About two months ago, my good friend Buzz Kanter from American Iron called me up with a great idea for an article for American Iron. Buzz and I had done several restoration, "rustoration", and "crustoration" projects for his magazine, but Buzz wanted to make this one a little different.
He went on to tell me about a 1931 Harley-Davidson VL 74" flathead that he’d just purhcased. The bike hadn’t run in 21 years and Buzz’s idea was to bring it down to Wheels Through Time, get it running, and take it to Maxton, North Carolina for the East Coast Timing Association’s Land Speed Record event. Of course, I said "Lets do it".
So last week, Buzz hauled the old VL down to Wheels Through Time to get her prepped for the run. Not knowing what we had to work with, I was very suprised to see that the bike looked to be put up in running condition some 21 years ago. We had from Monday night to Friday morning to get this thing back to tip-top shape, and a full crew to help out. My son Matt is always ready to get his hands greasy, and Buzz brought down buddies Jim Sims, Dave Fusiak, and Bill Nugent to handle the task. My friend, and expert restorer, Brian Haenlien from AMCE Cycles in Michigan also jumped in on the project ready to lend his expertise.
After a brief brainstorming session on Monday night, we all jumped in Tuesday morning ready to get to work. When we unloaded the bike, we all commented on how complete it looked, and all agreed that it wouldn’t take too much to get her running. After putting the bike up onto the lift, we figured that seeing how she ran would be a good place to start. Without checking the plugs, cleaning the points, or checking the valve adjustment, we put in a fresh battery, some 50 weight oil and some good gas and gave it a go. Believe it or not, it started on 2 KICKS. Not to bad for a bike that hadn’t been touched in over 20 years. I revved the throttle for a few minutes, and despite a bottom-end full of oil, it seemed to run pretty well. This was a big step, as it confirmed that we wouldn’t have to pull the engine apart to get this one ready for the run.
The next step was to remove several unnecessary parts, while still keeping the bike as original and complete as possible. In order to qualify for the production class, we had to leave certain items like the horn, front-fender, headlights, floorboards, etc, but were able to take off several items in order to loose a bit of weight. We pulled off the mirrors, crashguards, kickstand, and plenty of other bits and pieces, all in all shaving off about 20 pounds. This was just the edge we’d need to separate this machine from what a stock VL would have done back in the 30s.
After about a days work, we all sat back pretty satisfied with the progress so far. With the bike running well and a few bulky items taken off, we left the shop feeling good that night. A few more days, and this thing would be ready for its first Land Speed Record Run at the Maxton Mile.