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Prototype '38 knuckle 45?

Post Sun Sep 29, 2019 5:25 pm

Posts: 1721
Location: Interlaken, NY USA

Has anyone ever heard of this bike before, or know anything about it? It was shown to me a couple of nights ago as a BS session around the campfire at Jefferson. I've never heard of it and am highly skeptical, but there it is on the internet so what gives? I'm just damn curious!
DD ... ucklehead/

Post Sun Sep 29, 2019 8:07 pm

Posts: 1350
Location: Ojo Caliente,NM,USA
These come up ever now and then and were mentioned in Hatfields book of Harley minutes. This is all I can find fairly easy.
Dusty ... otype.html

Chris Haynes posted
Lemme see if I can remember this story as told to me years ago by Jerry Branch.
After their creation and testing the OHV 45's were put into storage. During WWII the MoCo moved a lot of stored items from the factory to a Milwaukee warehouse owned by Knuth H-D. After the war the MoCo had no idea what was in this off site warehouse and sent some employees there to inventory it. One of the employees found a complete OHV 45" engine and took it home. The MoCo found out he took it, asked for its return, and when he failed to return it he was fired. This person traveled down south and got a job as a wrench at a H-D dealer. This dealer had a lot of used bikes. The former MoCo employee installed the OHV engine in one of them. It seems that this dealer was into racing and they used the OHV 45" to pace and ride next to his racers at speed so he could hear how they were running. If I remember correctly Jerry Branch was then working as a wrench at that same dealership. The MoCo's district manager spotted the engine at the dealership and notified the MoCo. The MoCo put the gun to the dealers head and told him if they didn't get that engine back he would no longer be a dealer. The dealer gave the engine to the district manager who took it to his home and it sat there for the rest of his career at the MoCo. After he retired he contacted Jerry Branch and asked him if he was interested in the OHV 45" that the MoCo had long ago forgotten about. Jerry jumped on it. Since then it has passed through the hands of M. F. Egan and the last I knew of it Carmen Brown owned it.
Sarge posted
We discussed it before here: ... -4579.html

It turned out to be uneconomical; too expensive to produce, costing almost as much to build as the Big Twin, which sold for what, about $400 in those days? It did pave the way for the 45's replacements: K and Sportster, after the war, tho.

It's in Jerry Hatfield's "Inside Harley-Davidson... 1903-1945," p. 160. Apparently, H-D had lots of piston problems with the Sidevalve 45s overheating. The company (i.e.: William S. Harley, Chief Engineer), trying "tapered bore" cylinders, failing, wanting to get the heat up top and away from the side of the piston travel.

Col. Jerry Hatfield, USAF (Ret.), was the first to research and publish the surviving minutes of the H-D board's deliberations. They give some good skinny on the ways of Bill Harley and the Davidson brothers in those years.
It is a shame this OHV didn't make it.

John K Endrizzi posted
05-01-2010, 06:32 AM
Just to add a little to the story: I have a friend here in central Wisconsin who also figures into the OHV 45 story. He has parts of a OHV45 motor an is gearing up to cast new heads and cylinders. Here are some shots of his patrs-peices ... 160004.jpg ... estjpg.jpg ... besjpg.jpg ... cyljpg.jpg ... eftjpg.jpg

Listed for auction on Fleebay

The following was attached to an Ebay add that wont post for some reason.


Here was a write up in an magazine some years ago.

Two major events in 1937 altered Harley- Davidson history. William S. Harley suggested in June that the company should undertake design of a 45 ci overhead-valve twin by installing new cylinders and heads on the standard side-valve base. He felt this would be more worthwhile than trying to improve the Seventy-four and Eighty side valve twins.

Harley followed up in August with more specific ideas on a Forty-five overhead. The Forty-five side-valve model's frame would have to be altered and strengthened. The most powerful of the current Forty-five side-valve models was the WLDR, which produced up to 27 hp. Harley's proposed Forty-five overhead was targeted for 30 hp in a mild state of tune that could be later revised for more power. Even in the 30 hp version, Harley reasoned, the performance would be on par with the Seventy-four side-valve due to the smaller motorcycle's lighter weight. The manufacturing cost of the Forty-five overhead would be about the same as for the Seventy-four side-valve.

William S. Harley countered that at least two yerars of design lead time would would be required for a completely new Forty-five, and that the company would save money by converting the side- valve Forty-five to the overhead-valve configuration. Walter Davidson entered the disscussion by stating that the Forty-five side-valve transmission had never been thouroghly satisfactory to dealers and riders, and he doubted the transmission would hold up to the additional horsepower of a Forty-five overhead-valve motor.

The Forty-five side-valve powerplant had the primary chain on the left, a frame-mounted transmission and the rear chain on the right, subjecting the gearbox and frame to heavy twisting loads. Walter believed that an entirely new transmission would be required on an overhead and that the crossover feature would have to be eliminated on such a model. He was impressed by the Indian Sport Scout Forty-five side-valve, believing it had the advantages of light weight and economic production. Walter felt the Forty-five side-valve Harley- Davidson should be continued unchanged and that an entirely new Forty-five overhead- valve should be considered.

One of the reasons William S. Harley had been pushing for a Forty-five overhead-valve was a continual piston problem on the side-valve motors. Between 1914 and 1934, all Harley- Davidson motors had featured tapered cylinder bores. Heat distortion was caused by the normal temperature gradiant between the top and bottom of s cylinder, as in any engine design, and was aggrivated by the eccentric cylinder head porting of the F-head and side-valve layouts. The theory behind the tapered cylinder bore was that heat distortion would warp the barrels into the propper shape. But the theory was not working well in practice and had resulted in excessive piston failure. Effective with the 1934 models, the factory accordingly had been useing a new piston design in conjunction with straight cylinder bores. Nevertheless, piston problems persisted until yet another redesign. The minutes of the September board of dirrectors meeting are illuminating.

"At the time this Forty- five overhead- valve motor was suggested, we were apparently at our wit's end in regard to pistons in our Seventy-four and Eighty motors, and it was felt we would have to come to an overhead- valve motor to replace these side- valve motors. Since that time, a new piston has been developed which seems to be the answer to our troubles. If this proves to be correct, the necessity for overhead- valve motors to replace the side- valve motors is not so great. The one outstanding difference between the overhead- valve motor and the side- valve motor is that the overhead costs considerably more to make." The new piston design referenced here was the steel- strutted type. Steel- strutted pistons would be incorporated on Seventy- four and Eighty twins in the latter part of 1938 model production run and cataloged as new features of the 1939 model Seventy- four and Eighty.

Discussions on the proposed Forty- five overhead- valve continued into November without producing a consensus. William S. Harley proposed the building of fifteen to twenty special Forty- five side- valve competition motorcycles in order to compete against the Indian Sport Scout. William H. Davidson brought up the idea of a lightweight motorcycle, which he believed should be subsidized in order to be offered at an attractive price. The board agreed that there was a demand for a lighter motorcycle; however, the design and fabrication of the tools to manufacture a lightweight were estimated to cost $75,000 to $100,000, so further study was deemed necessary.

Three new board members attended the December board meeting. Robert P. Nortman, William J. Harley, and Gordon Davidson, all sons of directors, had entered the management ranks. The Forty- five overhead- valve dialogue continued with William S. Harley repeating his earlier rationale. A revival of the 30.50 ci side- valve single was disscussed, but Arthur Davidsons opposition ended this idea. William H. Davidson again suggested a subsidy program, this time intended for the Forty- five side- valve, which he believed too expensive. Arthur agreed this might be a good idea if the price of the projected Forty- five overhead- valve was kept up, thus ensuring a meaningful gap between the prices of the two different Forty- fives.

In January 1938 deliberations over the Forty- five overhead- valve model, William H. Davidson sided with William S. Harley, favoring reconfigureation of the Forty-five side-valve into an overhead-valve model. Citing the cost advantages of sharing forks, frames, tanks, and transmissions, William H. Davidsons statement drew agreement from Arthus Davidson. So Walter Davidson's proposal for an entirely new Forty-five overhead-valve motor was dropped, and the engineering department began work on the developement of a Forty- five overhead- valve derived from the existing side-valve design. However, no decision was reached on the transmission.

During February and March, the engineering department continued working on the Forty-five overhead-valve, and the general specifications on the motorcycle were worked out. However, continual engine problems resulted in a decision to cancel plans for a specific launch date for the Forty-five overhead-valve so that testing and problem solving could be accomplished at a measured pace. Management wanted to ensure the model would not be introduced until fully developed. Wooden patterns for the Forty-five overhead-valve cylinder heads were completed by April and were being studied for possible improvements.

Also under consideration was the use of 10 to 14 mm spark plugs in lieu of the standard 18 mm plugs on all models. This idea could save costs on the some 100,000 spark plugs purchased annually. Furthermore, the smaller plugs were concidered advantageous because they permitted more room on the cylider heads for better cooling. From April through June the engineering department consentrated on shedding pounds from the Forty-five overhead-valve. William S. Harley still believed that the Forty-five overhead-valve could be built for about the same cost as the Seventy-four side-valve.

In April the Forty-five overhead-valve was canceled as a 1940 model. After working out the cost, the projected Forty-five overhead-valve would have been as expensive to build as the Seventy-four side-valve. Although Chief Engineer William S. Harley had been saying that all along, apparently the board at last decided that without any cost savings on the Forty-five overhead-valve, it would not be a marketable proposition. Instead of working on the Forty-five overhead-valve, the engineering department would be concentrating on the new 74 OHV. Other development attention would be given to aluminum cylinder heads for the Seventy-four and Eighty side-valve models; consideration was being given to offering the Eighty only with aluminum heads.

'William S. Harley of the Harley-Davidson Motor Co. states that in regards to expiramental work with other metals other than cast iron, he has tried aluminum, brass, and steel. In his experimental work with aluminum cylinders he has made new patterns, the cylinders with cast in bronze valve seats. Having tried them both with and without sleeves over a few month period decided to drop the matter. The cylinders not having satisfactory results, but he did realize there were many factors to the problem which they did not go into. The results he got from these tests were largely inclusive, but from his experience with other metals William S. Harley decided that cast iron was the best material for air cooled cylinders.' (Automotive Industries Vol. XL VI Number 22)

Here is BIll Harley Experimental "Second Generation" All Aluminium OHV 52 cubic inch 1938-39 Harley. Bill Harley's dream of an over-head valve lightweight machine created experimentally by Harley- Davidson Motor Co.

He only built one of these and four of the all iron models, this one has all aluminium heads and barrels with EX clearly marked to both. The lower end is OHV only with 1937 OHV oil pump. The Motor is proprietary to this machine using narrow cams and oversized cam cover. Notice where the lower pump area fits, this is for the Presure Fed Crank on the OHV Bill Harley desighned for this motor. The Iron head motors are simular.

The all aluminium one has the "A frame" style head and the Iron model is the "Gap type" with many diffrences in design as pictured. All are EX marked clearly and this motor is also marked #4. Note the oil return angle is straight instead of angled on the OHV, also the bearing is removeable and not blind on the output shaft.

Also to note is the diffrence of the lifter blocks. They are drillled to the channel to vacuum the oil from the OHV heads. The wheels sport one off narrow stepped hubs with small spoke rims. There are many experimental parts on Bill Harley's machine.

This Harley uses the "Dome Piston" mentioned in the Harley-Davidson Board Meetings in 1938-39. BIll Harley was so proud that this piston pictured would end his overheating problem. It was aquired by Egeberg from Bill Harley, as I was told by a family member, as it sat on his desk for many years. This piston bares the EX markes as well as Harley numbers.

This was purchased from Roy Egeberg in 1974 at his home by restorer- Daniel Pugens well known as a specialist in Harley CAC's, DAH's, and OHV's. He aquired 85% of this machine as a roller missing very few parts. Roy Egeberg was the Harley dealer in St.Paul Minnasota he sold Henderson's and Ace's. As a friend of William Henderson and a friend of Andrew Strand of Cyclone Motorcycle.

The Motorcycle is mentioned extensivly in well known auther Herb Wagers book " Harley Davidson 1930-41" where he has a wonderfull story about the "Second Generation" bike with an extensive history. It is also mentioned by Jerry Hatfield in his wonderfull book "Inside Harley Davidson" in which he go's in depth on all of the meetings and manufacturing of this motorcycle . Both are wonderful books on this motorcycle, William Harley's one off experimental machine.

This is the actual, Bill Harley’s experimental, “second generation” 52-cubic-inch overhead valve 1938-39 Knucklehead prototype designed and fought for by Bill Harley in the late 1930’s. There were five prototypes produced, but this example is the only one equipped with aluminum heads and barrels. (It may be the only complete experimental Harley Davidson motorcycle known to remain in existence). The 1938 lower end is overhead-valve only, specific to this model, and utilizes an oil pump from a 1937 motorcycle. The motor is proprietary to this machine using narrow cams and oversized cam cover. With an A-frame style head, Motor No. 4 is marked EX. The lifter blocks are drilled to the channel to vacuum the oil from the OHV heads. The wheels sport one-off narrow stepped hubs with small-spoke rims.

This prototype uses the “dome piston” mentioned in the Harley-Davidson board meetings between 1938 and 1939. Bill Harley took pride that this piston would end his overheating problem. This experimental motorcycle was sold to Roy Egeberg just after production and remained with him until 1974 when it was purchased by restorer Daniel Pugens, a known Harley-Davidson CAC, DAH and OHV specialist.

This experimental 1938-1939 Harley Davidson motorcycle has recently been restored to its original glory utilizing all of the parts purchased from Egeberg. Egeberg acquired this exact machine from the factory and had it titled in Minnesota until he sold it in 1974. The authenticity of this particular prototype experimental motorcycle is well documented including in the Harley Davidson archives, extensively in Herb Wagner’s “Harley-Davidson 1930-1941” and in Jerry Hatfield’s “Inside Harley-Davidson.” This 1938-39 motorcycle may be the only experimental Harley Davidson to be released from the factory.

2016 MECUM AUCTION LINK: ... ucklehead/
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Post Sun Sep 29, 2019 8:27 pm

Posts: 1350
Location: Ojo Caliente,NM,USA





Post Mon Sep 30, 2019 1:47 pm
Pa Site Admin

Posts: 6204
Location: Ohio USA

I bet they would have sold.

Post Mon Sep 30, 2019 4:51 pm

Posts: 1721
Location: Interlaken, NY USA

Thanks for all the info. I'm thinking the pics at Mecum and at Classic Moto-cycle are the same bike, and that it not an aluminum engine. Also, most likely something built around the pilfered engine, regardless of what those last few paragraphs say in the previous post.
You learn something new every day, unfortunately you forget twice as much :(

Post Wed Oct 09, 2019 7:59 pm

Posts: 826
Location: Pa. , USA
Wow !!! great info, thanks for posting..
Vintage roadracing, Class C, AHRMA # 335

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