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1938 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead Runs Like New

By February 6, 2021General Posts

by Daniel Patrascu from

Harley-Davidson has had a rough patch these past few years, and 2020 was the coronation of its problems, a time when it lost its CEO, a factory overseas, and gave up on its direct involvement in the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle series.

Earlier this week, the Milwaukee-based company announced a plan for the next five years to turn things around, taking baby steps to make some profit, expand some segments, and reward its workforce. There’s even talk of getting back the public love, although given how not that many new models are planned for the next five years, it’s hard to tell how it could happen.

And that’s a shame because, after all, it was public love that kept the company afloat during the Depression years, right alongside Indian. Public love and the technological gambles the bike maker was not afraid of making.

Like taking the Flathead-engined VL motorcycle off the market in 1936, before the economic hardship was even over, and replacing it with what came to be known as the Knucklehead. It stayed in production for a little over a decade, right through the war years, and then the Panhead came along and kicked it away.

But that decade was enough for the Knucklehead to impress Americans and give birth to an army of followers that are still devoted to it to this day. Followers who keep restoring and then selling them to others who are alike.

One particularly fancy Knucklehead is going under the hammer in April, during the Mecum motorcycle auction in Las Vegas. The pre-war model, made in 1938, was the subject of restoration work that got it back in shape, so much so that the 61ci (1.0-liter) engine that gives it its name still spins the wheels. It has done so for the past 148 miles (238 km), since it left the garage where it was cared for.