The Harley-Davidson MT500 is a bit of an unusual motorcycle. It’s thought that just 500 were ever made, and it’s not known how many have survived in original condition.
Harley-Davidson MT500 – Specifications
The MT500 is powered by a 500cc Rotax single-cylinder, air-cooled engine with 4 valves, 5 gears (unit construction), and most were kickstart only – though a small number were made with an electric start. The name stands for “military transport, 500cc” and there was also an MT350, which was fitted with a 350cc engine.
It’s a mechanically simple motorcycle designed explicitly for military use – though it’s broad adoption never took place due to many militaries only wanting diesel-powered vehicles for matters of logistical simplicity.
Each MT500 was fitted with a single rectangular headlight, as well as indicators and a tail light to ensure they were road legal – though these could all be disconnected if the motorcycle was needed for missions requiring stealth.
The bike was designed for a single rider only with no room for a pillion passenger, instead the rear of the bike has a rack for fixing gear bags or supplies.
The Harley-Davidson MT500 – A Brief History
The basic design started in Italy, before finding its way to Britain, being put into production with the Armstrong-CCM company in 1984. The model saw limited military use in Britain, Jordan, and Canada until it was phased out in 2000.
Harley-Davidson isn’t a stranger to badge-engineering motorcycles, and if you look back over the long arc of motorcycle history there are very few established marques that haven’t at least dabbled with rebranding bikes. The reason Harley bought the MT500 stateside was the hope of acquiring a military contract with the richest armed forces on earth. Sadly it never came to be, largely because of the aforementioned diesel-only guidelines.
The majority of the Harley-Davidson MT500s that were built, were built to the same or similar specifications. There are twin cases either side of the fuel tank – designed to hold documents or other items and be quickly interchangeable for messenger capabilities. There’s a waterproof rifle case on the rear right side for an SA/80 Bullpup rifle or similar, and the case is designed in such a way that it can take both scoped and unscoped weapons.
All-original MT500s only rarely come up for sale, possibly because collectors are sitting on them in anticipation of a value increase as they edge closer to vintage territory.
The 1999 model you see here is estimated to be worth between $20,000 and $24,000 USD, and it’ll be crossing the auction block with Bonhams in Las Vegas on the 26th of January – click here if you’d like to read more or register to bid.
Ben has had his work featured on CNN, Popular Mechanics, Smithsonian Magazine, Road & Track Magazine, the official Pinterest blog, the official eBay Motors blog, BuzzFeed, 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 millions of readers around the world and many hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.