Custom Harley-Davidson Panhead bobber

by Greg Williams • photos by Mark Velazquez

Sitting at the bar, Jim Shortall and Tony Hendry were simply soaking in the high-octane atmosphere at the Broken Spoke Saloon in Daytona Beach. The Harley-Davidson bob-job they’d built together was, according to them, lost in a sea of other machines and some big-name builders.

So, when their names were called as winners of American Iron Magazine’s 2015 Editor’s Choice Award, they were stunned. “We didn’t realistically think we’d get anything and were pretty oblivious to the proceedings,” Jim explains. “When they announced our names, we almost fell off our barstools.”

About 12 years ago Jim met Tony, the owner of Seacoast Choppers in North Hampton, New Hampshire. Looking for someone to build a chopper project, Jim had been conducting Internet research and traveling around his New Hampshire area, stopping in and visiting various motorcycle shops. When he visited Seacoast Choppers, Tony had a project on the go that fit Jim’s ideas to a T.

The pair soon became friends, often riding together and talking about bikes and builds. While on a ride in 2012, Jim and Tony took a rest stop and began discussing a bobber. They wanted to build something light, with the center of attention being a strong, reliable, well-built Panhead engine.

“I went back to the shop and started pricing out parts, like a frame, engine, transmission, and fork, and I quickly got sticker shock,” Tony says.

Not long after, Jim stumbled across a Panhead-based machine that had been built years ago around a replica 1948 wishbone frame. It was for sale, and it was relatively inexpensive compared to what Tony had previously quoted, so Jim wrote the check.

The machine came looking like a stock Harley-Davidson, with reproduction front and rear fenders, split gas tanks, and wide oil bag. Tony got the bike up on the lift and pared it back so they could both see the bones of the machine.

“I wanted the bike to look like someone back in the 1950s or ’60s had built it in his garage in his spare time,” Jim says, continuing, “Something that looks old, but runs like a new bike.”

Tony adds, “With the Panhead that Jim bought, there was lots of good stuff to work with, including the frame, engine, transmission, forks, and wheels.” The frame was left as found. Tony didn’t cut or rake the neck and only added a few mounting tabs. To do this, he ground back some of the black powdercoat, welded on the tabs, and gave the modified areas a quick blast of black spray paint. One of the first parts put in place was the Moon oil tank with mounts manufactured by Fabricator Kevin.

Tony’s not sure if the springer forks are original Harley-Davidson or from an aftermarket supplier. They came chromed, though, and the finish was left alone. Rolling stock is a set of 16″ chrome wheels and hubs with standard drum brakes. Jim’s Panhead came with blackwall Coker tires, which were switched out to whitewalls to give the machine an older vibe.

Tony cut the aftermarket rear fender just above the hinge and also removed the side skirts to reveal more of the tire sidewall. In a workshop just down the road from Tony, Marc Rowe of Rowe Machine Co. added a narrow strip of round bar to give the fender a center rib.

“Marc was over at Tony’s one afternoon, and we all sat down and literally drew up that sissybar on a napkin,” Jim says. “Marc went back to his shop and turned that out for us.”

Many of the parts created for the Panhead bobber were intentionally left devoid of chrome or other finishes. Pieces such as the sissybar are in a raw state, as are the handlebars, foot controls, and the mount holding the Crime Scene Choppers brass headlight.

Marc helped make the handlebars by using the center section of a springer fork mount and bending some tubes into shape. With Jim sitting on the bike, the ideal downturn position was noted and Marc welded everything together. “I like that more aggressive handlebar location, where I’m leaning into the bike,” Jim explains.

A unique decision on the Panhead build was made when Jim returned from a swap meet with what appears to be a Wassell-style gas tank. Tony sat it on top of the frame, where the front tank mount actually lined up with the stock frame mount.

“We just wanted to see what it would look like on the bike, and we walked away and turned around,” Tony says. What they saw, with the tank perched high above the motor, inspired them, and that’s where it stayed.

“The bike is all about the motor, and we didn’t want a tank crowding the top of the pans,” Jim adds.

About that engine, it was sold to Jim as rebuilt. But Tony says it was sitting around leaking oil, and every time he attempted to seal it up a thread would strip out of a bolt hole. That prompted him to tear the engine down to the Truett & Osborn flywheels, adding Timesert thread inserts into every hole in the cases.

Marc at Rowe Machine Co. shaved 3/4″ off one flywheel to lighten up the bottom end, and he added connecting rods from an Evolution motor. The barrels were honed, and Tony recut the valve seats before buttoning everything back together and capping it all off with brass pan covers from Paughco. A black-bodied S&S Cycle Super E carburetor handles mixing fuel and air, and the exhaust was made up of scrap tubing bends lying around Seacoast Choppers’ shop. The only piece of billet on the bike is the rear exhaust hanger.

There’s not a lot of paint on the Panhead, but Bob Britt of North Reading, Massachusetts, applied the flat black to the tank and fender. Meanwhile, Ron Weed of Lowell, Massachusetts, laid down the pinstripes and USA graphics.

While the Panhead is technically Jim’s machine, he laughs and says Tony rides it more than he does. They both agree that the Panhead is comfortable to ride, with the Rich Phillips Cycles hand-tooled leather sprung seat providing a modicum of suspension.

“You can go for long rides without feeling beat to death,” Jim says, and Tony adds, “The engine is very smooth, without a lot of vibration, and that really helps.”

Although surprised by the Editor’s Choice nod, the pair was honored to have earned the recognition. Well deserved, we say. AIM 349

This custom Harley-Davidson Panhead was featured in Issue #349 of American Iron Magazine.