Motorcycle: Overhead Valve Twins - Hydraglide, 1949 -1957
Date: Sunday, October 31 @ 15:13:41 UTC
Topic: Motorcycle, Motorcycles, Motor Cycle
Hydraglide, 1949 -1957
For the 1948 model year, Harley-Davidson had unveiled its new Panhead engine, mating it to a revised "Wishbone" frame with characteristic "dog-leg" front downtubes. Within a year, it had been eclipsed by the first of Milwaukee's "Glide" models.
Although retaining a rigid rear end, the HydraGlide broke with the company's usual reliance on leading-link sprung forks. Instead, here was a Hog with a modern oil-damped telescopic front-end. As if to compensate for this fit of novelty, the Hydra persevered with a uniquely American hand-change gearbox until 1952 and even later as an option for true die-hards.
For the present, however, it was as close to modern as heavyweight Harleys would get. Billed with characteristic restraint as "the nearest thing to flying and as modern as a spaceship," the first HydraGlide was, in truth, only a relatively slight departure from the model that went before.
As was company tradition, a host of detail changes would follow year-on-year. Many of these would be cosmetic (the speedometer alone received an astonishing degree of attention), but most concerned the internal workings of the engine and chassis, making the final HydraGlide of 1957 very different from the first. It should be remembered, however, that in the American automotive industry in general, the 1950s and 1960s were characterized much more by developments in styling than in functional engineering. In essence, the Panhead engine comprised new cylinders and heads grafted on to the Knucklehead bottom end. The heads were now aluminium with hydraulic valve lifters (tappets), and internal oilways had replaced the Knuckle's external lines.
Like the Knucklehead it replaced, this new Panhead was produced in both 61- and 74-inch (989 and 1,207cc) versions, designated models E and F respectively. Six versions comprised the initial range: Model F Sport Solo, FL Special Sport Solo and FS Sidecar twin, with the designations repeated for the 61-inch motor. All featured four-speed transmission, while sidecar models had lower gearing and reduced compression ratios. At their launch, all sprung-fork Model Es cost $635, with the larger engine adding a mere $15 to the price. Within a year, the introduction of the HydraGlide had upped those figures by precisely $100. Just to be on the safe side, sprung-fork models — designated ELP and FLP — remained in the range for one transitional year.
Of literally hundreds of detail changes, the first major improvement came in 1950 when revised cylinder heads with larger ports added a claimed ten per cent more power. The 61-inch
Model E was dropped for 1953, by which time annual sales of the smaller
Panhead had slumped to below 1,000. The same year - the company's fiftieth anniversary - brought about Harley-Davidson's familiar "mid-series" bottom-end redesign. This included major changes to both crankcase halves as well as the relocation of the hydraulic lifters from top to bottom of the pushrods. A new "straight-leg" frame was brought in for 1954, followed by the FLH Super Sport model (the "H" stood for "hot") 12 months later, with gas-flowed heads and 8:1 compression ratios.
Even the FLH was no tyre-shredder, thoug, retaining the low-revving, high-torque virtues of every Milwaukee V-twin. These were very much machines in the American tradition, having ponderous steering, limited ground clearance, marginal brakes and hand gear change.
In terms of styling, the HydraGlide was pure 1950s, since so many modern Harley models echo its visual themes. Central to this was its low-slung profile with "Air-Flow" front and rear fenders (mudguards). A chrome-plated tubular steel front "safety guard" was offered as an option from 1950, with "HydraGlide" emblems available one year later — both mimicking those gracing the very latest FLs.
It had some early "innovations" — like black silencers and fork sliders — that did not last, but overall the Hydra-
Glide made an impact that is still very much with us today.
Engine: ohv V-twin
Capacity: 60.32 or 73.66cu in (989orl,207cc)
Transmission: 4-speed, hand change
Power: around 50/55bhp
Weight: 5601bs (254kg)
Wheelbase: 59 1/2 in (1,510mm)
Top speed: around 95mph (152kph)
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