We were recently approached by a friend who asked us if we might be interested in restoring a 1958 Harley Davidson motorcycle. Actually, it's a bit more complicated than that, because it seems our friend's brother started the restoration about 18 years ago. He disassembled the entire bike, sent the engine, wheels and transmission off to be rebuilt and had the frame and all brackets powder coated. The gas tanks and fenders were professionally painted a nice two-tone blue/cream color.
Sound good so far? Well, aside from the fact that he didn't mark a single part or make notes or take photos, all the work looked very nice. However, the shop that did the engine and transmission work didn't remind him that the parts were only lightly lubricated and should be assembled and oiled relatively soon, not sit around for 18 years. The brother gave up on the project, saying that he was short on time and had no experience in these things.
Meanwhile, our friend bought the project from his brother 4 years ago and the bike (and assorted boxes of stuff) languished in one of his bedrooms (yea, we know!) He decided that he'd probably never complete the project himself and was recently married ("get that motorcycle out of the bedroom!") and asked what it would take to sort it out and put it together. After further discussion we agreed to take on the project and share with you as it happens.
With both wheels off the ground we can attack the project easily.
First, we got out our engine dolly (a handmade cart with steel caster wheels) and screwed some spare 2x6 pieces on top to make a build-up stand for the bike. This allows us to sit next to it while working and to easily roll it around wherever we want (bear in mind that the finished bike weighs a staggering 850 pounds).
Next, we decided that it would be stupid to assemble the '58 Harley and assume that it will run fine when it's all together. Nah, that's not the right way to take on a project of this scope, so the first thing to do was to manually turn over the engine and transmission to ascertain that everything moved properly. It didn't! In fact, it didn't move at all!
The clutch assembly is removed and the discs taken out of the housing. Note the multiple studs on the primary chang drive.
We didn't know what parts might be frozen and also didn't want to force anything. After all, the motor and transmission had been professionally rebuilt, or so we were told, and we didn't want to damage the new bearing surfaces. Therefore, we decided to separate the transmission from the motor by removing the clutch and primary chain and then see if each could be turned independently.
With the chain removed we were able to turn the transmission's main shaft with our hands, but with some difficulty. A removal of the transmission top cover revealed new gears and shifter, and a spotlessly clean interior. There was no oil in it!
That explained the difficulty turning the main shaft, so we filled the transmission with synthetic gear oil and got everything spinning nice and free. We also took the time to make sure the sequential shifter mechanism was set up correctly. It was, so we buttoned up the transmission case and moved to the motor.
The timing gears are new, but dry. We lubricated them with assembly lube before putting the cover back on.
Using a huge, 3-foot long pipe wrench we attempted to turn the motor's crankshaft on the primary chain side. It wouldn't budge, and we didn't want to jump on the end of the wrench to free it up so we opened up the timing gear case on the other side and also removed the front cylinder head. Naturally, we found no lubrication in the interior parts of the motor, so we began our freeing-up exercise with liberal squirting of motor oil and spray lubricant.
Once we were satisfied that the motor had been assembled correctly and that there was simply too much friction to easily turn it — and the parts had some lubrication, finally — we came up with a clever way to get it spinning. While one of us pushed gently on the pipe wrench the other tapped on the front cylinder's piston with a rubber hammer. Within a few seconds the parts broke free and the motor began spinning nicely. In fact, we were able eventually to turn the crankshaft with two hands.
Note the lifter caps for the pushrods.
Now we could start with the assembly/restoration process. We decided to get the motor assembled and running first, and then get all the remaining components ready for the buildup. The motor's external pushrods and shielding tubes weren't installed nor were the tubes restored, so we cleaned and powder coated them a gloss black. We then located the carburetor in a box of parts and realized that getting the motor running would take a bit longer than originally anticipated.
The carburetor was a mess! We'd have to spend quite a bit of time restoring it, and that's where we'll resume in the next article. Here's a look at what faced us.
Listen to Old Time Mountain Music at