For the past month or so, I've had a new tenant in my garage. Lady Death, as named by her previous keeper, is a 1975 Harley Davidson Super Glide FXE or more simply know as a Shovelhead (the name of the engine Harley use from 1966 through 1984.) She now rests, next to my 03 Road King Classic where she’s marked her spot with a steady drip of oil, the way all Shovelheads do. She is dirty, greasy, and rusty. She won’t start. Her dull black finish is a stark contrast to the mirrored chrome, waxed paint, and polished leather of The King. The duo reminds me of Beauty and the Beast, but something tells me Lady Death will live up to her name.
The Bike: I found her about 6 weeks ago at the Greenhouse Moto Cafe outside Asheville, NC. (Cool spot- definitely stop by if you’re in the area.) She was one of the countless bikes decorating the walls of the bar. I had been considering a project bike for a while and after a few beers, she checked all the boxes.
- Cheap – because this is my first big project
- Almost Running – because I’m not ready to tackle engine an rebuild
- Not Stock – because I’m morally opposed to chopping a survivor
- Something unique – because there are too many Sportsters
I paid $3500 for Lady Death. I’m told she just needs a new battery, fluids, flushed gas tank/carb, and a few bolts. She’s also got a bunch of aftermarket parts, like fuel tank and front-end, that aren’t to my taste. So I won’t feel guilty swapping those out. Highlights include a recent engine rebuild with gold-plated accents like pushrod tubes and bolts.
The Plan: Ultimately, I’d like to build an old-school chopper; rigid frame, springer front-end, jockey shift, upswept fishtail or cocktail shaker exhaust, peanut tank, drag bars etc. This won’t be my primary ride, so I’m not concerned with rideability. I’d also like to do as much work as possible myself. This means learning a lot of new skills along the way, like painting, wiring, and welding. This also means it won’t be a quick process.
Step 1: The first thing I plan to do is get it running. The battery, fluids, plugs, and loose bolts should be easy. The gas tanks will be a new challenge for me. The previous owner suggested draining and cleaning the tanks and carb bowl. A second opinion said high-octane racing fuel will burn out any build-up. I may just replace the tanks altogether. The mounting bracket on the right tank is broken and would require welding. The outside bottom of the left tank is rusted. And I don’t like the look of the gold bolts on the tank anyway. Since a used Shovelhead tank cost $100 on eBay, that may be the best solution for now.