1954 straight downtube frame questions

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Bob Farr
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1954 straight downtube frame questions

#1

Post by Bob Farr » Fri Jun 17, 2011 9:35 pm

I've been riding Haleys ('74 FLH my newest) for a while but I'm new to Panheads. I recently acquired a 1954 FL, VIN number 54FL4978, from the PO who had it since '66. It has a straight-downtube frame, with production numbers "4D" stamped in the upper engine mount. My frame has the inverted "U" tool box mount and "XE-35F" cast into the headstock on the primary side. I've read that these were late-'54 production. Can anyone tell me how many of the straight-downtube frames were made in '54? How about the VIN range for these frames in '54, or the last VIN for '54FL's? Here are a few pictures:
Frame1.jpg
Frame4.jpg
Frame2.jpg
Frame5.jpg
Here's a little curiosity which I haven't seen mentioned yet. On the top of the seatpost casting, to the right of the post, is stamped "18122." Does this have any production significance? Was it added post-production by an end-user (perhaps a muncipality) for some reason? Picture:
Frame7.jpg
Thanks in advance for your help. I'll have a lot to learn about Pans during this restoration and I appreciate your input. Yes, I will order the usual books.

Bob Farr
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Bob Farr
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Re: 1954 straight downtube frame questions

#2

Post by Bob Farr » Fri Jun 17, 2011 9:39 pm

BTW, here's what it looked like a few years ago, before the owner's grandson disassembled it for some work. I have everything pictured but it's broken down to the bare frame now and stored in boxes.

Bob Farr
54Panfirstday3.jpg
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Re: 1954 straight downtube frame questions

#3

Post by RUBONE » Fri Jun 17, 2011 10:36 pm

The number on the side of the seatpost (18122) means the frame was returned to H-D for repair/straightening. It was stamped upon arrival and coded to the dealer so that it was sent back to the same dealer it came from. That is discussed in one of the frame threads on this forum. It also may indicate that the frame is not original to that bike if a dealer swapped it for a damaged one.
Most sources show about 4750 FL/FLE built in '54. The numbers were not large. And based on how numbering started the highest would be in the 57XX range. That would put yours only about 800 from the end and likely late enough for the straightleg frame. I don't know of any actual documentation showing when it first appeared. My own '54FLE 48XX is also in a straightleg frame but I don't know its history and don't know if it is the original. I got it as a basket case.
Robbie

1950Panhead
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Re: 1954 straight downtube frame questions

#4

Post by 1950Panhead » Sat Jun 18, 2011 2:50 am

The 4D is April 1954, the last five months (or more) of these frames.
54 VIN 54FL1001 to 54FL5757.

Bob Farr
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Re: 1954 straight downtube frame questions

#5

Post by Bob Farr » Sat Jun 18, 2011 10:09 am

Thank you for the responses gentlemen. They were very helpful.

Bob Farr

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Re: 1954 straight downtube frame questions

#6

Post by Speeding Big Twin » Sun Jun 19, 2011 5:46 am

Welcome to the forum, Bob. For 1954, the highest factory-stamped FL serial number I have a clear photo of shows 52++. And I have clear photos showing two factory-stamped FLEs numbered in the 5600s. A third FLE photo shows 57++ and it may be factory-stamped although the picture is a bit blurry. But I cannot speak definitely regarding the frames of any of those four bikes.

And with absolutely no offence meant, because you stated that you’re new to Panheads I have to ask if you know what a factory-stamped 1954 serial number looks like. Eric

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Re: 1954 straight downtube frame questions

#7

Post by Speeding Big Twin » Sun Jun 19, 2011 6:01 am

1950Panhead wrote:54 VIN 54FL1001 to 54FL5757.
I'd like some clarification please regarding your mention of 54FL1001:

1. Are you indicating that the first general production Panhead for model year 1954, regardless of model type, was number 1001? And if so, why do you not think it was number 1000?
2. Or, by stating that there was a 54FL1001, are you indicating that the first Panhead for that model year, which would have been number 1000, was an FLE? And if so, how do you know that? 8) 8) Eric

Bob Farr
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Re: 1954 straight downtube frame questions

#8

Post by Bob Farr » Sun Jun 19, 2011 9:51 am

Speeding Big Twin wrote: *** And with absolutely no offence meant, because you stated that you’re new to Panheads I have to ask if you know what a factory-stamped 1954 serial number looks like. Eric
No offense taken Eric, I appreciate the help. The VIN number 54FL4978 appears on the title (issued to the previous owner in '66) and is stamped on the left case between the cylinders and above the timing hole plug. The belly numbers match each other and are 154-4696 (though they're a bit hard to photograph at the moment). Do these appear to be factory stamped numbers? What can be deciphered from them?

Thanks,

Bob
VIN1.jpg
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1950Panhead
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Re: 1954 straight downtube frame questions

#9

Post by 1950Panhead » Sun Jun 19, 2011 2:15 pm

Eric,

It was a beautiful autumn day in the fall of 53, we had just come back from lunch at the restaurant down the street when I saw the engine man stamp the first 54 engine. I remember it clearly... he was talking if he should stamp the first engine 1000 or 1001. After a bit he said it's a beautiful day, I'm going with 1001 this year and then he stamped 54FL1001. And now, 58 years later, I have come to tell you about it.

The above is fiction. We had this same discussion a while back. Here is a question for you. From 48 to 59 have you seen a vin 1000? That would be 12 bikes to choose from.
Thanks for posting on the board, have not heard from you for awhile.

Jerry

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Re: 1954 straight downtube frame questions

#10

Post by Speeding Big Twin » Mon Jun 20, 2011 7:36 am

Cheers, Bob. I can't see any problems with your serial number. All the characters appear to be the usual types for a 54 Pan. 54 is model year, FL indicates 74ci OHV high compression and the last four characters represent sequential production.

Your belly numbers also sound okay in that they follow the usual format for 1954. The first character (1) in the belly numbers is a code number and indicates a 74ci OHV and the next two characters represent the year the cases were machined/line-bored. The last four characters represent sequential production of the case halves.

I expect the two 4s in the belly number are different to each other. The year 4 is probably a certain sans serif type with a certain style of closed top and the sequence 4 is probably a certain sans serif type with an open back. So I expect neither of them will be the type of 4 used in your serial number. But that is okay for 1954. The 6s and 9 in the belly number will probably be a certain fully rounded style, as opposed to the straight-back 9 in your serial number, but that is also normal procedure for 54 Panheads. Eric

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Re: 1954 straight downtube frame questions

#11

Post by Speeding Big Twin » Mon Jun 20, 2011 8:05 am

G'day, Jerry. I think the discussion we had was in a thread titled Cylinder casting dates. Back then I mentioned that Herbert Wagner had posted on FlatheadPower in 2007 with some info about serial numbers and that he gave some number info in the winter 2009 issue of The Antique Motorcycle. I also pointed out that his mention in TAM was slightly different to what he said on FP. But it seems you and I were then only talking about numbers for the 1960s.

Wagner covered some ground going back to very early years but I’ll stay specifically with 1948–59 for this paragraph. His info comes from Harley model layout sheets where it clearly states that until 57 (meaning 48–56 for now), motor numbers for road models began with number 1000. But for 1957 the numbering system was changed so for 57–59 the first engine assembled in each model series was 1001.

My answer to your question for me is no, from 48 to 59 I haven’t seen a VIN 1000. But I believe Herbert Wagner partly because of what he says about the Harley model layout sheets. I have a copy of the article he did for TAM, which included a photo of a pre-48 VIN 1000. Eric

Bob Farr
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Re: 1954 straight downtube frame questions

#12

Post by Bob Farr » Mon Jun 20, 2011 9:13 pm

Speeding Big Twin wrote:Cheers, Bob. I can't see any problems with your serial number. All the characters appear to be the usual types for a 54 Pan. 54 is model year, FL indicates 74ci OHV high compression and the last four characters represent sequential production.

Your belly numbers also sound okay in that they follow the usual format for 1954. The first character (1) in the belly numbers is a code number and indicates a 74ci OHV and the next two characters represent the year the cases were machined/line-bored. The last four characters represent sequential production of the case halves.

I expect the two 4s in the belly number are different to each other. The year 4 is probably a certain sans serif type with a certain style of closed top and the sequence 4 is probably a certain sans serif type with an open back. So I expect neither of them will be the type of 4 used in your serial number. But that is okay for 1954. The 6s and 9 in the belly number will probably be a certain fully rounded style, as opposed to the straight-back 9 in your serial number, but that is also normal procedure for 54 Panheads. Eric
Thanks for the very informative post Eric. You were right on all accounts: the "4" was a different font in each instance, as were the "6" and "9". I cleaned up the cases a bit and dragged them out in the sun for some pictures:
Enginecasenumbers1.jpg
Enginecasenumbers2.jpg
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1950Panhead
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Re: 1954 straight downtube frame questions

#13

Post by 1950Panhead » Tue Jun 21, 2011 12:51 am

Eric,
I did not know about these documents Herbert found, I'm guessing in Harley's archive.
There are 12 years of knuckleheads and 12 years of U series bikes for 24 bikes.
Have you seen a 1000 vin in either of these series?
Jerry

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Re: 1954 straight downtube frame questions

#14

Post by Speeding Big Twin » Wed Jun 22, 2011 3:06 am

Bob, your belly numbers look good to me. They are facing in the usual direction for a Panhead and all the characters look the usual types for 1954. The type of year 4 you have was also used in that position for 1964, and it was used in the decade position for 1948-49. The other 4 was more widely used, and in the sequence portion it shows up in belly numbers as early as around 1953. But it was used in the decade position even earlier, appearing there in belly numbers on Flatheads and Knuckleheads from 1941 through at least part of 1946.

Harley used at least five different 4s in belly numbers from 1925 through 1974. Eric

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Re: 1954 straight downtube frame questions

#15

Post by Speeding Big Twin » Wed Jun 22, 2011 3:37 am

Jerry, some of the info obtained by Wagner came directly from Harley factory workers including guys who worked in motor and final motorcycle assembly and from one guy who stamped in the numbers.

Wagner said the layout sheets included info such as models and model numbers, motor numbers, and frame numbers. (I've also read elsewhere about early frame numbers and it seems they were used around 1916-27.)

Wagner also stated: "I should point out that both the 1000 start and 1001 start were for normal production models: JD, VL, EL, UL, FLH, XL, etc." (Obviously Wagner's reference there to the 1001 start relates to the change in procedure for 1957.)

And he found another mention elsewhere regarding the 1000 start. It was in the handbook "Q&A" by your "Uncle Frank." (Revised Army Edition 1945), p. 177, and again Wagner quoted: "All Harley-Davidson motor numbers start off a new season with 1000."

Getting back to the photo I mentioned in The Antique Motorcycle, it was a 46 WL. And Palmer mentions a prototype with 41WLD1000 in his book. However, I cannot read the number in Palmer's book. And some of the info contained in some of his captions and caption headings is incorrect so I cannot rely on what is stated there.

Now to your question about Knuckles and the U-series. For the latter, I haven't seen a 1000 VIN. Palmer mentions a prototype with 41ULH1000 but again I cannot read the number in his book photo and again I cannot rely on the caption.

For Knuckleheads, Palmer mentions a prototype with 37EL1000 but once more I cannot confirm his info.

I've seen one Knucklehead VIN 1000. It's a photo from prototype 40TA1000 (trike) and the number is readable.

The only other VIN 1000 I've seen is in a factory photo of a V-series Flathead. Its clutch lever rod is partly in the way but most of the model letters can be made out and the number 1000 is readable. Eric

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