Alleyway Kustoms Fishy 1978 Electra Glide
By Greg Williams • Photos by Steven Spoons
While some reading this might think a 1978 FLH isn’t that old, it’s still very much a vintage bike.
James “Fish” Alcorn of Alleyway Kustoms in Jacksonville, Florida, is one who appreciates 1970s-era Milwaukee-made iron, especially the Electra Glide highway cruisers. But more than anything, what he enjoys most is taking old Shovelheads and refining the lines with H-D design cues from the 1940s and 1950s.
Case in point is the custom 1978 FLH he put together for Scott Hale of Indiana. Scott found Alleyway’s web site, and contacted Fish about building a cruiser based on something older, but he wanted the machine to run like new.“Scott had been riding a Triumph drag bike,” Fish says. “He’d ride the bike out, and have to drag it back home. He wanted something he could get out on and enjoy for the better part of a day in relative comfort.”
Scott called at the right time because Fish had just purchased this particular 1978 FLH Electra Glide. The Shovelhead was barely running, but regardless of the engine’s condition, it was decided the machine would work as the basis for Scott’s cruiser. After a quick conversation about paint colors, James was left to do what he liked as he overhauled the Shovelhead. In fact, Scott didn’t even get to see a photo as the project progressed. He wanted to be surprised.
Fish got underway by taking the Shovelhead completely apart. Up front, the fork lowers were polished and rebuilt with fresh internals. The stock hub was treated to new bearings and laced up to a replacement 16″ rim with spokes from the V-Twin catalog. For stopping power, Fish installed an upgraded GMA single-piston caliper to squeeze the rotor that came with the project bike. Scott’s a relatively tall fellow at 6’1″, and comfort was paramount, so an old set of late-1960s Shovelhead handlebars were clamped into place.
Lighting the way down the road is a stock Harley-Davidson headlight, but the distinctive nacelle is an aftermarket replacement. Everything about the FLH is meant to be simple, so a decision was made to delete indicator lights and the clunky handlebar controls that once housed the switchgear. Custom Chrome provided utilitarian replacement controls, and the handlebar ends are capped by Biltwell grips.
Fish closely inspected the stock frame for stress cracks and other damage, and found it to be in good condition. No tabs were shaved, and Fish simply painted the chassis black. However, to give the FLH a lower stance the lower shock mounts were cut and relocated approximately 1″ farther back on the swingarm and 11″-long shock absorbers went in place. Overall, the modification lowered the bike 1-1/2″ at the rear — no alterations were made to alter the front ride height.
Bringing up the back end is the stock hub, which has also been laced with spokes and a new rim from V-Twin. The rear brake is the stock Harley-Davidson caliper that has been cleaned and powderoated black. The front and rear tires are Shinko whitewalls, and they give the Shovelhead a distinctive flair.
The front fender is a swap meet find. It was modified to accept the older-style trim and the 1940s marker light that came from the V-Twin catalog. The stock rear fender was cleaned and straightened, and a Custom Chrome tombstone taillight was combined with a Paughco plate holder. The gas tanks were sourced at a swap meet, and Fish reinforced the mounting tabs and pressure-tested the vessels to ensure they wouldn’t leak. Any pinholes were TIG-welded closed.
In his initial conversation with Fish, Scott told him he didn’t want any purple, pink, or fluorescent colors on his motorcycle. That was okay with Fish. He elected a two-tone Root Beer Brown and black scheme separated by a cream pinstripe. Fish sprays all of his own paint, and the entire job, including the ten coats of clear, was done in house.
Fish is also a talented leather worker, and the vintage-inspired, pogo-mounted saddle covered in hand-tooled cowhide is all his work. The shorter skirt is finished with brass rivets, and the quality of his product shows with the double-stitched seams. Built on an aftermarket pan, Fish offers similar saddles in his online store.
Atop the gas tank sits an aftermarket cat’s eye dash, and it features oil pressure and neutral warning lights and the key switch. The electric start button is mounted below the stock battery box.
To give Scott the reliability he was looking for, Fish took the engine apart to the cases. There was no play at the connecting rod big ends, and the bottom end was deemed healthy. However, the cylinders were given a hone, and new rings were added to the 0.30-over S&S Cycle pistons that were already in use.
Fish sent the heads to Stephen Questell at Push Rod Motors in Gainesville, Florida. In his care, the heads were completely reworked with replacement guides, valves, and springs. A fresh coat of paint was applied to the cylinders, and the heads and rocker boxes were cleaned and polished before being assembled with new gaskets and seals. A S&S Super E carburetor went on the intake manifold and 36″ Paughco straight drag pipes take care of the exhaust. To channel the Shovelhead’s power, the stock transmission was disassembled and inspected. It was in decent condition, but the bearings were replaced before reassembly. The stock sprocket ratio is a 23-tooth front and 51-tooth rear; James altered this with a 24 front and 48 rear. “That helps it run down the highway at today’s speeds with a decent rpm,” Fish says.
He should know, because after the Shovelhead was all buttoned up and running, James added 500 miles to the bike. Afterward, a torque wrench was reapplied to every nut and bolt, and the engine and gearbox lube was drained off and replaced with fresh fluid.
“When we unveiled the Shovelhead, Scott was smiling from ear to ear, and he’s since put hundreds of miles on the bike up in Indiana,” Fish says. Which makes sense, because the machine is exactly what he wanted — an old-time Harley-Davidson that runs like a top. AIM