Motorcycle: Twins - Servi-Car, 1932 - 1974
Date: Sunday, October 31 @ 23:09:03 UTC
Topic: Motorcycle, Motorcycles, Motor Cycle
Servi-Car, 1932 - 1974
Although we think of them now as kings of style even when carrying the Highway Patrol along California's freeways, in their earlier years Harley-Davidsons were no strangers to humble workaday vehicles. As early as 1913, the range included a "Forecar" delivery van, the Model 9-G, essentially a 61-inch F-head twin with front-mounted luggage box. Sidecars and sidecar accessories had been an integral part of the Milwaukee range since 1916, with a huge sidecar production facility in operation at Juneau Avenue since 1926.
With the Wall Street Crash and its aftermath placing a particular premium on cheap, dependable commercial transport, it was perhaps no surprise that 1932 marked the debut of one of the strangest — and most enduring — Harleys ever produced. The Model G Servi-Car was a more-or-less conventional V-twin from the saddle forward, but the rear looked for all the world like an ice-cream van. Although it resembled a car rear axle crudely grafted on to a conventional bike (and topped off with a metal and fibreglass boot (trunk), the Servi-Car was a practical and cheap working vehicle which found a steady market in Depression-torn America.
Some suggested that it was inspired by Far East rickshaw-style machines; however, the Servi-Car was initially intended for the recovery of broken-down cars — hence the tow-bar and huge 60 amp/hour battery fitted as standard. Perhaps surprisingly, given the fraught cir*****stances of the time, it combined both sound design and solid engineering - so tough and enduring in fact that it remained in production from 1932 until 1974. From the outset, it employed a purpose-built frame with chain drive from the gearbox turning a car-type rear axle complete with differential. It enjoyed conventional drum brakes in each wheel, plus a parking brake mounted inside the rear axle housing. Power came from the same 45.3cu in (742cc) flathead V-twin fitted to the Model R. It may have been sluggish but it was undeniably dependable.
The first examples had the same three-speed gearbox as the roadster solo but within two years a reverse gear (not to mention contemporary art-deco styling motifs) had been added. By this time, the three-wheeler range was popular with police, garages, motoring-organizations and small businesses alike and comprised no fewer than five models. In fact it was almost everything such enterprises needed: practical, reliable and cheap.
Above all, it was easy to drive, so there was usually need for only a minimum of operator training. One clever and user-friendly touch was the adoption of the same 42in (1,067mm) wheel track as the typical car -inexperienced Servi-Car drivers would not need to forge their own ruts in mud and snow. At its introduction, it was priced at just $450; by 1969 this had risen to $2,065.
With such a lengthy life-span, inevitably there were other changes too numerous to list. A radical styling change was introduced in 1937, echoing the new 61-inch Knucklehead (indeed the factory briefly dabbled with a prototype shaft-driven Knucklehead Servi-Car). This included a white-faced speedometer calibrated to 100 mph (161kph), which would have been terrifying were it not at least 35mph (56kph) over the machine's capabilities.
At the same time, the revised flathead twin from the Model W provided the power - and would continue to do so for the rest of the Servi-Car's days. Electric start was finally added in 1964 and rear disc brakes toward the end of 1973, at which time annual sales still exceeded 400. Volume production ofServi-Cars ceased after 1973, although some were made to order the following year.
The Model G's most obvious drawback - the absence of heater and roof — had finally brought about its demise, although it could still be seen in service with United States' police forces well into the 1990s.
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