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Tommy Goode’s 1950 Harley-Davidson Panhead

Custom Motorcycle Feature

Tommy Goode’s 1950 Harley-Davidson Panhead

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By Tom Johnson • Photos by Pam Proctor
Some of us just seem to gravitate towards the things we liked when we were young,” Tommy Goode responded when asked what led to his Panhead project. Wanting to build a low-slung Pan bobber with original parts, but having little luck finding them near his southern Arizona home, Tommy drove to the Long Beach swap meet in neighboring California. A potential treasure trove of vintage motorcycle parts, the event is known for uncommon items thought all but extinct. So it was for Tommy, who found exactly what he was looking for, in his terms: the “bones” of a Harley-based Panhead. Purple with silver flames, the 1950 FL was a “roller,” a basket case assembled just enough so that it could be rolled to a truck or trailer, but with any resemblance to a complete motorcycle superficial.

While Tommy had no extended tour plans for his bobber-in-the-making, he did want enough reliability to ride worry-free through Arizona’s desolate mountains. To that end, he chose Carl Olsen, of Carl’s Cycle Supply in Aberdeen, South Dakota, to rebuild the engine. Wanting “just a kick or three” to start the bike and roadworthy reliability, Tommy had Carl set up the essentially stock FL with points and a ’69 automatic-advance ignition timer. Also installed was a Linkert M74B, the classic Harley carburetor. The single significant deviation from stock was an Andrews J-grind camshaft. Only slightly more radical than the original FL part, the J-grind increases power throughout the RPM range without compromising the tractor-like torque that guarantees power on demand, ideal for reaching the next peak during those mountain jaunts Tommy had in mind.

While he admits to trying a Mikuni and finding its performance impressive, the M74B won out in the end. While it runs a tad rich in its 5,000′ mountain homeland, despite considerable tinkering on Tommy’s part, the Linkert starts with two kicks cold and seldom requires many more hot. Not bad, and few will argue that the brass-bodied M74B wins hands-down in terms of tradition.

The transmission is a ’48 four-speed from a first-year Panhead. Leaving close-ratio gears to the hotrodders, Tommy kept the inside stock, only substituting USA-made aftermarket replacement parts for worn-out originals. The primary drive is a BDL belt assembly, with quality belt drives seemingly a gift from above for vintage Harley riders. Take my word, you haven’t lived until you’ve wiggled your way underneath a hot, oily old Harley to adjust the primary chain by moving the transmission back. This requires readjusting the rear chain, too, of course, in a gravel parking lot. Admittedly, belts also require adjustment, but not nearly as often. A Barnett Scorpion clutch spins between the belt drive and transmission. Though the Scorpion performs flawlessly, noise is considerable, as with most dry clutches, enough so that Tommy may soon install primary covers.

Regarding the chassis, antique fans will already have noticed the “incorrect” 1954-57 straight-leg frame. In the case of Tommy’s bike, Mule Kicker, it came from a ’56. The two-piece gas tanks, which Tommy painted in a makeshift Visqueen spray booth inside his garage, are a combination of old and new. The left tank is original 1950 issue, the right an aftermarket reproduction. The vivid red paint is a Ford color called Toreador Red, while a Mustang inspired the white stripes.

A lifelong home mechanic, it took Tommy 13 months to turn the SoCal roller into a classic bobber. Most feature-bike owners should consider having their motorcycles chosen for a major magazine an honor, and with good reason. And in case you’re wondering about the bike’s name, Mule Kicker, as Marion, Tommy’s ever-supportive wife, chimed in to explain: “A mule will work tirelessly and without complaint for years, just for the pleasure of giving you one hard kick.” Those who “kick to ride and ride to kick” will require no further explanation. AIM 358

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