The Harley-Davidson FL Panhead was the top of the line Harley back when it was new, no other road-going model from the Milwaukee-based manufacturer could match it for horsepower, torque, or cubic inches.
Each of Harley-Davidson’s V-twin engines has been given a nickname ever since the company was founded in 1903 – the Panhead was so named because its heads looked like upturned saucepans.
Fast Facts – The Harley-Davidson FL Panhead
- The FL Panhead was Harley’s top model when it was released in 1948, the “FL” designation means that the engine has a capacity of 74 cubic inches (1,208cc).
- The Panhead engine was a revised and upgraded version of the earlier Knucklehead V-twin, which was so named because its heads looked like knuckles.
- In 1952 the FL Panhead was officially named the “Hydra-Glide” by Harley-Davidson, a name created by the marketing department to denote the use of hydraulic forks rather than the earlier springer forks.
- The FL Panhead produces 60 hp and 62 lb ft of torque, power is sent to the rear wheel via a four-speed manual hand shifter, and it has a top speed of approximately 105 mph.
Hydra-Glide – The First Of The Harley Glides
When Harley-Davidson switched from springer forks to telescopic hydraulic forks on the FL Panhead in 1949 the marketing department capitalized on it by naming the model the “Hydra-Glide.”
This would be the first of the “Glide” models offered by the company, the following two would be the “Duo-Glide” in 1958 with a rear swing arm and dual hydraulic shock absorbers, followed by the “Electra-Glide” in 1965 – so named because of its electric starter.
The Electra-Glide is the best known as it’s been in production the longest, and it remains in production to the current day, in considerably updated form of course.
The Harley-Davidson FL Panhead
The Harley-Davidson FL Panhead was released in 1948 as the new top of the line model, sitting just above the EL Panhead in the Harley model family.
The “FL” designation simply means that the engine was the 74 cubic inch (1,208cc) version of the Panhead, with the “EL” designation meaning it was the 61 cubic inch (1,000cc) version.
The Panhead would become one of the Milwaukee motorcycle manufacturer’s most famous engines, helped along by the fact that it would power both of the choppers in the iconic 1969 film Easy Rider, starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson.
Fonda and Hopper’s motorcycles were both powered by the FL Panhead, Fonda’s bike was named “Captain America” and Hopper’s was known as “Billy Bike.”
Although Harley-Davidson would stop making the Panhead in the 1960s when it was replaced by the “Shovelhead,” it wasn’t the end of the line for the engine.
Private companies have developed their own improved versions of the Panhead and it’s possible to buy one today brand new, in a larger displacement than original, and many of the engine’s foibles cured for good.
The FL Panhead would be the last “big framed” Harley with no rear suspension, known as a hardtail these bikes can be traced back to the very earliest days of the company.
Today the original FLs are highly sought after not just in the United States but across the Atlantic in Europe and as far away as Japan and Australia.
The Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glide Shown Here
The Harley-Davidson FL Panhead Hydra-Glide you see here is a 1952 model that has been meticulously restored by a marque expert.
Unusually the bike is finished in a black-on-black color scheme, and it has a single sprung saddle with no rear seat.
The bike is fitted with front and rear crash bars, a tombstone taillight, and a toolbox. It’s due to be offered by Mecum at the Las Vegas Motorcycle Auction in January and it’s being offered with no reserve.
If you’d like to read more or register to bid you can click here to visit the listing.
Images courtesy of Mecum
Articles that Ben has written have been covered on CNN, Popular Mechanics, Smithsonian Magazine, Road & Track Magazine, the official Pinterest blog, the official eBay Motors blog, BuzzFeed, Autoweek Magazine, Wired Magazine, Autoblog, Gear Patrol, Jalopnik, The Verge, and many more.
Silodrome was founded by Ben back in 2010, in the years since the site has grown to become a world leader in the alternative and vintage motoring sector, with well over a million monthly readers from around the world and many hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.