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A brief look at the Ironhead Sportster

Posted on July 14 2017

Up until probably 10 years ago only the hardened Harley enthusiast showed any real love for the humble Ironhead Sportster. Wow has that changed! The Iron Head Sporty is now in huge demand with builders and enthusiasts across Australia and the rest of the world. Produced by Harley-Davidson from 1957 to 1985, the Ironhead Sportster is a great choice for a chopper, bobber, cafe racer, custom or classic motorcycle build. Flexibility of the unit construction V-twin motor and basic frame are nearly limitless. Late 50s to late 60s Sportys are harder to come by due to their low production numbers. Only a small number made their way to Australia making them now extremely hard to find. These were probably the coolest of all Sportsters in Stock Factory trim. Harley ironhead Many Sportster enthusiasts agree that the 1965 Iron Head XLCH is probably what they consider the ultimate Sportster. 1965 saw 12-volt electrics, was equipped with the wider front drum for better stopping power. It was also the last year for the classic beautifully shaped "horseshoe" oil tank. Below - For the purists early magneto and horseshoe oil tank equipped Sportsters are considered to be the most desirable. Any hard core purist would be horrified at the thought of a fellow enthusiast chopping one up! Harley Ironhead Below - Many Sportster fans agree that 1969 saw the last of the real XLCH’s Harley Sportster The 1970 model year was the last year of the magneto ignition, and also for the rubber "Gator" fork boots. Below - 1971 saw the introduction of the newer engine cases and was the last year of the 900cc engine. The external right side magneto was no longer there and it was also the second and final year for the fibreglass “boat tail” seat and tail section. Genuine boat tails are rare and now very desirable by collectors. Harley Sportster Boattail Harley Ironhead 1971 also saw the introduction of the wet clutch as opposed to the dry clutch in all previous models. Below - 1972 saw Harley up the Sporty to 1000cc to try and keep up with the big bikes from Japan. Boring the cylinders 3/16" took displacement from 883cc to 997.3cc (advertised as 1000cc). The increase also gave a more optimum bore-to-stroke ratio, resulting in a smoother running engine. Now with more power top speeds of 110 mph and faster was at the hands of the Sportster rider with Quarter-mile times dropping into the mid-thirteen's. Ironhead Drag Bike In 1973 Harley finally removed the speedo drive from the bottom of the cases and ran it from the front wheel. The result was extra meat that beefed up the corner the gearbox that had previously been the Sportsers Achilles heel. Many early Ironheads made their way to local drag strips where they proved to be a winning ticket. The down side was, under harsh drag racing conditions it was not unusual to blow the back corner of the gearbox case out due to the weak area around the gearbox driven speedo cable entry point. 1973 also saw the first disc brake appear on the front end. Below - 1975 & 1976 had the awkward looking crossover shaft converting the Sporty from right side shift to left shift providing these bikes with probably the worlds longest foot shifter. Sporster Gear Shift Below - 1977-1978 saw the introduction of Willie G Davidson’s XLCR Cafe Racer. Sporting a upgraded frame, cafe racer style 4 gallon tank, bikini fairing, fibreglass tail section, rearward mounted foot controls with siamesed exhaust and left and right side mounted mufflers. The XLCR was offered in black only and the newly designed exhaust produced another 5 horses. Harely Cafe Racer XLCR 1975 to 1985 Sportster models were upgraded to a new, stronger frame and swing-arm, derived from the XLCR. The frame was lighter and made for a better handling bike. The rear drum was replaced with a disc and points ignition was replaced with a Prestolite breakerless electronic type. Also for 1979, the mechanical rear drum brake was replaced with a hydraulic disc brake, and the breaker-points ignition were replaced with a Prestolite breakerless electronic type. 1979-1985 model Sportsters are the most common. They and arrived here in Australia in greater numbers making them the easiest to find and least expensive to buy. These later Ironheads are affordable and a great choice for any project. Below - Want to run a Springer on your Ironhead Sporty? Harley Sportster with Springer Ironhead Sporty’s left the Harley factory with a headstem diameter of 7/8 inch. Big Twins left the factory with a 1 inch headstem diameter. Just like the majority of aftermarket replica or custom Springer front ends all Meat-Balls Springers have the larger 1 inch head stem. To fit a Big Twin style Springer to your Sporty you just need a simple bearing cup conversion kit! Below - If you own a late model sporty you can run an early style springer with a little bit of effort like what Harry G from Melbourne Vic Sportster with Springer fork

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