View Full Version : Panhead Motor Nmber

Bill Pedalino
06-11-2005, 03:06 PM
Can anyone tell me if the following is correct; I am looking at a 1953 left case with the 'FLE' designation stamped in the VIN number. I don't think that this is correct.

I have never seen the 'E' designation stamped into ANY VIN I've ever seen. Also Palmer's book states that Police FLE designation did not appear on the order books until 1955. But I would hate to be wrong and let this part pass - I REALLY need a 1953 motor case. Please inform me as to whether I'm corect or not.

Thanks !!

Perry Ruiter
06-11-2005, 11:58 PM
1952 was the last year for the 61 inch EL panhead making 1953 the first year for the FLE (basically a 74 with a 61 cam and carb). Palmer lists 55-65 on the back cover which is wrong. It's 53-56. Look at page 601 to see that FLEs were offered in 53. Also, first year of features on page 603 lists "traffic combination" (aka FLE). I don't know if the numbers on the cases you're looking at are good, but 53FLE in and of itself shouldn't arouse suspicion. Hope you were planning to build a police bike as these were almost exclusively police bikes ... Perry

Bill Pedalino
06-12-2005, 08:06 AM

Thanks again for your reply. I was aware of the 74's that used the 61" cam for more low end power, but I did not realize that this was the FLE option.

The correctness for the '53 FLE designations is good news. The only thing that I'm unsure about is if these bikes were actually titled as 'FLE's or was it just a factory designation for ordering purposes. Was the FLE designation actually stated on the registration or title? As important, was the 'E' actually stamped on the motor case, as was the 'H' in the later FLH models. In well over 36 years, 12 of which spent working in a Harley motor shop, I have never seen a motor case stamped FLE. But the guy who owns these cases claims its the second FLE he's owned, having previously purchhased a 1957 FLE from a Chicago area Harley dealer.

However, if the title correctly states FLE, I probably cannot use the case anyway, as the bike I am assembling is definately NOT a police bike.

You see my delema. I hate to spend this money (and it will be substantial) on a wrong case. And I won't do a number change - its got to be a real VIN. However, in over two years of looking, its the first '53 case I've seen and it truly breaks my heart to pass on it.

Thanks again for this reply, as for your previous replies. They are always correct and informative.

Bill Pedalino

Perry Ruiter
06-12-2005, 02:10 PM
Yes, the E is stamped on the case and hence should be in the title (or the title wouldn't match the case). See the caption on the lower picture on page 610 of Palmer. It gives the motor number as 56FLE4312. The picture is too small for us to make out the number but the author was working with the original negatives and read that number off the case.
In my opinion a 57FLE is a tattoo job as 56 was the last year of the FLE. I've seen two FLE numbers that I recall. One was, of all things, also a 57FLE about a dozen or so years ago. It was obviously a numbers job and the numbers side case was from 69. I don't recall what year the second was from but they were good numbers. As you note, FLE cases are uncommon to come across ... Perry

Bill Pedalino
06-12-2005, 02:14 PM
IS IT POSSIBLE that FLE motorcycles were sold as civilian bikes - or should I pass this one Up ??


Perry Ruiter
06-12-2005, 02:36 PM
If you're really into 53's you should try and find a copy of the book EarlyRiders (don't know if it's still in print or not). It includes a reprint of the factory to dealer literature describing the 53 models. Here's a scan of the page describing the traffic combination:
I don't know that FLEs were exclusively police (after all they were offered with footshift, and, as noted in the above scan, handshift were preferred by police). I'm sure you could spin a yarn about how it was a civilian bike bought by a retired police officer who liked 61's, blah, blah, blah.
I'm not trying to tell you what to do Bill, but if the FLE designation has too much police stigma pass on them. I'm sure a 53FL will show up eventually ... Perry

Bill Pedalino
06-12-2005, 02:43 PM
Thanks for the scan. It is rather ambiguous - the FLE MAY have been offered to the public - but its arguable. It breaks my heart, but I guess I'll pass on the case. I'm going to thr Harmony N.J. meet and will continue my search, but If you know of anyone selling one - pleass keep me in mind.

Thanks again for all the help.

T. Cotten
06-12-2005, 08:16 PM
Great info, Perry!

Carl N. Olsen
06-13-2005, 01:31 AM
I restored a 1954 FLE last year and it was originally an escort bike for parades and funerals etc. I also did a motor a number of years ago that was a 1956 FLE, both of these had factory numbers and where titled as FLE's on the paperwork. 1953 is my birth year and my first Harley when I was 17 was a 53 Panhead with 13,500 miles and all of the bells and whistles on it, I made a chopper out of it and have been trying to apease the Harley gods ever since. Watch for me on the Evergreen Road Run, Davenport, and the Black Hills Road Run as I will be trying to recapture my youth on a black 53 Panhead. 1953 Panheads are hard to find as the country was going through somewhat of a recession and new Harleys were not selling to well, if I where you I would jump on that 53 case as they are very hard to come by, in all my years I have only run across a handfull of them. Who knows you might find another regular FL, and then you can always peddle the FLE.

It is better to have something than to have nothing, GODD LUCK!

Bill Pedalino
06-13-2005, 08:53 AM
Your advice is well-founded and I have decided to acquire the case. Thanks so much for the insight and the information. I'm in New York and, because of business obligations, can only attend the yearly Harmony, Oley and Hebron meets, so unfortunately, I will not be at Davenport. To bad, I would love to see your birth year bike!

Thanks afain for your input - and to all else who contribute to this fine tool !!

Bill Pedalino.