BOAT TAIL Archeology

So there I was, straddled over the musty boxes in the old barn, flashlight in hand, peering under a filthy tarp.  Moments before the lumps and protrusions beneath could have been an old motorcycle, could have been a cord of wood.  The dark building smelled of spilled oil soaked into moldy cardboard.  I half expected a raccoon or badger or blood soaked zombie to jump from beneath the dank cover.  However, my trove lay beneath awaiting discovery.  Now was not the time for caution.  The months of legwork I call moto-archeology were about to either pay off or disappoint.  Beneath the canvas cover lay a find of motorcycle history hunted by the likes of me for decades.  I squint and hold my breath as I get ready to throw the dusty tarp back in like fashion when catching the family dog asleep in the marital bed.  As I balance atop the piles of junk I toss back the tarp with my left hand, aiming the light in my right like it were a pistol.  The motion brought aloft a cloud of mildew and dust that I am sure lodged deadly spores in my lungs that will hasten my demise.  To hell with caution.  As I focus through the dust, a glint of chrome, the hugh of white paint masked by dirt all shone through decades of dormant sleep.  The object of my long search is, as you may well guess, an old Harley Davidson.  I will not belabor this story with the months of carefully placed calls, pre planned visits and heartfelt pitches leading up to this moment.  A delicate process worthy of a separate tale.  It all starts, as you may guess, with:  “I heard this old guy has a Harley tucked in there for the last half century”.  It ends with the culmination that I relate to you today.

At this point in time no choir of angles rang out a high tune but if this were a movie, angels would be dubbed in right HERE.  Alas, there she was in all her glory.  Untouched for almost 40 years and little touched before that.  The object of my desire: a pristine 1971 Harley Davidson FX Super Glide.  The “ORIGINAL”.  The first one.  The only REAL one.  The Babe Ruth of Bikes.  I found it, the Cezanne, the Stradivarius, the pirate’s booty, I digress.  Her condition is low miles on the clock but more importantly – perfectly intact.  Big American Flag #1 emblazoned on the tank.  Not a single modification to a bone stock production bike.  No high bars.  No aftermarket muffler.  No S&S carb, the original ‘bendix’ unit still there and working.  No custom paint, just good old Red, White and Blue, right from the factory!!  Not so much as a dealer sticker!!!  Despite that upgrades would have made this bike infinitely more rideable and certainly more powerful, comfortable, reliable and about a dozen more “..ables”, this example is that which is referred to as OEM, Original Equipment Manufacturer, all STOCK!

Designed by Willie G. Davidson during the AMF (American Machine and Foundry) years (1969 to 1981).   This was the Motor Company’s first production “custom” bike.  Willie G. used a big twin motor in an FL ‘swing arm’ frame coupled with a Sportster front end for a ‘big motor’ and ‘light body’ effect.  The obviously radical rear section was designed by Willie G. and was intended to give what he called a “dragster look” to the bike.  This “Boat Tail” rear section, as it came to be known, was not favorably looked upon by the Harley Davidson crowd.  The tail was produced by AMF’s golf cart division.  Willie G. Davidson designated it the “Super Glide” but HD’s advertising agency called it the “Night Train” in their campaign.  All cues to the future.  This was Harley’s first completely new line since the introduction of the Sportster in the 1950’s.  A total of 4,700 Super Glides were sold in 1971 in all 10 colors available.  Basic black or white sold for a reasonable $2,190, with red, green, brown or maroon costing an extra $7.00.  The “Sparkling America” paint scheme that leans left on her kickstand before me ran an extra $40.00.  Very few have survived in original condition as is this example.  Willie G’s personal collection housed at the Motor Company’s headquarters in Milwaukee also has an unmodified example of this “Boat Tail” Super Glide.

What strikes me first is the fact that the seat is original and in perfect condition, a rarity.  The old coot behind me mutters “I told you so”.  Now starts what I call ‘the haggle’.  The back and forth, where I attempt a conviction that this bike is not so rare.  And the counter position, skillfully asserted by the owner of indeed how rare it is!!  He senses my lust for such a treasure.  The owner holds firm.  He is not aware to my knowledge that I am willing to pay double what he asks, clearly defying reason.  This bike has eluded me since childhood.  At first by age, then by budget and, until now, by availability.  Finally, I am in the right place, at the right time possessing the means, the desire and the seller to close the deal.  We waste no time.  Done.  We all but spit into our hands before shaking to solemnize the agreement.  Right about market was the tendered price of the couple I’ve seen auctioned in the last few years.  He as happy to have my money as I am to have his machine.

Once rousted from its lair of over 4 decades it is clear to me it needs a little TLC.  Some carb work, some hydraulic brake lines but otherwise 100% intact.  The “Sparkling America” paint scheme polished up perfectly thanks to Keith our Chief Roadie, bodyguard, bottle washer, polisher and rig driver!!  The mechanical function was tuned in by Moondog Fincher of “Moondog’s Cycle Garage” whose expertise is typically pan/knuckle, so this was an underhand softball.

Once Richard Nixon era gas is replaced with Barack Obama era gas the maiden voyage is under way.  It’s hard to believe that hydraulic brakes with drums and shoes were designed by a higher order primate and not simply an aardvark.  Inefficient, but so was a lot of the mechanical order of the day I suppose.  1 year only and for good reason.  Adds to the cache of the bike I’m told, but it certainly keeps you on your toes when braking!!  It’s surprisingly fast for its age and agile for its weight.  At 65 horses it’s not far off the mark of most Harleys on the showroom floor today in terms of power.  The 4 speed 1 up and 3 down shifting is tricky for at least a dozen cycles.  But what really reminds you you’re on a vintage bike is the kick only start.  I’m told Willie G. wanted light weight and a starter weighs 6 or 8 pounds plus requires a bigger battery.  And we think women do crazy things to drop a few pounds!

We take a trophy at our first show, but are advised there are 2 problems.  Freddie Arnold (IMMBBA Judge) ID’s them quickly.  I missed them both.  The bike was put on display at Killer Creek Harley Davidson in Roswell, Georgia for a month.  People filled out a “What’s Not Stock” forms and correct guessers got a gift certificate.  Most missed it, some guessed wrong, it made no difference, but was fun.  I, and this bike, am heading for the 50 year mark.  Not all the parts are as good as they used to be.  A little less shine, a little less power, maybe a little outdated, but still running strong – self and bike!

Well, signing off for now.  Remember, ride strong, ride safe, and in the end, make sure you ride home. Written by Steve Murrin, The Original Biker Lawyer.

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