A stylin '70s Sporty
(Reprinted from American Iron - May 1998)

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wpeF.jpg (13124 bytes)Sometimes you've got to take the rough to get the smooth. "Physically.  I got hurt the worst." says Glenn Scott, owner of this unique Sportster.  With a hand cramped from holding a grinder to the frame.  Glenn couldn't hold a pen to sign the checks.   But thankfully, the damage wasn't permanent and the project continued, and so did the damage to his bank balance.

So financially, he got the worst of the project, but he's not complaining:  he got to keep the bike shown here.  His 1973 Sportster has '70s looks and beautiful lines, plus reliability and Big Twin style.  And if it hurt a little to make it that way, well no successful relationship gets by without a little pain.

This build started out, as projects often do, as a simple job.  Glenn wanted to polish the  cases of his old Ironhead Sporty as well as the primary cover, gearbox covers and everything else, right down to the sprocket cover.  To do that, the engine had to come out of the frame and be taken completely apart.  So while the engine was apart, why not massage the engine a little, replace all the tired parts and add a little polish to the internals?    Anyone who's ever opened up a 25 year old engine knows what happens next.  Every part you touch turn out to be worn in mysterious ways.  Soon you've got a parts list a foot long and several thousand dollars wide.

wpeC.jpg (36924 bytes)Luckily, Glenn's list was short.  The XL was in remarkably good shape internally, after a quarter of a century, and many of the stock parts were in good enough shape to be reused, especially since the engine wasn't going to be used to be a record breaker.  Kirk Kelley at Sporty Specialties, Inc. coordinated the motor work.  The idea was to get maximum reliability not maximum power. :Glenn is not going to take his Sportster to the drag strip," Kirk says, "so we didn't want to go the all-out horsepower route.   Instead, we wanted to build a motor that gives reliability and enough low-down torque to suit the style of its rider."

wpeD.jpg (28498 bytes)The cylinder heads were lightly massaged to improve gas flow and a set of Manley valves were installed.   Activating the rockers became the responsibility of an Andrews Y cam, a grind chosen to give some low-down grunt without losing rideability.  You can go crazy with an old Ironhead and start installing new after market parts everywhere or you can do it like Glenn.  Go with stock replacement parts and don't worry too much about the performance difference between a four-speed iron barrel and a new, alloy-engined, five speed Evo.  It'll get you there with enough power to ride in style.

And the style this rider wanted was a minimalist chopper, like you'd get back in the '70s when you chopped a 1956 Panhead.  That is, way back when there were '56 Pans around to chop and chrome shops that would plate everything in sight without charging the Earth.

So, starting from that simple polish job, the list of collaborators grew.  Then Bill's Rod and Custom joined in and the job got serious.  The project suddenly became a full-scale custom build; the idea being to recreate the look of an old Panhead using the XL as a base.  Bill likes to work on custom cars and hot rods - it's his business - not for him, beautifying bikes is just a hobby.  He likes to get owners to do the real work.  Just ask Glenn, who was forced to help out with the metal preparation.   All part of the process, says Bill.

"You want something, you gotta sweat," he says.  "Get yourself in here and work a little bit.  When Glenn brought the bike to me, he moaned about having to work on it.  But I told him he had to get involved in it.  He couldn't just sit home and write the checks.  And the truth is, if you work up a sweat building something and you run into some of the problems that custom riders have to face every day, then two things happen: first, you get a lot more respect for the guys who do the work.  You realize that they work every day, sometimes late into the night, and you stop hassling them to speed up.  Second, you get more involvement in your bike because there are parts of it that you made with your own hands."

Like we said bikes are a hobby to Bill, and Glenn had to work hard at persuading him to start on the job; a job Bill is quite proud of now.  Another of his theories: "I don't believe in bolting anything on unless it belongs.  Whatever parts you add should look like they belong there, as if the bike came that way.  I'll spend an awful lot of time on those small details, things that maybe no one will ever look at, but hopefully they will spot them."

Details like the smooth surface of the frame, with every superfluous lug, fitting and weld mark ground away.  Or the gap between the gas tank and the seat - it's not there anymore.  Several hours of fabrication work filled in that unsightly space with pure steel.

wpe10.jpg (10625 bytes)Once the decision was made to create the minimal chopper, the bills just piled up until Glenn's check signing hand got writer's cramp again.  Perfecting minimalist's style isn't easy.  The bike used to have a hexagonal oil tank.  Glenn didn't like that, so the present tank was made, wrap-around style, and the battery was installed on a shelf inside it.  Getting the battery out meant maneuvering it around the frame tube - no good if you ever wanted to charge it.  The frame tube had to go.  That meant splitting the tube and adding a pair of filler tubes.  Now, after many hours of painstaking work, the battery slides into place; just one example of the detail work required, if you want a flawless job rather than something that just looks good.

The swingarm was polished at the same time as the frame, but the swingarm also got a triple layer of chrome plate added.  To suit the retro theme, a 16-inch wheel was slotted into the rear.  At the front a 21-incher lives between the legs of the Mid Glide forks.  Seventies-style FLH risers lift the handlebars three inches above the triple trees.  And of course, those bars had to be - what else - apehangers.

Accessories were carefully chosen to give that minimalist look.   Parts like the Arlen Ness deep bullet headlight and the covered shocks that exude pure '50s style.  The FX-style dash panel fits Harley-Davidson tachometer and speedo giving full functionality to the custom tanks.  Now Glenn's got an XL that exudes '70s style.  The next trip is likely to be Sturgis later this year - just to prove that Sportsters can do it in style.

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