. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: this show consistently brings out a stellar collection of custom bikes to the show floor. Custom builder Dave Perewitz says the quality of the bikes in the Donnie Smith Show is second to none, and he knows a thing or two abut the subject.

The swap meet aspect of the event was a mainstay in this show’s origins as one of J&P’s Parts Extravaganzas. The persistent quality of the swap meet adds both interest and grassroots authenticity. This year the entire swap meet space was packed with vendors who brought out genuine parts and gear at fair prices. I heard more than one parts hunter lament not grabbing something before it went home with another buyer, while still applauding the selection on hand.

A year or two ago, Neil added Saturday Happy Hour to the roster, bringing in a band at 5 PM and kicking the Budweiser wagons into high gear. Happy hour keeps people hanging out and lends a party atmosphere to the venue. And as this show always happens near Donnie Smith’s birthday, that’s appropriate. Beer and birthday cake? Bring it on!

But that’s not all. This time around the show expanded another gazillion square feet (okay, maybe just 50,000) into the adjacent Roy Wilkins Auditorium to include a classic car and hot rod show. A natural fit for a gearhead crowd like this, it also made sense as a way to further evolve the show. And it made more fun, too, adding another dimension, expanding the reach, and giving attendees more for their money.

A component of the Donnie Smith Show these last 11 years that we’re especially fond of is the Donnie Smith Chopper Class Challenge, a competition between students of shop classes in high and tech schools. The program has expanded and contracted in the last decade in response to economic changes and school restrictions but it persists, to the good of motorcycling and anyone who cares about promoting our sport. This team of Ironworkers, formerly for IronWorks and now with Iron Trader News, has sponsored the DSCCC since its inception and we’re proud to do so.

Two teams turned out this year, both of them veterans of the competition. Eden Junior/Senior High from Eden NY, led by instructor Steve Jones wowed everyone with a classic looking bobber sporting a diesel engine. Mitchell Tech in southeastern South Dakota turned out a slick, red, café-style racer looking slim, light and ready to roll.

Outside of the DSCCC more young builders and designers populated the show. Kevin “Teach” Baas was on hand with his class from nearby Kennedy High in Bloomington, MN. As the longest running of the high school programs they’d been busy with several different bikes in various states and made stunning progress in spite of budget cuts that have Teach running not only Chopper Class, but auto shop, woodworking and more. It’s due to dedication such as this that Kevin’s students have gone on to advanced training in motorcycle mechanics, welding and other trades. Setting a good example still matters.

Another high school group that, like Kennedy High, enters a bike in the open show classes rather than the DSCCC, is from Sturgis Brown High in Sturgis, SD. In their second year at the show, the students, along with a solid team of instructors and mentors, displayed their urban-bagger-style custom H-D Street Glide, complete with graffiti paint scheme and matching backdrop. The bike, which took first place in the high school division, was built through the Buffalo Chip Student Build Challenge, aided by Keith Terry of Terry Components, Black Hills H-D, and Nick and Randy Cramer of Dakota V-Twin. It will take center stage again at the Chip’s Legends Ride during the Sturgis Rally when it’s auctioned off for charity.

Finding a cool bargain at the swap meet; hanging out with friends at happy hour; reminiscing about hot rods back in the day; getting ideas for fixing up your bike from the customs in the show; catching on to the enthusiasm of high school kids just getting into bikes; knowing that riding time is just around the corner. It’s elements like these that combine to make the Donnie Smith Show such a standout. Another thing that made the 2014 version even better? The people waiting outside in line to get in didn’t have to wait in the snow this time!



Historic cues enhance a classic Triumph on the show floor.


Vendors showed some unique components.


The Student-built bike from Sturgis Brown High.


Using an engine frame provided by S&S Cycle, the Eden Junior/Senior High class built this bike for S&S Cycle’s 55th anniversary last year.


This beauty from Blacksmith Motoring once graced an IronWorks cover.


One of the many projects in the works in Kennedy High’s Chopper Class.


Steampunk styling continues to play well.


Classic choppers always turn up at the Donnie Smith Show.


A ’46 Knuck from Hepcat Choppers.


It’s always good to catch up with Skeeter and Marie Todd.


Wyatt Harwood from Sturgis Brown High and the man of the day.


Hamsters from the New England contingent.


Overview of the car show.


Biking legend Sugar Bear and show promoter Neil Ryan.


Big Dan and Jody P – just smiling!


You can’t see Jorg’s new tattoo here but the man in the Rat Fink shirt, Nolan, is responsible for it.


There’s a ton of bike building experience in this picture: Donnie Smith and Dave Perewitz.


Here’s the Chopper Class Challenge team from Mitchell tech, in Mitchell South Dakota. They too trophies for Presentation and Technical.


The Chopper Class Team from Eden too top honors in Design and won the Overall trophy. They also took the Three R’s award for recycling and the Traveling Award, which they’ll bring back to the competition next year.


Happy faces! Christine Paige Diers, Executive director of the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum, Kiwi Motorcycle’s Carolyn Tomas, and Darla crown.


Darla Crown and Greg Wick.


Feb Kevin and Big Matt Willyard crafted these trophies for the Donnie Smith Chopper Class Challenge. Everyone wanted to get a closer look at them.


The show always happens near Donnie’s birthday so you can count on birthday cake. Rob Kenney shares with the nice lady in the booth next door.

IMG_8836 IMG_8838 IMG_8847 IMG_8848 IMG_8850 IMG_8856 IMG_8891 IMG_8915 IMG_8925 IMG_8944 IMG_9182

Bert hamming it up with Tony.

Bert hamming it up with Tony.

And there’s Bert Baker’s Organ Donor project bike, another alum from IW.

And there’s Bert Baker’s Organ Donor project bike, another alum from IW.

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Against the Grain – Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell

When most of us think about the people in Washington that run this country we think of a bunch of stodgy old men and women who don’t really get it. We view them as being well-to-do, having a stiff upper lip, and being mostly  conservative (no matter which party). To be sure there have been characters in this exclusive group who marched to the beat of a different drummer. One of the most glaring examples of this is former Senator Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell from Colorado who would quite often ride up to Capitol Hill on his Harley wearing a beaded fringed leather jacket.

bulldgAwhile back ITN Editor Marilyn Stemp had a chance to chat for a few minutes with him at a stop in Concord, North Carolina as he was hauling the  Capitol Christmas Tree from Colorado to Washington D.C. No, he wasn’t leading the caravan while riding his bike, or sitting in the back seat of a limo, he was driving the big rig that was pulling the trailer with the tree on it. You see Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell may have been the only United States Senator to ever have a legitimate CDL.

In fact he told Marilyn that he shows his own big rig on the custom truck show circuits along with a ‘29 Chevy fire truck, plus he has a Sterling made by Freightliner outfitted with a fridge, satellite TV, double bunks and a Toy Box to haul his Mini Cooper when he takes off to Tucson for the winter. To show that trucking is a true passion of his he related that when he was still in office and he’d get tired of all the hassles he’d go out and deliver beer for Budweiser and Coors. “Nobody knew it. I’d keep a low profile. I’d pull up to the loading dock and get a sideways look from the guys on the loading dock.”

While Ben may have fun with his trucks he’s best known as the motorcycle riding Senator. Ben said that he’s had a lot of motorcycles and started riding when he was 14. “When I was younger we were into Triumphs. You couldn’t pack enough tools to keep those old Harleys together in the old days.” “Then I lived in Japan for a while and worked for Honda so I rode Hondas for a few years. I started riding Harleys when I got elected and went back to Washington.”

Ben says that, “It didn’t always pay dividends though, I’ll tell you. I used to ride my bike to work (in Washington D.C.) cause it was easy to park. The other senators in the black limos would see me and say, oh no, not him!” and “One time Clinton called us to come over to the White House. I was following Senator Kennedy and Senator Hatch who were in their cars in front of me at the back gate. It’s guarded, not open to the public.” At the gate, the guard said “Good morning Senator Kennedy come on in. Good morning Senator Hatch, come on in. Okay buddy, off the bike!” “I took off the helmet and he said, Oh, gee, I’m sorry, Senator!”

Like all of us longtime riders Ben said he saw when bikes were become popular for the “macho profiling BS stuff.” He said one senator told him he’d like to ride a bike and get a Harley. Soon after that he saw that senator  riding his bike on the stage of the Jay Leno Show. “3 weeks before he didn’t know the front end from the back end.” And that another senator bought a bike even though, as Ben put it, “He shouldn’t be around fast machinery at all. He wanted to ride so he bought a bike and we met him up at Sturgis and he was a terror. There were 4 of us, so we rode around him two and two, to protect him. Then he fell down and broke his foot and that was the end of his riding. I’ve seen them all!”

Even when he was in office Ben was a fixture at events like the Love Ride, Sturgis, Laconia, Daytona (I met him in Hollister, California at the “Return of the Wild Ones” rally in 1997) and of course he used to do Rolling Thunder every year. “I even got them a flyover when I was in office and a lot of that was before 911, but after 911 it was tough to even get helicopters. Now everything is top secret.”

Talking about Sturgis he said, “It’s fun it’s kind of a guy thing. Paint qualifies as clothing from the waist up for women.” “I took my wife to Sturgis one year about 2002 and were gonna meet some riding friends at the Buffalo Chip. She was hungry so we decided to get something to eat and went over to the gyro booth. There was a gal behind that booth and she had on two things: an earring and a smile. I was trying to look away and I’ll be damned if she didn’t say, “Hi Senator Campbell, how are you?” I said do I know you? She said yes, I saw you at the Ignacio Rally – but she had clothes on then.”

Right now Campbell said he has 2 Road Kings now, 1 for him and 1 for his wife. He also has an old bored and stroked Sporty chopper, “one of those ones that looks good to go to the bar but you don’t want to ride it very far.”  He says he’s had many other bikes in the past. “… so damn many I thought they were breeding in the garage for a while.” He‘s also built bikes including an FXLH with a red white and blue flame patriotic paint job that included a U.S. seal on the fairing. He built it during Bush’s second term for some displays for him around D.C. not only did it display well in D.C. but it got first at the World of Wheels, first at Denver, then when he  took it to Sturgis. Willie G gave him a trophy for best of show at Sturgis. But he says, “The trouble with those things is that you put so much money into it you’re afraid of getting a scratch on it. It became a trailer queen. It won a lot of awards but it wasn’t a lot of fun.” In contrast he and his wife ride their Road Kings all the time.

Soon it was time for the Ben and the Capitol tree caravan to continue their 5 week, 4000 mile trip time. The last time Ben hauled the tree, yes Virginia this isn’t his first time to haul the tree, it only took him 6 days. He said, “It was so damn much fun that when they called to say it was coming from Colorado again (they get a tree from a different national forest every year)… I said yeah, I’ll do it again.” He also said that motorists along the caravan’s route acted like they do around groups of motorcycles, “We’ve had a couple of near misses. People try to pull into the gap between me and the police escort. That would have been bad publicity: Senator crushes citizen.”

The Christmas tree caravan was sponsored by: Aspen and Snowmass, Mack trucks Colorado Tourism, Vail Resorts, Gibson guitars, US Forest Service, Meeker Chamber of Commerce, Skybits, c’ Mack donates the trucks.

Source and image: Marilyn Stemp
Posted by Sam Kanish

The Ace Cafe – A Potted History

By Linda Wilsmore

Motorcycles, rock n’ roll and the Ace Cafe…..

 Three simple expressions but they represent perhaps the most powerful fusion, not only in yesterday’s rock n’ roll era, but also in today’sBike Meet 199

The Ace Cafe was built in 1938 as a roadside cafe to cater for traffic using the then new North Circular Road.   In World War II, the building was badly damaged and subsequently rebuilt in 1949.  It was a state-of-the-art cafe and one of the first to use neon signage.   With its proximity to Britain’s new and fast arterial road network, and staying open 24 hours, the cafe soon attracted hoards of young motorcyclists who were bored and searching for their own identity.  They found it at the Ace, together with the ‘devils’ music – rock n’ roll.

The advent of the ‘teenager’ in the early fifties saw the Ace booming, with the arrival of the Ton-Up Boys.  The British motorcycle industry was at its peak, when along came rock n’ roll.  It wasn’t played on radio stations, so the only places it could be heard was at fairgrounds or on Jukeboxes in transport cafes.

Ace Cafe Bookazine Cover Pic“Drop the coin right into the slot”……

From this powerful fusion of motorbikes and rock n’ roll, came the legends of record racing.   Dropping a coin into the slot, then racing to a given point and back before the record finished, turning the North Circular Road into an unofficial race track.

Come the sixties, the Rocker had emerged, and the Ace Cafe became the launching pad for many British rock n’ roll bands, like Johnny Kidd & The Pirates.  Gene Vincent also visited the cafe on one of his tours, and the Beatles are reputed to have been there before they became famous.  The Ace also has racing links, with original patrons, such as Dave Croxford, Dave Degens, and Ray Pickrell, taking their North Circular Road skills onto the racetrack.

The rock n’ roll peak was over by the mid-sixties, made safe by The Beatles and pushed aside by Carnaby Street and the Mod era.  Changes in the social order and growth of the car market, at the expense of the motorbike, and the retirement of the owner, saw the Ace Cafe, by then viewed as a ‘Greasy Spoon’, serve its last egg and chips in 1969.  Following its demise, the building was used as a filling station, bookmakers, vehicle distributors, and tyre depot, but remained largely unaltered.

Driven by his passion for bikes, rock n’ roll and history, in 1993 Mark Wilsmore, with the permission of the owners of the site, set about planning an event to mark the 25th anniversary of the cafes closure, with a mind to reopen the place.  That event in September 1994 attracted 12,000 motorcyclists and rock n’ roll fans from far and wide.Ace Building Archive 11

A film, entitled ‘An Ace Day’ was made, featuring interviews with former patrons of the Ace and today’s riders, to a rock n’ roll soundtrack.   There followed a seven-year labour of love, to obtain planning consent to turn the premises back into a cafe, and eventually purchase the site and building.   Initially, a part of the building was opened at weekends and events were organised with the aid of mobile catering unit for three years. 

In March 1999, potential disaster struck, a hatch on the main North London water supply, exploded in spectacular fashion!   Buried ten feet under the Ace car park, it wreaked havoc, with the resultant flooding submerging the adjacent section of the North Circular Road, which remained closed for almost a week. 

The huge blast had a severe effect on the structure of the building.  Debris and bikes were blown skywards on a wall of high pressure water, shattering window panes, and damaging the roof.  Despite this setback, Mark’s determination to save this legendary icon continued unabated.

Ace Archive x 43The beat goes on…..

The Grand  Reopening took place in September 2001.  The Ace today, is a 21st century fully licensed cafe-restaurant and venue, with its own shop and plenty of reminders on the walls about its colourful history.  Numerous meets are held throughout the year to cater for all enthusiasts, from Ton Up Day through to Hot Rod Night.

The atmosphere is very laid back, you can relax and read the latest magazines, challenge your mates to a game of table football, listen to the Jukebox or simply drool over the amazing array of machinery that turns up.

With room to dance, the cafe’s gig list has featured top Rock n’ Roll artists from the USA, such as Robert Gordon and Linda Gail-Lewis, through to a real rockabilly hoe-down with contemporary bands & DJs.  Many gigs are tribute nights to the late and the great, such as Gene Vincent, Elvis, Johnny Kidd, Eddie Cochran etc.Ace Archive x 8

The bikes and the music may have changed, but the spirit remains the same.  Inspired by rich heritage and traditions, the Ace Cafe still embodies the same values as it did when it was first home to the Ton-Up-Boys (and girls) and Rockers. What could be found on a Triton when going for the ton in the 50’s and 60’s is emulated today on modern sports bikes and streetfighters.

Special celebrations, parties and small conferences can be catered for, and if you fancy tying the knot somewhere different, you can even get married at the Ace! 


Ace Archive x 7Check website for full list of events:


Open 7 days a week.   Monday to Friday 7am – 11pm. 

                                    Saturday 7am – 11pm (2am on specials)

                                    Sunday 7am – 10.30pm


Ace Cafe London

Ace Corner

North Circular Road


London NW10 7UD


Tel: 020 8961 1000


Mystery of the Traub Motorcycle

By Matt Williams

In 1967, a plumber doing renovations of an apartment building

outside Chicago tore down a brick wall and found what would prove

to be a baffling mystery to vintage motorcycle enthusiasts – a one-of-

a-kind motorcycle bearing 1917 plates and the name “Traub”.

The building’s elderly owner admitted that his son had stolen

the bike before going off to WWI, never to return. But where the bike

came from and who made it remains an unknown to this day

3Currently residing in the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, the Traub is considered by many to not only be the rarest motorcycle in their collection, but in the world.

The Traub was sold to Torillo Tacchi, a bicycle shop owner in Chicago after its discovery who later sold it to Bud Ekins – famous as Steve McQueen’s stuntman – while Ekins was on set of the Blues Brothers movie in the late 1970s. The Traub was later sold to collector and restorer, Richard Morris, who then sold it to Wheels Through Time Museum curator, Dale Walksler, in 1990. It has been on permanent display in the museum collection ever since. Don’t think this unique motorcycle is merely a museum piece though. Walksler rides the Traub fairly regularly. When asked about the engine components, he enthusiastically replied, “Everything inside the engine is just magnificent. The pistons are handmade, and have gap-less cast iron rings, the engineering and machining being simply years ahead of their time.” 

“When comparing other top motorcycle makes and models of the era, the Traub has no equal. Comprised of a sand-cast, hand-built, 80 cubic-inch “side valve” engine, the machine has the ability to reach speeds in excess of 85 mph with ease,” says Walksler.2

Aside from its few off-the-shelf components, the Traub has many unique handmade features. The three-speed transmission is thought to be one of the first of its kind and the rear brake, a dual-acting system that employs a single cam that is responsible for pushing an internal set of shoes, while pulling an external set, has never been seen on any other American motorcycle.

4“For a machine to have such advanced features, unparalleled by other motorcycles of the same era, is truly outstanding,” said Walksler. “It’s my opinion that The Traub was an attempt at a new breed of motorcycle. But how on earth could a machine have been produced in such great form, with capabilities that far exceed that of any comparable machine, without the knowledge of the rest of the motorcycle industry during that time.” 

The hunt for the Traub’s elusive origin hasn’t stopped. “While we may never know why the machine was placed behind that wall, we do hope to one day find out more about its history and the genius that created it,” said Walksler. 1

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The Salerno’s Panhead

A gift from your ancestors, a loan from your descendents

Story and photos by Marilyn Stemp

IMGP8887In the Steel City of Pittsburgh, PA, loyalty runs as deep as the three rivers that course through the heart of its downtown. Fierce devotion is evident in the endurance of the city’s cultural heritage, the honoring of its industrial past, an all-encompassing ardor for local sports teams, and—most essentially—enduring family ties that persist through the generations.

A Pittsburgher by birth, I’ve known plenty of people who embrace this fierceness for their Western PA hometown, but seldom have I met a family that exhibits it with more heart than the Salernos. This story is as much about the family as it is about their 1948 Panhead, a motorcycle that has been handed down from father to son to son to son—yes, four times, so far.

The original owner, Ernie Salerno, Sr., passed the bike on to his son, Ernie, Jr., in 1961. Ernie, Jr. rode the bike for years, to work at the Mackintosh-Hemphill steel mill and all over the local area for fun. He gave the Panhead to his son, Mark, Sr. in 1985, who passed it on to its current rider, Mark, Jr. in 2006.

IMGP8880The Pan’s presence in the Salerno family was a crap shoot—literally. See, as the story is told, back in 1948 Ernie Sr. won $800 in a crap game. “He took his winnings down to North Side Harley and bought the bike,” said Mark, Sr. “He splurged and got the tour package extra. That consisted of the Hollywood bars with two spotlights on either side of the headlight.”

That accessory kit, along with every other bit on the Panhead that rolled out of North Side H-D with Ernie Sr. that day, is still on the bike. This bike’s patina is as authentic as its owners and there’s only one real way to achieve such a finish: the passage of time in respectful hands. Motorcycling is simply what this family does; Mark Sr.’s brother Ernie (of course) has been ridding and wrenching for decades, too, and the family photo albums show various uncles and cousins in jodhpurs and leather helmets, ready to ride.

“When I was a kid, my dad and I rode the bike every nice Sunday to my grandfather’s house,” said Mark Jr. “I was 17 when my dad first let me take the bike on my own, though he let me kick it over when I was around 12.”

IMGP8871Since the ‘80s when the Panhead came to Mark Sr., family friend Jack Tepke has helped keep it in running condition. And though Mark Jr. and Mark Sr. admit that there were times through the years when the bike sat unridden, even then it didn’t go untended. The top end was freshened up in 1988 because the base gaskets were leaking badly. Carb issues developed in 1998 that went undiagnosed for about eight years. But even though the motorcycle wasn’t ridden daily then, there was no question in Mark Sr.’s mind that when the time came, the Panhead was headed for Mark Jr.’s garage. So in 2006, when Mark Jr. called his Dad to say he’d ordered a Night Train, Mark Sr.’s response was predictable. “He said ‘Come and get the Pan—and get it running,’” said Mark Jr. with a grin.

News travels quickly in tight families so it wasn’t long before Ernie, Jr. called Mark, too. Explained Mark Jr., “He said, ‘Don’t just let the Pan sit around. Get it running!’”

So with the sanction of both his father and his grandfather, Mark Jr. set out to get the Panhead back on the road. A sheetmetal journeyman, Mark Jr. has been riding dirt bikes since he was 11 and gained his mechanical aptitude the right way: by tinkering on hand-me-down bikes till he got them running. The ’06 Night Train is fine, he says, but he prefers the old iron. “They’re so easy,” he says, about working on older machines. In testament to that, Mark Jr. also has a ’76 Shovelhead he’s currently rebuilding

As for the Panhead, the bike was all-original when he finally got it in his possession—and for the most part, it still is, allowing for a few small mechanical updates for safety.

IMGP8873“The float was deteriorated so I put in a brass one and cleaned the Linkert carb,” he said. “I cleaned the points and plugs and put new fluids in the bike, and that was it—the bike fired up and ran great.” Obviously they built those 74 cu. in. FLs tough back in the day.

The engine cases have never been split and the Pan retains the 6-volt charging system with the original wiring. “I have the original chain and cigar exhaust boxed up,” said Mark Jr. He added a set of new Metzeler tires and installed the Paughco exhaust for the sake of practicality.

As satisfying as it was to get the family Panhead back on the road, the best was yet to come. “I’d had it running for about a week when my aunt had a family picnic,” said Mark Jr. When he rolled into the picnic on the Panhead, though Ernie Jr. was ailing, he was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to get back in the saddle of his old friend “He was revving it to the moon and I thought it was gonna pop,” said Mark Jr. “The picture of my grandfather on the Pan says it all.”

Just like all of the men who have ridden, do ride, or will ride this motorcycle, the Salerno Panhead is a solid member of the family and it’s as stridently connected as any flesh and blood member. The current owner, Mark Jr., might say that while the Pan is a gift from his ancestors, he respects it as a loan from his descendents. And it’s likely to outlast him, too, considering its past; forged in iron, steeped in steel.

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An Engineering Look at Panheads


by Margie Siegal


Panheads, Harley-Davidson’s second iteration of its overhead valve V-twin, were the children of the postwar boom in motorcycling, with classic styling that still defines the cruiser look.


The Panhead story starts in the war years of the 1940’s. Harley-Davidson’s contribution to America’s World War II effort included more than 88,000 motorcycles for the Allies. The Company invested over a million dollars in tooling and factory improvements during the war, and bought as much government surplus equipment as it could afford afterwards.


All this new tooling put Harley in an excellent position to upgrade the product. In addition, aluminum, which had been scarce, was now readily available in excellent alloys developed during the war for aircraft applications. Although it was logical to take advantage of the possibilities of this newly affordable material, Harley management, always cautious, did not want to design a completely new motorcycle. So their approach was to freshen up the OHV the Company was then building, nicknamed Knucklehead by riders.


Harley had built 61- and 74-cubic inch Knuckleheads in limited quantities through the war for police and some military applications. As the war wound down, Knuckle production increased, and it became easier for defense industry workers to get their hands on a new bike. After Japan surrendered, Harley ramped up the production of Knuckleheads while working on a new improved postwar bike.


The Panhead was introduced in the 1948 model year. It featured aluminum heads, internal oil passages, a larger oil pump, and hydraulic valve lifters. From the beginning of Knucklehead production, Harley had chased top end leaks. The Panhead engine improved oil tightness by bolting covers over the rockers and valves. These covers looked like baking pans, hence the nickname. The new Panhead came in 61-inch and 74-inch versions, and in several states of tune.


Panheads evolved at a deliberate pace. Although Harley sold a lot of Panheads during the ‘40s—4354 “E” 61 inchers and 8405 “F” 74′s in 1948, for example—Harley did not intend to blow the budget on fancy innovations its customers might not accept. The 1948 Panhead had a rigid frame similar to the predecessor Knucklehead, hand shift, the same springer front end, similar tanks, wheels and fenders.


In keeping with Harley’s philosophy of fixing one thing at a time, telescopic forks turned up in 1949, a foot shift and hand clutch in 1952 and a stronger bottom end in 1955. The 61-inch version of the Pan was dropped at the end of 1952 as a cost cutting measure.


Chrome, however was a sure thing, and Harley made a full selection of chrome accessories available, allowing new owners to doll up the ‘bus like Saturday Night. 1948 Panheads could be ordered with a chrome air cleaner cover, fender tips, and exhaust pipe covers, among other parts.


There are still a lot of Panheads out there, at varying prices depending on the condition and originality of the motor and other parts. A Panhead is a strong but simple motorcycle, and one in good condition can still be ridden on a daily basis if the maintenance—especially the frequent oil changes a Panhead needs—is carefully kept up. You can take it to a show or a rally under its own power and display your classic with pride.