Funky Panhead Part 3: The Feature

My grandson wrecked his Dyna. He thinks he went down on a slippery west side LA boulevard, but the bike looks like he was rear-ended, which launched his girlfriend. She was seriously damaged, but survived. He got scuffed and walked away.

He needed a place and some guidance with his ’05 Dyna. He could have sold it and moved on, but he was so impressed with the performance after Bennett’s Performance tuned it and added some S&S TC cams, he didn’t want to let it go.

I called Dr. John about his frame and spoke to Eric Bennett. Dr. John was able to straighten the frame without a complete teardown. Amazing.

Next, we jammed to the Long Beach Swap Meet to find Dyna parts and didn’t find much. We bought a later model touring swingarm with a 1-inch axle, because I planned to upgrade his suspension wherever possible, but the touring swingarm wasn’t right. Larry Settles from Settles Customs in Harbor City fixed us up with a solid late model Dyna swingarm.

Anyway, we rambled throughout the packed aisles looking for parts and I came across a large flatbed truck sporting a line of new, bare rigid frames. Great looking frames and I inquired. Kraft Tech only sells to distributors like Biker’s Choice, but they bring a few frames to the swap meet once in awhile and the price was right.

The Kraft Tech frames were obviously set up for Evo engines and 5-speed transmissions, but looked almost stock. I couldn’t resist. We carried that frame up and down aisles until we finally headed toward the exit with no Dyna parts and a set of stock Softail tanks, perfect for the frame.

As I meandered toward the exit, my cell phone rang. It was Brad Olsen, an old friend who recently scored an Oregon shop’s inventory and stashed it in a warehouse near a river leading to the sea.

“Yo,” Brad said. “I need to recoup some of my investment. Do you need a Panhead engine?”

I about shit my pants. I had just scored a sharp rigid frame, a set of fatbobs, and I knew I had a 5-speed Softail transmission at the Bikernet Headquarters. What the fuck? Hell yes, I needed a Panhead engine!

As it turned out, the engine was seriously incomplete, but with a good twist. The ’69, last kidney, Shovelhead right case was mated to a ’79 left case, which would allow me to run an alternator and Evo primaries. I hauled ass home from the swap meet and started to dig through drawers, cabinets, and lockers looking for parts.

I created a pile next to my lathe, but when I stood up, I wondered why the hell I needed another motorcycle. That wasn’t the mystic point at all. Fuck it, I was inspired and on a roll.

Here’s a code that works for us bikers. I tell young guys frequently to start to create equity in their lives for the future. You can buy and turn houses. You can restore a car, write a book (not a good idea), paint a painting, etc. But if you’re a biker, building bikes is perfect. No, they are not always worth a bundle, but they are like putting money in the bank. Think about that the next time the ol’ lady bitches at you for building another motorcycle. What’s she doing to build equity for your future?

Even before the swap meet kicked me into gear, I was moved by Go and Tasumi at Brat Style in Long Beach. Michael Lichter introduced me to them, just down the street on the evil industrial west side of Long Beach. They build the coolest shit on the planet with a major twist. Everything is vintage, seriously vintage. Go can build a totally custom tank and install it on a ’39 Indian Scout frame, but by the time he’s done, you would bet it’s a stock part and 70 years old.

His amazing painter adds the final twist, Deny 528. Maybe I should keep this a secret. But fuck it, it will slip out anyway. Deny studied and practiced to create original paint patinas for a year to prefect his process. He’s got it nailed.

I was gone. I couldn’t think of anything else but this Panhead project. I dug around and Mike from Pacific Coast Cycles, in Long Beach, came up with an oil tank. He’s a major fan of Kraft Tech frames.

“Everything just slips together,” Mike said. And he’s also a major fan of Paughco springers. They may be more expensive than overseas copies, but it’s your life you’re riding on. He has about a dozen rollers in his one-man shop. If you’re after a cool project, give him a call.

Daily, I made lists of needed parts and started to make calls. I couldn’t stop, and then my grandson flew to Deadwood to be a part of Scott Jacob’s Artist Retreat. Suddenly he wanted to go to Sturgis. I came up with a plan. I rode to Sturgis and back last year, so this year, we could alternate the plan. How about taking two old bobbers to Sturgis for the kicks?

The Sturgis 2017 plan formulated. Suddenly, I had a deadline. Oh, what the hell? I was inspired by many factors, but I still needed a few pieces to make it happen.

The engine was missing a cam and most of the cam case elements. It needed a carb, intake, distributor, oil pump and I started digging around. I had a set of rebuilt Panheads, but they were early model and this puppy would need outside oilers. I started to ask around.

Berry Wardlaw from Accurate Engineering offered to help, when I couldn’t find any Panheads through STD. Billy McCahill had issues with his foundry and didn’t have castings. Berry checked with a couple of distributors and no one had any in stock.

Berry searched forums and then found a set on Ebay. I immediately ordered them from Wilson Cycles, Inc. in Roswell, GA, but when they arrived, I encountered a problem. One was perfect with valves, an O-ring intake manifold flange and the outside oiler boss. Unfortunately, the other didn’t have an outside oiler fitting. It was an early model.

We hit the swap meet again and found a cop solo seat from a major seat guy, who had a pristine stock seat. I had an old hinged fender from an early swingarm Pan. I knocked out the pin and installed the bobbed fender with the help of Lowbrow’s new universal fender bracket. It’s strong as a bull and fit like a champ. My funky MIG weld didn’t hold a candle to the precision Kraft Tech TIG welds on the frame. Sorta embarrassing…

I dug out a Softail 5-speed transmission, and tried to figure out the plate to mount it. I called Chris at Kraft Tech and quizzed him. I have a Paughco offset 5-speed plate but needed a stock ’86-’99 Softail tranny plate for a 5-speed. There are so many configurations and Paughco has them all.

I want to write a tech about ordering frames and all the configurations available. It’s not just about rake and trail anymore or wide tires, but left and right side drives, which transmission, which set of gas tanks and the type of seat being used. The list goes on. Hopefully, if the Paughco crew can help out, and with Biker’s Choice, we can make it happen.

I found an old 41mm wide glide front end at the swap meet. Ultimately, I wasn’t happy with it, but we made it work (I hope) with an old drum front brake. I found some neck bearings and replaced the junk one. I tore the whole front end apart and cleaned it. The springs didn’t match, but I worked it out with Progressive springs. The Paughco axle did the trick to allow the brake and star hub to be installed. A local shop laced the star hub to an old 18-inch used aluminum rim.

I spoke to the guys at Spectro about which fork oil to run in the legs. Joe Russo recommended Fork Oil Type E. 20 SAE, since it’s an one-up light bobber. “Heavy two-up bikes would use the 40 SAE,” said Joe.

The brothers at Paughco are the best and have the best. After digging through my shit, I needed just a handful of vintage parts and pieces from the Paughco factory, like the correct front axle for an early glide. I made the mount for an old spotlight out of a bracket I built for a Bonneville bike but never used.

I needed the right side rear brake lever, mounting plate, return spring and plunger, but I had three Wagner master cylinders. This Kraft Tech frame was set up for a Softail-style rear disc brake. Years ago, we installed PM brakes on Dale Gorman’s Softail and I ended up with his stock solid aluminum Fatboy rear wheel and brakes. They would do the trick.

I had most of the pieces for the left side forward controls, except for one, and Paughco had it, the shift linkage arm. And I didn’t plan to run a dash, but I needed something for electrics, a switch, whatever. I ordered a Paughco universal tin toolbox and then discovered something wild at an antique store—a K-model motorcycle trophy a heavy casting.

The notion was to build a simple, easy-to-handle bobbed Panhead. But for some odd reason, finding an early automatic-advance distributor turned out to be a problem. I didn’t want any extra bells and whistles on this bike, no advance and retard mechanism, jockey shift, etc. Then I found a Mallory electronic ignition system in a locker from our ’06 Bonneville effort. I spoke to Berry Wardlaw from Accurate Engineering and it did the trick. I rocked. He coached me on timing it.

I went through the front end from stem to stern, drilled lightening holes in the brake backing plate and found a set of stock configuration stainless bars and some goofy 4-inch aluminum risers using a stock cap. I still needed the cable, lever and cable adjuster. I called Barnett’s. They had everything I needed.

The bike was headed back together for Sturgis. If the paint and engine comes together, I could be cool for the run.

In a sense, this project was indicative of this time in my life and the life of many bikers everywhere. I asked myself if this should be a life and times story. Could I make sense of my life at this point?

I’m feeling stressed at almost 70 and I don’t get it. Actually I do, but I don’t want to feel anything but nirvana. Hell, I built a motorcycle nirvana right on the coast, across the street from the Port of Los Angeles. But there’s something not right about that. ?
They are now calling it America’s Port, yet the port has basically shit on the town adjacent to one of the richest ports in the world.

Okay, so I started this Panhead project in the middle of a war over whether combustion engines will still be around in another decade. What the fuck? No wonder our industry is in a state of upheaval. Most folks think bad thoughts every time they get into their cars as if they are having a nasty affair with the earth on the other side. Brings me down, but I fight back. I try to keep folks informed regarding their rights and the issues. It torments me. I want freedom and fun back.

So, when the shit brings me down I try to jump down into my shop and work on a bike. The Panhead became a mission for freedom for my soul. I needed relief from the stress.

On the other hand, life couldn’t be better. We have more resources than ever before, if the government doesn’t make them all illegal. For instance, you can build anything your heart desires. This Pan is a terrific example.

Sure, it’s a Pan but it has a ’69 right case and a ’79 left case, which allows me to make it look like a Pan, yet run an electronic, automatic advance distributor, an Evo to Twin Cam alternator, and a spin-on oil filter, which allows me more oil capacity and more protection for the engine.

The heads are brand new STD outside oiler Panheads with knock-off rocker blocks. The STD heads breath better than stock and contain improved valves and springs.

I’m running hydraulic JIMS machine cam followers, S&S adjustable pushrods, an S&S mild cam and an improved S&S oil pump. Even the Kraft Tech TIG welded frame is modified for almost any engine and allowed me to run a rear Softail disc without doing a thing.

Basically, I could build 1998 rigid Panheads all day long with super-strong late model 5-speed transmissions, and BDL belt drives with any EVO starter. I was good to go.

I wanted to use a Linkert Carb and I had a couple rebuilt by Mike Egan. We planned to run two on a stroked Knucklehead. They were M-35s for early 45 flatheads. I decided to try one using the small venturi for snappy throttle response notion, like we’ve done with 42 mm Mikunis.

Bob Bennett went through the engine and I supplied parts where I could. You can no longer order any performance parts in California. They were banned by the California Air Resources Board, supported by the MIC. Unless companies want or can afford to spend hundreds of thousands trying to have each part tested to receive an Executive order through the MIC, they can’t be sold here. If you can’t buy a cam in California, how does the largest market in the US impact the smaller states?

Needless to say, I made my own pipes using a too bitchin’ shorty muffler from Rick Krost at US Choppers, who only deals with vintage bikes anymore. He’s done with anything new. The muffler was amazing; at least, I thought so. Deny, the man behind the vintage paint job, came over and I showed him the muffler and what I intended with the stock squished pipe under the engine.

We discussed having the pipe angle up with the bottom frame rail toward the axle, but we both looked at each other with dismay. I’m not a fan of anything that interferes with the line of the frame. Then I mentioned my appreciation for shotgun pipes and Deny’s blue-gray eyes lit up. I messed with parts and pieces, including the stock squish pipe. I like how it came out.

I worked with Tim at San Pedro muffler to make a couple of exhaust flanges to fit over the Panhead exhaust manifold. I was only able to use one, because the front pipe needed to turn abruptly.

I tried several different welding moves with this endeavor. The pipes from San Pedro are 1 ¾-inch aluminum coated chunks, coupled with old bare steel bends, chromed pieces and even an old Pan squish pipe. It was chromed at one time. I had to use various pieces and some were slightly different diameters. I don’t know why, but initially I thought about gas welding with steel rod, but the various metals, even ground and cleaned, weren’t happy with oxygen acetylene, maybe because of the carbon deposits on the inside of the old pipe pieces.

Various pipe manufacturers skimp on funds by running thin-walled tubing and blowing through it is easy. I shifted to MIG welding because of speed and convenience. Also, tacking pieces in place is much easier with a one-handed Miller MIG welder. I ended up carefully MIG welding most of the bends and pieces, but then added some braze just to add color to the pipes.

The pipe brackets were a trip of found brackets and chunks, but finally the pipes were strong enough to stand on and secured comfortably to the heads.

I used care with the driveline alignment. The engine, a mixture of years, fit perfectly in the frame without shimming. I used the BDL inner primary to align the engine and trans.

Moving right along, when I needed to escape the government control freaks, I darted into my shop and hid out, rebuilding the old Wagner master cylinder with Paughco re-pop controls. The rebuild kit arrived from Biker’s Choice and Twin Power. James and the Twin Power crew are on a mission to create and manufacture stock replacement parts for old and new Harleys. I dug out old manuals from Panheads to Shovelheads and Evos and followed them.

With Spectro Oils I studied brake fluids and I think I installed the Wagner and the Softail Caliper with DOT 4. According to vast research, the Wagner could have been DOT 3 originally and the Softail Caliper was DOT5. They don’t mix. Later, I flushed the system with DOT 5 a couple of times and will do it again in the near future. Dot 5 is less corrosive than Dot 3 or 4 but doesn’t work as well as Dot 4. Dot 5 also won’t mess with your paint.

I stashed the ignition switch in the Paughco toolbox I mounted between the stock Softail gas tanks. I made a goofy bracket running off a stock frame tab and it worked like a champ. I mounted a 15-amp circuit breaker in the box and an idiot light, to prevent me from walking away and leaving the switch on. Let’s see if it works.

Bob Bennett timed the engine with Berry’s instructions and I monkeyed with the Linkert Carburetor. I also made the top end oil lines with old parts and True Value Hardware, which is usually a tremendous source for fasteners, but pricey.

I installed a Biker’s Choice oil pressure gauge. Erik Bennett gave us the look and his dad suggested I run an adjustable valve in the line to the heads so we don’t cause the lower end pressure to drop. I did thanks to True Value, but we discovered a tiny hole in the valve, which wide open might do the restricting job. I’m still investigating it.

I wired the bike with old Harley fabric-wrapped wire and fiber-wound loom. I needed to replace the front vintage spot light sealed beam. And one of the spring hold-downs broke. I need to find them.

The stout rear fender didn’t need supports but I needed a place to mount the LowBrow vintage taillight and license plate mount, so I started to dig around.

I came up with a Road King front fender bumper rail set. With a little braze, some ball bearings and some imagination, it worked like a champ.

I need to give some credit. The day I fired her for the first time, I ran into a problem. I ran oil through her first to make sure it was getting to the top end, but noticed oil seeping out of the lifter stool gaskets, as if the crank case filled with oil. I checked with Eric Bennett and then a young Hamster stopped over, Tony Sportalli. We made an oily mess chasing all my new oil lines looking for a mistake.

I used those stock pinch oil line clamps and they are bastards to remove. We ended up removing half of them, and in some cases, replacing them with standard screw-on hose clamps. Then Tony pointed out that the oil wasn’t coming from the gaskets but holes in the JIMS lifter stools. Unbelievable. They drill through the stools to create an oil passage, but it was up to someone to press in plugs or set screws. We taped set-screws and we were golden. Thanks Tony.

There you have it. Now I’m in the Eddie Trotta break-in mode and the search for a pink slip and registration. It’s a kick, starts and runs like a champ. It’s a breeze to ride and the front end now works. Let’s see what happens next.



OWNER: Keith “Bandit” Ball
CITY: Wilmington Ghetto
YEAR: 19-something Panhead
VALUE: Very little
TIME: 4 months

YEAR: ’69 and ‘79
BUILDER: Bennett’s Performance

IGNITION: Accurate Engineering
DISPLACEMENT: 74 cubic inches

CARB: Linkert
AIR CLEANER: Chopper Dave


YEAR: 1990


YEAR/MAKE: 2017 Kraft Tech
MODEL: Classic Rigid
RAKE: Stock

TYPE: Wide glide


FRONT BRAKE: Mechanical

SIZE: 16-inch

PAINTER: Deny 925
COLOR: Orange and Cream


BARS: Stainless
RISERS: Old aluminum


FUEL TANK: Stock Softail
OIL TANK: Pacific Coast Customs
SEAT: Swap meet
HEADLIGHT: Old accessory spot

CABLES: Barnetts



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