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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2018
    Location
    Chicago
    Posts
    98

    Default Rebuilding the Q-ship; a 1964 Harley Davidson Sportster

    Introducing the Q-Ship, or, how I learned to love torque curves

    15rebet.jpg64CH.jpgDoc Dytch.jpg

    Imagine you had $2,000 burning a hole in your pocket at an Antique Motorcycle Club of America (AMCA) National Meet. Bikes for sale are plentiful, so what do you choose? Many riders would likely say they want an “old” Harley or Indian, but that they can’t touch one for so little money.

    While this might be true, what if we take a step back and make a list of what we are looking for in a project? A typical list might look like this:
    1) American V-Twin – identified by a nickname containing the word “head”
    2) Easy to work on with common hand tools
    3) Fun to ride and something that could be used on an AMCA National Road Run
    4) Able to keep up with modern traffic
    5) Reliable with good parts availability
    6) Electric start options from the factory
    7) Less than $10,000 to buy, fix up, and get on the road

    Many will claim criteria #1 is at odds with the rest of the list – or worse, that these criteria can only be met by some pricey motorbikes. We humbly disagree.

    Enter the ubiquitous and much misunderstood Harley Davidson Sportster.

    Whoa, whoa, whoa; wait a second! A Sportster? Are you serious? Aren’t those unreliable “girls” bikes that blow out knees when you try to kick them?

    Yes, we are serious – and just about everything you may have heard about a Sportster is dead-on mythology. They are not hard to start, perform well in modern traffic, are relatively easy to work on, come in both kick and electric start, have excellent parts availability, and can be brought up to snuff for well under $10,000. In terms of reliability, sportsters are as reliable as anything else out there and great fun to ride, especially at 55-65 mph. They require almost no special tools to work on and it is rather unlikely you will run into another vintage Sporty out in the wild.

    The purpose of this series of articles is to help show there is a different path to owning and enjoying an American classic – one that is within the grasp of many AMCA members regardless of age or experience. Most importantly, starting with the 2020 model year, all “ironhead” sportsters are eligible for AMCA judging and events. Project bikes can be bought for less than $1,000 and the vast majority of parts needed to restore one to road-going glory can be had rather easily at AMCA meets or through well-respected vendors.

    For those wanting to get into AMCA judging – a Sportster is an excellent choice and very rewarding to research. While the bikes may “look” the same year to year – there were an amazing number of year to year changes over the ironhead’s 28 year production run (1957 to 1985). We suggest you check out the Old K Model and Sportster Research Group website (http://www.harleykmodel.com/index.html) for some more information on Sportster history and year-to-year changes.

    To keep us focused, we are going to set some basic goals for this project and take you along for the ride. Here’s what we are aiming towards:
    1) Explaining how to find a project bike and parts using AMCA connections
    2) Refurbishing a bike for road use using tools and techniques available to many riders
    3) Having fun
    4) Taking the completed project on a National Road Run in 2021.

    The only thing we aren’t going to do is restore the bike with an eye towards judging. While many will argue it takes only a bit more effort to go the extra mile and make the bike 100% factory correct – it is not a goal we are personally interested in achieving. We deeply admire those who do pursue this end of our hobby and invite their commentary on where we have deviated from a dead stock bike so as to inform readers about what can be done in a different way to achieve the reader’s personal goal(s).

    For our part, we are headed in the opposite direction. We are going to show you how a hot, street-going Sportster may have been put together 50 years ago. We are not talking theory – we are talking about triple digit performance using vintage parts from now legendary names such as Sifton, S&S, Dytch, Axtell, and Drag Specialties. The end result will be a classic, all-American torque monster you can use every day.

    Throughout the articles, we will strive to give you both a 20,000 foot view as well as more detailed information. The idea is to help the reader better understand the types of work professional shops perform, from cutting valve seats to fitting pistons to painting parts. We are not going to give step-by-step instructions, but rather a general sense of the work so you can feel more confident in exploring options and asking questions of service providers. It is important to note that everything we are going to show is only one way of accomplishing a given task. We do not represent it is the only way or even the best way. We do represent what we will show you are proven shop kinks that work, and work well.

    Please sit back, enjoy, and don’t hesitate to ask questions.

    Our aim is to post new articles every two to three weeks over the next year; depending on how much we actually get done in the shop during our “free” time.

    But, before we jump into all this; let’s take a moment to introduce ourselves. Here is our cast of characters:

    Chuck is a 30 year veteran of vintage motorcycling and has restored or refurbished dozens of bikes from Triumph to Guzzi. Chuck grew up in auto dealership service bays, the son of a second generation master mechanic. Before deciding that becoming an Industrial Archaeologist sounded like a good idea, Chuck trained as a machinist. Chuck is pleased to note he has not found a reason to own a bike made in the last 30 years and that he still rides year round through Chicago winters on a vintage Guzzi. He swears he’ll fix the Goose’s oil leak before the speedometer rolls over, again. His preferred Sportster is a 1959 XLH.

    Will is a retired professional motorcycle mechanic with more than 40 years of experience. While he spent most of his time at Harley dealerships in the Denver metro area, Will also wrenched on dozens of makes from Honda to Jawa. Will’s love of Sportsters was kindled by a 1955 KH. Over the years, he has refurbished dozens of Sportsters and even found the time to win two national motocross titles – on a Sportster. As Will gleefully puts it; “Sportsters ain’t nothing but big dirt bikes.” In his “other spare time,” Will is a dedicated to uncovering hidden aspects of Western history and has made several important archaeological discoveries with his trusty metal detector. He maintains a sizeable stable of ironhead Sportsters which he routinely rides to AMCA chapter meets and on local rides – just because he can. His preferred Sportster is a 1974 XLH.

    Dr. Dick is our technical advisor and former owner of the Iron Steed, an independent shop in New Jersey specializing in high performance Sportsters. He also co-founded Morris Magnetos with Dave Shaw. With more than 40 years in vintage motorcycling, Dr. Dick has built and serviced hundreds of ironhead strokers. Today, he continues to ply his trade in a high-precision machine shop and enjoys hurting Sportsters whenever possible while mentoring aspiring mechanics and speed freaks. His preferred Sportster is a 1959 XLCH.

    The Q ship is a 1964 XLCH Sportster found by Will in the wilds of Colorado and bought by Chuck in spring 2019. Q ships were a special class of merchant vessels in World War One containing hidden armament. From the outside, they looked relatively harmless. Up close, they packed a wallop that surprised more than one U-boat and sent its crew to commune with the fishes. We thought this a very apt name for the project as it will be a true “sleeper” with high performance modifications not visible to the casual observer.

    The Yeti is Mrs. Chuck’s shop dog. She tries to stay out of biker pictures to preserve her “good girl” image, but like the Q ship, just cannot help herself. If you see her at a meet – you had best give her a chin scratch and firm pat on the head lest she decide you are trying to pilfer adult beverages from the cooler. The Yeti plays a mean game of “stare down,” is excellent at placing fur in freshly cleaned bearings, and enjoys sleeping – a lot. She also likely knows more Grateful Dead lyrics than Bob Weir remembers.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2018
    Location
    Reno NV
    Posts
    208

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    Chuck,
    Looking forward to following your build series.
    My experience is similiar to your team members and I always like to hear how other people approach the issues of building that I have come across over the years.
    My biggest sporty challenge was fitting OEM XR heads to an iron head motor.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2018
    Location
    Chicago
    Posts
    98

    Default

    The Q Ship, or, How I Learned to Love Torque Curves

    Part II: Finding a Project Bike


    In this installment of the Q ship saga; we are going to talk about finding project bikes and getting a good deal. While you would think this is old hand to many who love old bikes, it turns out many folks only buy a handful of projects in their lifetimes. Between the two of us writing these articles, we have dragged home a large number of project bikes over the years. A few tricks have been learned in that process and we are happy to share them here.

    But, before we begin, let us take a minute to talk about some common misconceptions about project bikes.

    One of the biggest misconceptions is that buying a project bike one piece at a time is the least expensive way to acquire a bike. While this used to be somewhat true for certain makes/models, shifts in the market place for most American v-twins have helped ensure that many bikes are more valuable being sold as pieces than as a whole bike. Therefore, it is becoming difficult to acquire a bike one piece at a time and not wind up spending more than anticipated.

    This is particularly true of 1957-1969 Sportsters. It is not uncommon to find a bike that is missing “just a few pieces.” Sadly, most of those pieces are both hard to find and pricey. For example, a 1959-65 XLCH basket case might seem a bargain at $2,500 because it is “only” missing its original oil tank, headlamp assembly, and magneto – until you realize those three parts will set you back another $1,000 or more depending on condition. Suddenly, the running $3,500 bike with all its bits and bobs in place seems a better bargain. It might not be “the year” you are searching for – but you can always trade up in time.

    The second misconception is that a basket case is a better choice than a running bike because they are cheaper and already broken down so you can inspect the parts. Again, this is often false hope as few basket cases come neatly packed in boxes with bagged and tagged hardware. More often than not, baskets come as a pile of dirty parts roughly stuffed into boxes or milk crates. They may or may not contain all the pieces – and usually some expensive ones have gone missing. As a result, it is usually much harder to sort out a basket case than it is to start with a complete bike. Yes, basket cases are often cheaper – but they also often take 2 or 3 times as long to sort out as a running bike. For more experienced people, this can be fun. If this is your first time out of the gate it is advisable to buy a complete, running bike if at all possible.

    The third misconception is trying to buy a project with an eye towards turning a profit. While it is possible to do so; the reality is that unless you have a large stock of parts and can do almost all the necessary work yourself you will wind up spending close to, or more than, the “value” of the finished motorbike. Instead, set a budget you can live with over a period of a few years and focus on fun and recreation.

    In sum, buy the best, most complete bike you can until you gain enough experience to determine whether a basket case is for you. For our money, we reserve one-piece-at-a-time bikes for pre-war and unusual bikes.

    With that out of the way, let’s move on to finding a project. The best way to start the hunt is through self-education. Take some time to research the specific make and model that interests you. An easy way to do so is to join online forums. Many make/model specific sites have extensive “sticky” indexes with information on the bikes. Many sites also have buyer’s guides that will help get you started. Sites like the AMCA forum also have a wealth of information. Try to search for information specific to the model and years you are interested in as many “general” books also contain general information that may or may not be accurate.

    Your local public library can also be a very good source of information. Simply ask the reference librarian for help – they can and often do work wonders. Another source is Google books for rarer or out of print publications, as well as the AMCA virtual library. We have also found it useful over the years to talk to owners of bikes we are interested in to learn more about the sort of quirks that only come up with regular use of the machine. For sportsters, it is hard to beat the excellent technical information and literature contained on the Old K Model and Sportster Research Group website (http://www.harleykmodel.com/). Many of the people who assembled this site are die hard sportster fans and AMCA judges or involved with AMCA judging. The information is accurate, clearly presented, and very useful even if you are not restoring a bike with an eye towards judging.

    Once you have raised your knowledge level a bit, it is time to start narrowing your search parameters. This is the stage where frustration can set in. Many people just want a bike and feel that they should jump on the first thing that comes up. However, patience is a virtue in this game and knowing what you want can make a world of difference. For something like an ironhead Sportster, a list of things you might want to consider could look like this:
    1) Drum or disc brakes
    2) Kick only, electric start or kick/electric
    3) Generator or alternator
    4) Left or right side shift
    5) Full gauges or speedometer only
    6) XLH (points and coil ignition) or XLCH (magneto ignition)
    7) “Short” or “Long” swing arm
    8) Full fenders or sport fenders

    In our case, we were looking specifically for 1959-65 XLCHs. These are drum brakes (two variations), kick only, magneto ignition bikes. They shift on the right and are short swing arm bikes with horseshoe style oil tanks.

    With that done, it is time to start searching. These days we have multiple avenues to look for projects. These include traditional sources like the AMCA magazine “trash to treasure” section and cycle trader publications. Other good sources include estate sale notifications, garage sales, and even the grocery store “for sale” board. Craigslist, online forums, Facebook market place, and eBay motors are also good sources. Be creative with your search parameters and be patient. And, if nothing shows up in a couple of months, try taking out a want ad in the AMCA magazine (free to members!) and Craigslist. You might be surprised at what turns up.
    Another excellent source of project bikes are local and national AMCA meets. While a project may not be on display, asking vendors what they have hidden often yields tips. Follow up on them and you might be surprised. Similarly, make friends with folks interested in the same make/model. Many often have a project they haven’t gotten to or have lost interest in. In the end, every old bike “hunter” has their own methodology. The truth is that you get the best deals by being out there tracking down every lead you can. Take your time and enjoy this aspect as much as you can. Don’t sweat a trip to view a bike – treat it as an adventure.

    Another common refrain is that no bikes are available locally. While this may be true, shipping companies open up a wide world of opportunities. For whole bikes that can roll on their own, it is rare for the cost to ship a bike coast to coast to exceed $500. Federal Van Lines is a reliable service for city to city transport and there also are many excellent small load haulers on Uship if you live further out. In terms of basket cases, crating or palletizing a bike is pretty straight forward. Dock to dock shipping is available in many urban areas and the only downside is that you have to go to a shipping dock to pick up your package. Recently, FedEx started a door-to-door pallet service. We have not had a chance to try it, but it looks promising for more rural areas of the country.

    Another challenge to overcome is not having a truck or trailer to pick up a project. No worries, just rent a Penske or U-Haul truck for the day. The cost is usually reasonable and available in more areas than you may think. Penske trucks, in particular, usually have wooden floors. This allows you to bolt a wheel chock to the floor to transport a complete bike. And, starting with 16 foot trucks, integrated ramps are a key feature. However, be advised that both U-Haul and Penske prohibit the transportation of complete motorcycles in their box trucks. Keep in mind that gasoline in an enclosed truck is a bad idea anyways – and that a fire extinguisher can keep you from having to explain what went wrong. U-Haul also offers motorcycle trailers for rent if you have a hitch on your vehicle. We have both used full sized pick-up trucks for years, but Chuck recently switched to hauling bikes on a Harbor Freight trailer dragged behind an old Jaguar. Everything is possible with a little patience and ingenuity.

    In other words, don’t let geography or lack of a truck keep you from a good deal. If the cost with shipping is in your budget parameters – go for it. Just make sure you use a payment service such as PayPal that offers you some measure of protection. Don’t just transfer funds and hope. And, don’t hesitate to ask on forums if a member local to the bike you are interested in would go look at it for you and send better pictures. Many folks are happy to hunt iron for you just to get out of the house. If you follow up with a gift card to a restaurant or coffee; you might just make a new friend who will enthusiastically go hunting for you.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2018
    Location
    Chicago
    Posts
    98

    Default Finishing up Part II

    With all that in mind, let’s recount how the Q ship came to be. About four years ago, Chuck and Will were both active on a Sportster-specific forum. Chuck noticed Will mention he was hunting a 1958 XLCH – one of the rarest Sportsters made. Chuck reached out to Will through a private message and said he’d be interested in buying the 58CH if Will didn’t want to hold onto it for himself. The ‘58 turned out to be a bust, but through the course of the hunt we got to know one another and discovered we were both AMCA members.

    Over the next year, we became pen pals (remember those!?) and began to correspond on topics beyond motorcycles. These discussions led us back to project bikes and Chuck’s quest for a 1959-65 XLCH. Will happened to have saved a 1964 CH from the worst inclinations of a now defunct chopper shop. His intention was to restore it himself, but as so often happens, Will had more projects than time on his hands. The ‘64CH was disassembled and missing some pieces (aka basket case) but had a clean title, matching cases, and correct date coded frame. We corresponded back and forth about the bike as Will sorted through the parts and determined just how much was left and what needed to be sourced. After a bit of friendly haggling, we settled on $1,500 for the lot, plus pallet shipping from Denver to Chicago. Call it $2000 all in with the title transfer.

    For those of you keeping score, this is the first major expenditure against our $10,000 budget. So, we have $8,000 left to work with in order to turn a pile of bits into a street going machine ready to take on an AMCA Road Run. Keep in mind, you can easily find more or less bone stock 70s and 80s sportsters for far less and get them on the road for a total investment of $2,500-3,500. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, necessary to spend $10,000. We simply set that limit for discussion purposes to cover as wide a spectrum as possible.

    In our next installment, we will deal with two realities that often turn guys off: 1) missing titles and 2) parts availability.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Posts
    155

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    Hi,
    I'm following your build. Thanks for taking the time to share your project. Over the years I've rebuilt many basket cases including Indian Chiefs, and Harley J, V , E, F, and X's and have passed down what I know to my two sons. It's nice to see you taking the time to explain the ins and outs in written form.

    I'm now at the stage where just maintaining the fleet takes most of my spare time. FYI - my 1st Harley bought in 1976 was a 1966 XLCH. I see you're from the Chicago area. I'm in rural Champaign so if you're ever in the area contact me. I can introduce you to a bunch of antique bike people in the area.

    Steve Slaminko

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2018
    Location
    Chicago
    Posts
    98

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    Quote Originally Posted by slamiste View Post
    Hi,
    I'm following your build. Thanks for taking the time to share your project. Over the years I've rebuilt many basket cases including Indian Chiefs, and Harley J, V , E, F, and X's and have passed down what I know to my two sons. It's nice to see you taking the time to explain the ins and outs in written form.

    I'm now at the stage where just maintaining the fleet takes most of my spare time. FYI - my 1st Harley bought in 1976 was a 1966 XLCH. I see you're from the Chicago area. I'm in rural Champaign so if you're ever in the area contact me. I can introduce you to a bunch of antique bike people in the area.

    Steve Slaminko
    Many thanks for the kind words.

    Yes, we wanted to show folks exactly what it takes to do some of this stuff.

    I don't tend to make it down state too often, but will certainly drop you a line if I do. And, please don't hesitate to do the same if you're rolling up towards Chicago.

  7. #7

    Default

    Chuck, I really enjoy you and Wills post on early ironheads, I have just started getting into them in the last 10yrs or so, I have always been a early knuck guy and still am, but as I age I really enjoy the early ironheads, keep the good info coming, thanks, Larry

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