A look at engine sizes, and model and letter designators
Donny’s Unauthorized Technical Guide to Harley-Davidson, 1936-to-Present, Volume IV, The Shovelhead: 1966 to 1985.
To many, the four-speed, rigid-mounted Shovelhead began in 1966 and ended in 1983. However, the 1984 FXWG Wide Glide (approximately 2,225 units), single-tank FXE Super Glide (approximately 665 units), dual-tank FXEF Fat Bob (approximately 1,440 units), and FXSB Low Rider (approx- imately 2,875 units) all used Shovelhead engines to a greater or lesser extent. Evolution engines began dominating in these models soon after. However, figuring out how many Shovel engines actually made it into each model is a daunting task. I also have seen Shovel engines in some 1985 FXWG Wide Glides. Certainly, the first Evolution models appeared in 1984 but may not have exclusivity until 1987 since even some 1986 FXWGs reportedly had Shovelhead engines although I have never personally seen one. The four- speed, rigid-mount Shovelhead FLH ended, for the most part, in 1983 also, except for the 1984 FLH-80 (approxi- mately 1,980 units), FLH (approxi- mately 1,055 units), FLHX Last Edition (approximately 1,255 units), and the FLHS Sport (approximately 500 units). The 1985 FLH line-up included about 40 FLH-80s, almost 300 FLH rear belt drive models, and 80 FLHXs.
As for the five-speed Shovelhead FLT/FXR rubber-mount models, these supposedly ended in 1983, but I have personally seen early-1984 versions and the odd late-1984 model outfitted with a Shovelhead engine.
MODEL LETTER CONFUSION
If you become a little confused as we go through the following information, do not despair as I have never met anyone that can rattle all this off without error. I will constantly point out discrepancies and the myriad of nomenclature rules that shift over time. In the end, you should probably reference books, chap- ters, or articles like this one instead of attempting to memorize all this confusing stuff.
Just because one era Harley-Davidson or one-model H-D uses a letter to designate a specific design, it does not mean exclusivity in another era or even a few years down the road. The letter, if used in another era or model will sometimes have the same meaning as a current use or it may not. For example, the prefix letter F(L) was first used to designate a 74″ (cubic inches)/1200cc (cubic centimeters) Knucklehead, whereas the 61″ models use the prefix letter E. Do not confuse this F delineating the 74″ Knucklehead with the F-head Harley Davidsons that preceded the introduction of the flatheads in 1929.
F-Head is a descriptive Harleyese slang word to describe a series of models that had one overhead valve and one side valve. In other words, the F de- scribes the head shape of this particular engine. The flathead is another descriptive name in the plethora of dialects originating from riders and visual perceptions of an engine’s head shape. Both of a flathead’s valves are located on the side of the cylinder, hence another nickname, the side valve.
Getting back to the 74″ Knucklehead, which is the first model assigned the letter F by Harley-Davidson, the letter F(L) was carried over to delineate a 74″ Pan-head and then the 74″ Shovelhead. The F nomenclature modifies in 1971 for the four-speed F(X) Super Glide and successor hybrids. However, the meaning of the F changes slightly again with the 1340cc (80″) 1978 to 1985 Shovelhead delineating a larger engine. The F continues with the 80″ (1340cc), 1984-2000 FLT/FXR five-speed Evo, and the four-speed and five-speed F(X) and F(L) Softails. The reader can see that the simple F designation for a 1200cc Knucklehead branches out and encompasses different gear transmis- sions, larger displacement and design en- gines, and rubber mounting. The F designation then radically changes from its simple origin with the 1999-2006 88″ FLHT/FXD/FXST/FLST Twin Cam 88s (1450cc) and 95” CVO Twin Cams. This trend continues with the 96″ (1584cc) Twin Cam 96s, and 2007-pre- sent 103″ and 110″ CVO Twin Cams. To compound matters, the letter F also in- dicates a footshift model, as opposed to a hand-shift one, in the early years. However, the model designation F is al- ways the first letter whereas the footshift option letter F is usually the third letter in the model classification. (Whew!)
Both the later year Shovelhead engines and all the Evolution engines have the same displacement via a stroke of 4.250″ (4-1/4″) and a bore of 3.500″ (3-1/2”). The actual displacement of these 1978- 2000 engines is 81.65″ (1338cc). However, everyone, including Harley- Davidson, rounds these figures off to 80″ (1340cc). Likewise, other H-D engines like the 88″ Twin Cam 88 and 96″ Twin Cam 96 are also rounded off from their exact displacements. I will refer to Shovelhead and Evolution engines both as 81.65″ and 80″, as well as 1338cc and 1340cc. I’m talking about the same size engine, while interspersing these differ- ing descriptive displacements. The same applies to the Knucklehead, Panhead, and early Shovelhead 74″ (1200cc) mod- els that are really 73.66″ (1207cc).
1966-85 SHOVEL MODELS
1984 was the first year of the Renais- sance of Harley-Davidson as it took leave of the Shovelhead and its uncer- tainty, old technology, and lack of quality design and control. Its replacement, the Evolution, became the darling of American capitalism. Harley-Davidson, if nothing else, is a survivalist company.
Back in the beginning, their first en- gine was designed to get Mr. Harley and Mr. Davidson to their favorite fishing holes via water! However, their motor- cycle competed successfully with none other than Henry Ford. Then Harley- Davidson had to survive World War I. Vehicles designed by Excelsior and Indian are fine products that often had advantages over the oft-beleaguered H-D. And yet, the Motor Company beat them all at their own game. This hallowed motorcycle institution then entered the Great Depression, which wiped out so many other companies. Need I go on? Perhaps the greatest challenge to Harley-Davidson came from an unassuming fellow, halfway around the world by the name of Soichiro Honda. More than four decades later, Honda still remains Harley-Davidson’s main competitor.
I know it’s Harley cool to pick on the much-despised AMF, but I must ask you a question: did AMF initially protect H-D from the onslaught of Honda with financing, and research and development projects that included the Evolution engine? Do you really believe that H- D could have survived this Japanese invasion with the Shovelhead? I think not. The 1984 Evolution engine came just in time to propel Harley- Davidson from the clutches of devastating bankruptcy to a 1980s success story. I’m not denigrating our beloved Shovelhead; it was just not up to the task of ensuring the survival of the Motor Company
Imagine this: two Evolution-powered Harley-Davidsons ran non-stop for four days at 85 mph (136 kph) at Talladega Speedway in Alabama. Long time readers of this magazine know I’m always skeptical of tales like this because of all the testosterone-laced mythology that surrounds around this wonderful motor- cycle. However, I believe the Talladega story because I’ve ridden Evo motorcy- cles at high speed from before sunup until after sundown many times on my trips across the wide expanses of Canada. The sleek FXRT Sport Glide, which began as a Shovelhead, is a superb highway-ready, high-speed, aerodynamic machine that suppresses tiring vibration and protected me from the wind.
Many 1984 Big Twins have Shovelhead engines, especially in the early part of the year. By midyear production, most models have the Evolution engine with a few exceptions. The seventh letter of the VIN indicates the engine model Shovelheads use a K while the Evolutions use an L designation. The switchover from Shovel to Evo in 1984-85 went smoothly, although some confusion remains over which engine was in use in which model. Truth is, old Shovelhead engines and parts were used in some models before the Evolution finally took over completely. Furthermore, some new Evolution mod- els were a carryover from the Shovelhead era.
The FLT and FXR rub- ber-mounted models were first produced in 1980 and 1982, respectively. The FLT has continued throughout the Evolution years and right up to the present day. The FXR made it to 1994 (though it began to be phased out in 1991 in favour of the Dyna Glide) and was resurrected in 1999. Other models with rigid-mounted engines and four- speed transmissions poked their old, tired heads into this new era, but lacked the survival skills to face the new mar- ketplace. A great example is the wildly successful for its time FX series like the1984 FXE Super Glide I, which was mostly a Shovelhead rigid mount engine with a four-speed transmission. Some late-year models may have been outfit- ted with Evolution engines, but the handwriting was on the wall as this was the last year for FXE production.
However, the Super Glide name lives on, rein- carnated in the rubber- mounted Evo-powered FXR Super Glide II five- speed. The same applies to the Shovel-powered rear belt drive FXSB Low Rider with a four-speed transmission., which suc- ceeded the Shovelhead rear chain drive FXS Low Rider. 1984 was suppos- edly the last year of pro- duction for the FXSB.
The magical year of 1984 also saw the end of an era for the King of the Highway, the 1984 FLH- 80 Shovelhead, except for approximately 335 made in 1985. This was another direct-frame-mounted Shovel with a four-speed transmission. The Electra Glide never had an Evolution engine, nor rubber mounting or a five-speed transmission. I hesi- tate at making blanket statements like this, but the FLH frame cannot accommodate the taller and longer Evolution engine without modifications. However, the Electra Glide name lives on to present day albeit with electronic fuel injection, rubber mounting, and a six-speed transmission.
A cool and nostalgic bike to own now might be the relatively unreliable 1984 FXST, which was in some early cases a rigid-mounted 81.65″ (1338cc) Shovel- head. Later Softails were Evolution- powered, but still had the anachronistic four-speed transmission and rear chain drive. The 1985 FXSB Low Rider was mostly an Evolution with the odd Shovelhead with a four-speed transmission and final belt drive. The FXEF Fat Bob also had a sprinkling of Shovelhead en- gines (Chris owns a 1980). Both the FXSB and FXEF were discontinued at the end of 1985, no matter the engine. The FX frame received modifications like the squishing of the top of the center downtube to allow fitment of the Evolu- tion engine. The move was to less vibra- tory machines to court mainstream acceptance. Only the Softails’ wild nos- talgic popularity extended the discom- fort until the end of 1999.
DONNY PETERSEN www.DonnyPetersen.com