Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Harley Davidson VL History

In the late 1920s, Harley-Davidson was selling the model JD inlet-over-exhaust (inlet valve in the cylinder head and exhaust valve in the cylinder) V-twin in 61ci and 74ci capacities. A legendary machine today, it didn’t seem that way at the time. The JD, although sporting an excellent power-to-weight ratio and an ability to negotiate bad roads with aplomb, needed constant maintenance.

To improve reliability, Harley introduced a side-valve engine (with both valves in the cylinder). The first, 21ci (344cc) singles, appeared in the summer of 1925. Rugged and simple to maintain, they found favor in Harley’s then booming export market. The next step was a 45ci (737cc) V-twin, which showed up in July of 1928. Although it suffered some teething problems, most were worked out by December of that year.

In August 1929, Harley-Davidson took a deep breath, closed the door on the inlet-over-exhaust twins that had built the company’s reputation and brought out a new 74ci side-valve engine. These new V-twins had not been rigorously tested, and many broke down shortly after they were sold. In mid-October, Harley shipped replacement component kits to its dealers. The dealers had to eat the labor cost to retrofit new crankcases, flywheels, valve springs and clutch plates, but within a few months, sales of the new 74s began to improve.

The unreliability of the first 74s was shortly followed by another disaster — the Great Depression. From 18,036 machines sold in 1930, sales dropped to 10,407 in 1931, 7,218 in 1932 and bottomed out at 3,703 in 1933.

By 1934, things were a little better, and Harley proudly unveiled its lineup for the year. Art Deco styling was at its peak, and the 1934 Flathead is a beautiful example of this artistic movement. The VLD was H-D’s top of the line twin, with low-expansion aluminum alloy pistons, a Y-shaped intake manifold and 5:1 compression. The engine made 36 hp at 4,500rpm, and top speed was probably about 90mph.

Standard colors were Teak Red and Black, or Silver and Teak Red, with optional special order colors of Silver and Seafoam Blue, Orlando Orange and Black, and Olive Green and Black. In the summer of 1934, Harley advertised a new no-cost option of Copper Du Lux and Vermilion Red.

Like most bikes in 1934, the VLD had no rear springing and a 6-volt electrical system. Bumps on the road were softened by Harley’s patented “Ful-Floteing” seat spring. Shifting was via a 3-speed hand shift through a rocker foot-clutch that could be locked in place. A rider could bring a properly set up Harley Flathead to a stop, engage the clutch, put down both feet and fold his arms.