Vintage 1948 Harley-Davidson Panhead

Nothing captures the heart of a motorcycle enthusiast more than a crusty old Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Period. They are things of beauty that conjure dreams of the adventure and romance of earlier times when cycling was in its infancy, and they absolutely captivate us with their honesty and integrity. Motorcycles of all types, in original condition, have been leading the pack from a value standpoint for the last number of years, and their newly earned status in our hobby speaks volumes about how far we have come in the collecting world. By original condition, I mean specifically original-paint machines that still wear the factory enamel laid down on the assembly line in Milwaukee, when the bike was brand-new, as well as still retain their original chrome plating, original parkerized parts, original wiring harness, original leather seat and saddlebags, original rubber parts, original tires, original nuts and bolts, etc. Obviously, the range of value varies by condition, the better the paint and plating, and the more accessories and add-ons, the more highly regarded they are by collectors. Look at any eBay auction for old machines, or comb the web for motor­cycle auctions across the country; you will see the large spread between the restored bikes and the original, unrestored machines.

When I coined the term rustoration back in the 1990s here in American Iron Magazine, mainstream collectors were catching onto the idea that a rough, unrestored motorcycle garnered more attention and enthusiasm at meets and shows than its restored brethren. The dignity of age and the unmistakable patina of an original bike spoke volumes about its history and lineage, and an awakening of the preservation movement was at hand. This was true not only in motorcycling, but also in the car collecting hobby and across other disciplines of collecting.

Of course, as with all trends, there are always leaders. In the antique motorcycle circles, my old friend Joe Barber, founder of the 74 Shop, understood the value or these rare gems early on, as did “Doc” and John Pat and other old-timers from the AMCA. Thank goodness they collectively saved many a motorcycle from undergoing what was the trend in the 1970s through the 1990s of restoration and overrestoration of our historical time pieces.

Our featured 1948 Harley-Davidson Panhead is another example of a rescued machine that dodged the restorers’ onslaught during that period. Owned by David Monahan of Forest Lake, Minnesota, it has a wonderful history that is as interesting as the bike itself.

Apparently, the original owner was a returning World War II veteran who established himself after the war in a job that paid well and allowed him to pursue his passion of cycling. He bought the bike new in 1948 and rode the wheels off it. He met and courted his wife on it, and they spent many a relaxing day touring the countryside two-up with their knees in the breeze! They eventually settled down into married life. Kinda … it seems every chance he had, he took the liberty of disappearing on his motorcycle til one day the ultimatum came. So in response to his wife’s demands, the bike was parked out in the yard under a tree in plain sight of the kitchen window where she could keep an eye on it and him. There it sat for 40 years, slowly sinking into the ground until the frame rested in the dirt.

Finally, sometime in the late 1990s, the old biker passed away, and his wife sold the bike in a yard sale/estate sale to an antique dealer. The dealer recognized the marketing opportunities the motorcycle held and put it in his antique shop window, where it sat there for another 10 years. David learned of its existence, bought it in 2008, and began its rustoration. He had a lot of talent and practice in all things motorcycle related; as he ran his own restoration shop called Perfect Timing for over 20 years and had restored over 50 machines in his shop by that time. His goal was to preserve the bike in its original state but perform a restoration on it so that it would be a ridable machine. He would leave the wonderful patina but return the insides to factory standards. The motor and transmission were locked up tight; every internal part needed to be replaced or reworked. It was, internally, the worst bike he’d ever seen or worked on. Although capable of doing all the work on the motor and tranny himself, he chose to have his buddy, Jim Long of Jim Long Motors, rebuild the engine and transmission. The complete disassembly of the rest of the machine followed, and attention to every part was mandated. David had a set of old Knucklehead rims that were laced in place of the rotten ones, but everything else is original to the bike plus a few add-ons he had in his collection (saddlebags, balls on springer, shift knob). A Bruce Linsday OE-style wiring kit complete with cloth covers was added and retains the original look and feel. The sheet metal was cleaned and treated to loving care: washing, waxing, etc. I’m told if you stand on your head and look under the fenders you can see what remains of the original paint! What really impressed me was that all the little things were restored to perfection — the throttle is tight and responsive, the brakes have no play in them, the shifting is tight and clean — all signs of a master craftsman at work!

In the past, David’s restoration work has delivered to owners AMCA Junior, Senior, and Winners Circle awards, and probably the highest compliment possible in the antique motorcycle world is that one of his restorations, a red 1947 Knucklehead was featured on the cover of Bruce Palmer III’s world-famous book How to Restore Your Harley-Davidson, the absolute bible of antique motorcycle restoration. That, my friends, is a major accomplishment!

Great job, David, in preserving another Milwaukee marvel for the ages. AIM

Words by Jim Babchak, photos by Buzz Kanter

Story as published in the July 2011 issue of American Iron Magazine.

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For any question or info about vintage Harleys visit Classic Harley Motorcycles & Info

Comments

  1. Sandra Carlile says:

    I have a 1954 pan head that I have been looking after ,maybe ready to sell if somebody has £ 20000.00
    All original with history imported into the UK
    in 2011 from blue ridge mountains of Virginia.
    Now in Guildford area 30 miles from London.
    Has 4 speed gear box.photos available
    Complete rebuild in 1980

  2. After much consideration, I have discovered what should fairly be done with this motorcycle, with due justice to Mr. Monoham.
    I “tribute bike” to that original owner, responsible for survivor status. But, what may be called a retrostoration, typical 60’s, with manufacturing standards of 2013!
    Let us say, a Mondo Porras long nose springer, still in business, better than average in the old days, very good for the open, winding roads next to a Twin-Cam now, an old AEE seat pan re-covered with fine leather, we cannot do much, those “heavy” offset rockers that are still in use on new Harley’s since 36, but how about beefing down the flywheels by making them the same width. We have that timeless wishbone, why not paint it gold metalflake, a tombstone taillight of course, “coffin” tanks surprisingly can still be had, front and rear chrome cut-down tin, Triumph, and a must have H-D cruise-drive 6 speed.
    Life does not get any better than that? Does not that make all of your mouth’s water?

  3. Rick Politi says:

    Stainless, silver, and chromium continue to confuse the run of the mill, everyday common folk who think that motorcycles are just dangerous, and nothing else. Well, even the everyday Joe would not have the black front crash bar, if a rusty chrome one was in the basement.

  4. A single photograph does indeed speak louder than words, but words that live bring life back to any picture. I “suggest” that the veteran purchaser got a job with Dupont, in Wilmington Delaware, where he learned with his fellow workers how the “chemistry” of rubbers and polymers was changing the face of the American home forever. His wife was worried, he did not smile as much as usual, and said that others smiled much too often, he needed something to bring back the smile that his wife would recognize. The new model motorcycle did that for a while, but then he realized that what was most important to him was not the motorcycle, but was the independence that it represented. So, he never rode it again.

  5. Steve brown says:

    Yep,,,,,, I agree,,,, I have owned my 1948 EL for 31 years now(& ride it weekly)(stock machine)………..

  6. Steve brown says:

    Well,,,,lucky me,,,,,, some 33 years ago,,,, I picked up a 1948 “EL” pan (mostly stock)… …..(all correct numbers)……
    From a farmer in Visalia Ca… $2.200.00. Still have it,,,,, & love it!!!!!!!

  7. Matthew Marsh says:

    The 1948 Panhead is my dream bike, One of my uncles used to have one and started it up for me, he said it is a dream to ride and one of the most amazing classinc motorcycles he has ever had, I personally think its one of the best motorcycles I have ever seen and by the time I can get a proper bike I’m hoping to get one, I used to think that the old Triumphs were beautiful and then I was reading a motorcycle magazine and saw the panhead and I was so shocked that I have never heard of it before, I was only 8 then, now I’m 17 I can’t wait until I get my proper bike, hopefully it will be a 48 Panhead :D

  8. jamie whitbread bulling says:

    cool harley im trying to get a project harley but can’t find one i need help if you no of anyone please email me

  9. Harley Davidson 1948 Panhead is a marvel, truly a dream ride. Loved the article, as soon as I saw this model i was struck with the rareness of its culture embedded in so many years of running since its introduction decades ago. The design is just amazing, I’m at a loss of words… Hopefully, I’ll get my hand in one of these even if I have to build one on my own. Thanks for sharing this story!

  10. im from cuba , my father haved 1948 harley davidson same like this , but red color is a beatiful motorcicle , he keep for 50 years , and runign soo good, today is in perfect condition. thanks.

  11. Bruce Marvel says:

    I met Dave Monoham this year at the 2012 Sunshine Chapter Meet in Florida. I am currently restoring a 48 and Dave had a lot of advise for me. We exchanged cell phone numbers. The problem is that I lost my phone on my ride back to PA and don’t know how to get in touch with him. He has my number, if anyone knows him, please have him call me. He’s a great guy.
    thanks, Bruce Marvel PA.

  12. You cant get any better then the panhead All these high dollar choppers Dont have shit on those classic Panhead

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