In 1958 Harley-Davidson Motor Company gifted rock ’n’ roll legends Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis a little something special, the first two 1959 Panhead FLHs fresh off the assembly line. The only problem was Jerry Lee got serial number one, and Elvis got number two. Apparently “The Killer” would give “The King” a hard time about it, and Elvis even tried to trade. Jerry Lee wouldn’t budge on his number-one H-D, and Elvis would be forever butthurt.
The FLH Panhead is a legend in itself, engrained in motorcycling history overall but also deep rooted in early rock ’n’ roll, as well as classic Americana like apple pie, baseball, and, um, syphilis. When JC Larson wanted to honor the tradition of rebuilding and restoring a classic bike, he knew it had to be a Panhead. The historic engine and American icon was the perfect balance between heritage, style, and performance, and so it was the perfect bike for this project.
JC is no stranger to the bagger game. He has been a Harley owner for many years, but working on his Street Glide and Springer Softail just wasn’t keeping him busy enough. He wanted a bigger job. After spending time on Craigslist and eBay, he eventually found this beauty sitting about three hours away. When he first saw the bike, he knew it had to be his, though, with this being his first older Harley, he didn’t really know how to handle the foot clutch and hand shifter just yet. He worked out a deal with the previous owner that included delivery, both because he rode out there to see it and because of the trickier process of starting and riding an older bike.
Once he got her home, as always with buying used bikes, there were some surprises. It seemed like the paint and chrome were in good shape, and JC’s wife immediately named the bike Ruby after seeing her in the sun.
“Ruby was in decent shape when I bought her, but she clearly needed a lot of cleaning, shining, and touch-ups,” JC said. “There were also several mechanical issues: transmission not working properly, intake leaks, carburetor float sticking, hard starting, serious oil leaks, major valve-train noise, and oil-consumption issues. Bottom line: After I cleaned and polished her, she looked a lot better than she ran!”
The most difficult part of the process for him was simply learning how to work on the older metal. There are different processes and precautions that must be undergone when working on a bike that’s 58 years old like this one. Luckily for this owner and everyone else who decides to start a project like this, YouTube and the internet exist. He was determined to do all of the work himself by spending many hours on forums and reading manuals to figure out how to attack the work that needed to be done. As often happens, the ongoing education process turned out to be one of his favorite aspects of the build.
This bike was built up as a rider. He wanted it to be something fun he could take out and ride, not just trailer it to shows on the weekends. Being 68 years old, there was one major modification that he had to make: the kicker. Old bikes can be a strain on a young man’s knees, and JC just didn’t want to put his knees through the hassle of kicking it over every time he wanted to go for a cruise. It took a lot of modification to do it right and make sure everything was hidden away properly, but he installed a Tech Cycle electric-start kit. While purists will be turning over in their graves, this bike wasn’t built for them. It was built up by the owner to do exactly what he wants with it: ride it, love it, and show it off.
After some hard work and elbow grease, JC can now be found riding this beautiful old-school bagger around the Arizona highways. If you see an old Panhead on a trailer rolling down the highway, that’s not the one. Baggers are about getting out and riding farther than your local watering hole, and that’s just what this old girl does.
|Bike Owner||JC Larson|
|Shop Name||No shop, just my garage|
|Year/Manufacturer/Type||H-D/Andrews Gears/Tank shift lever & foot clutch mechanism|
|Primary Drive||Tech Cycle belt|
|Wheels, Tires, and Brakes|
|Manufacturer Front||Shinko whitewall|
|Wheel Height/Width||16-in. laced|
|Tire Height/Width||16 x 4 in.|
|Caliper||None, mechanical drum|
|Manufacturer Rear||Shinko whitewall|
|Wheel Height/Width||16-in. laced|
|Tire Height/Width||16 x 5 in.|
|Caliper||None, hydraulic drum|
|Color||“Ruby” Red Metallic & Pearl White|
|Rear Fender||H-D hinged|
|Oil Tank||Tech Cycle|
|License Mount||JC Larson|