The Plan Drawing inspiration from early cross country riders like Erwin "Cannonball" Baker, I am building a 1933 Harley-...

Rebirth of an American Classic

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The Plan


Drawing inspiration from early cross country riders like Erwin "Cannonball" Baker, I am building a 1933 Harley-Davidson VL, which I will ship to the west coast in the fall of 2015 and ride back across the country on US Route 50. I'll be joined by another rider on his 1934 Harley-Davidson VLD, but that will be the extent of my support crew. There will not be any chase trucks or other support personnel. We'll be left with just the tools/parts we can carry, our wits and hopefully a bit of luck to complete the 3000+ mile journey.

One of my main focuses with this project is to carefully document each part of the build and to create a digital archive that future builders can use to learn how to rebuild and maintain these great machines. I feel that is important to capture this information now, in light of the fact that the number of experts is getting smaller each year. My hope is that this build and ride will encourage my generation and those following to get involved with the vintage motorcycle hobby.

Why A 1933 Harley-Davidson VL?


Aesthetically, the 1933 VL is a stunning machine. It still carries the lightweight look of an early motorcycle thanks to it's open rear fender and minimal options, but is just as roadworthy as its modern counterparts.  It features an iconic paint scheme which was only available for the 1933 model year and is arguably the best that has every come out of Milwaukee.  The finished motorcycle will have a universal appeal, drawing interest from history buffs and modern motorcyclist alike.

The V-series went into production in 1930 to replace the F-head V-twins which had powered Harley's for almost 20 years. This new side-valve powered motorcycle featured a number of modern improvements like an enclosed valve train, I-beam forged front forks, drop center rims, a duplex primary chain and many others. All of these combine to make a highly dependable motorcycle, capable of crossing the US.

Besides dependability, the V-series is also relatively fast for an antique machine. In 1933, the VLE model set an American production motorcycle speed record of 104 mph. This made them popular with police forces and the following footage taken in 1935 demonstrates their ability to reach speeds over 100 mph.


I don't plan on riding mine at those speeds, but this shows that a VL can handle speeds found on today's modern highways.

Current Progress



The project officially began at the end of November 2013 when I received a set of matched and titled 1933 VL engine cases.  My initial work centered around acquiring all the remaining engine parts and prepping them for rebuilding.  This task has been finished and the complete engine has been sent to a reputable machine shop for a total rebuild.  I next focused on the transmission, which started as an empty case but is now rebuilt and ready for installation.  


Building a rolling chassis was the next step in my build and after securing all the parts needed (frame, front end, wheels, etc), spent a good deal of time rebuilding and restoring everything back to factory specs.  I took advantage of some "new" technology, like powder coating, to give me the best finished product possible and opted for new parts for some of the crucial elements, like wheels and spokes, to increase safety and reliability.

Once the rolling chassis was together, the engine and transmission bolted right in and my parts pile was starting to look like a real motorcycle.


Assembling the rest of the motorcycle was actually pretty straightforward.  Between a handful of good photos and a couple books I was able to put everything together without issue.  I mostly ran into the problem of not having the right fastener and having to either order new parkerized bolts from Colony Machine or taking zinc bolts from the hardware store and parkerizing them myself.

Starting the bike for the first time revealed a number of problems with the engine, which set me back a few weeks.  Incorrect cam timing, sticking valves and leaking head gaskets all had to be addressed before the bike with start on the first kick.

Now things are running smoothly and I'm starting to put some miles on the engine and dial in the carburetor.


Article Listing

Online coverage of this build has been quite extensive and currently my articles can be found on 5 different websites.  I estimate that there will be upwards of 50 articles covering the entire build, which will make it the most well documented motorcycle restoration on the net.  Here is a current listing of articles I have completed so far and some basic information about the sites that host them. 

Riding Vintage: My personal site, it contains the most in depth articles on the build.

http://www.ridingvintage.com/2013/12/building-1933-harley-davidson-vl.html
http://www.ridingvintage.com/2013/12/building-1933-harley-davidson-vl-cam.html
http://www.ridingvintage.com/2013/12/building-1933-harley-davidson-vl-head.html
http://www.ridingvintage.com/2014/01/building-1933-harley-davidson-vl.html
http://www.ridingvintage.com/2014/02/building-1933-harley-davidson-vl.html
http://www.ridingvintage.com/2014/02/building-1933-harley-davidson-vl-baffle.html
http://www.ridingvintage.com/2014/02/building-1933-harley-davidson-vl-final.html
http://www.ridingvintage.com/2014/06/perry-ruiters-generator-rebuild-and-2.html
http://www.ridingvintage.com/2014/08/how-to-parkerize-motorcycle-parts.html
http://www.ridingvintage.com/2014/08/do-it-yourself-tools-for-rebuilding.html
http://www.ridingvintage.com/2014/08/building-1933-harley-davidson-vl.html
http://www.ridingvintage.com/2015/01/building-1933-harley-davidson-vl.html
http://www.ridingvintage.com/2015/01/building-1933-harley-davidson-vl-rear.html
http://www.ridingvintage.com/2015/01/building-1933-harley-davidson-vl-front.html
http://www.ridingvintage.com/2015/02/building-1933-harley-davidson-vl-front.html

Bikernet: This site is run by Keith Ball, former editor of Easy Riders Magazine. A well established site, it has been online for over 17 years.

http://www.bikernet.com/pages/Rebirth_of_an_American_Classic__The_Build_Begins.aspx
http://www.bikernet.com/pages/Rebirth_of_an_American_Classic_Case_Repairs.aspx
http://www.bikernet.com/pages/Rebirth_of_an_American_Classic__Transmission_Rebuild.aspx

HDForums: This is the most popular Harley-Davidson forum on the web and receives over 10,000,000 pageviews per month! I am the Vintage Editor for this site, which gives me a great deal of flexibility over its content.

http://www.hdforums.com/articles/1933-harley-davidson-vl-build-part-1/
http://www.hdforums.com/articles/1933-harley-davidson-vl-build-part-2/
http://www.hdforums.com/articles/harley-davidson-restoration-33-vl-transmission-rebuild/

Classic American Iron: This site is run by Buzz Kanter, editor of American Iron Magazine - The World's Best Selling Harley Magazine.

http://www.caimag.com/wordpress/2014/03/12/building-a-1933-harley-davidson-vl-engine-preparation/
http://www.caimag.com/wordpress/2014/04/24/building-a-harley-davidson-vl-transmission-rebuild/

Classic Harley Motorcycle and Info:  This site is run by Buzz Kanter, editor of American Iron Magazine - The World's Best Selling Harley Magazine.

http://classic-harley.info/?p=1789

Common Tread:  Part of powersports e-commerce giant Revzilla's online presence, this site carries a variety of articles on all aspects of motorcycling.

http://www.revzilla.com/common-tread/rebirth-of-an-american-classic-p1
http://www.revzilla.com/common-tread/rebirth-of-an-american-classic-p2

RideApart:  This site provides consumers with substantial, 21st century shopping and research tools to guide motorcycle purchases.

http://www.rideapart.com/articles/harley-davidson-vl-rebirth

Classic Chrome:  A radio show hosted by Buck Carson on the Road Hogs Radio Network.  I was interviewed about this project and my background in vintage motorcycles for a one hour broadcast.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/theroadhawgs/2015/05/07/the-road-hawgs-radio-network--classic-chrome-with-panhead-jims-1933-harley-vl



Advantages of Being a Sponsor


Sponsoring this project will provide a host of benefits for your company with the greatest advantage being in the large amount of online advertising that I will provide.  Your company's logo and weblink will be displayed on every online article posted across the five sites listed above.  This will amount to over 50 articles by the time the project is completed and these articles will be available online for many years to come, continuing to provide your company with advertising.  By spreading my articles across multiple websites, I've further insured that they will always be available for future vintage motorcycle enthusiasts.  Already this project is topping the Google search for "1933 Harley-Davidson VL" with 6 out of 10 listings linking back to my articles.  Further adjustments in keywords, tags, etc will also allow this project to dominate searches for more general terms like "Harley-Davidson Restoration" and "Harley-Davidson VL".  

By becoming a sponsor, you will benefit from increased web traffic from users who are actively searching for information on vintage motorcycles.  If you want to market your products or services to vintage motorcycle enthusiasts then this is exactly the type of web traffic that will help you achieve your goals.  Unlike traditional forms of online advertising, where you pay by the month or by the impression, your logo/weblink will be displayed for the life of these articles.  Taking in to account that I'm posting these articles on established websites, they should be available well into the future.

All donated parts, clothing, gear, etc will be reviewed at the completion of the trip in individualized articles.  Sponsors will be allowed to choose which venue they would like to use for publishing their review article, whether that be their own website or choosing from one of the print and digital options that I can provide.  The cross country ride has long been used as a way to validate the quality of motorcycle related products and I intend to continue that tradition with this ride.  

For sponsors that manufacture parts specifically for the V-series motorcycles, you'll get the added bonus of being mentioned directly in all articles describing the installation of your parts.  These articles will also include a "shopping list" which will list your website and the parts used, making it easier for prospective customers to order your parts.

Once the motorcycle is completed, it will be professionally photographed.  Those photos will be made available to sponsors for use in their own marketing campaigns. 

If you own a motorcycle dealership, independent shop, museum, etc that is located along the route, this motorcycle would make a great promotional piece for an event at your location. If time allows, I'd be glad to make a stop and answer questions for your customers during my ride across the country. Feel free to contact me to discuss the details of your particular case (panhead_jim@hotmail.com).

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