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Rebuilding the Q-ship; a 1964 Harley Davidson Sportster

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  • #16
    And, here's why I wanted this one . . .

    One of the things you hear all the time is about "matching numbers." Well, what does that mean?

    If all goes according to plan with an old ironhead, it means the VIN is kosher, the belly numbers match, and the frame is of the correct style and date code.

    On the Q ship; all three are there. Here's what stuff looks like.


    This is the VIN pad. It's clean, unaltered, and matches the Title (yippee!).


    Here, I have inverted the motor and we are staring at the bottom of the crank case. On both sides of the case is a stamped number which I've highlighted with a sharpie. These are "belly numbers" of fame and infamy. In theory, they should match . . . though replacement cases are not uncommon for many reasons. In this case, they do match.



    Here's what we are staring at: the "7" = sportster and the "64" = 1964 with the last 4 numbers representing these were the X set of cases machined that year. In most cases, the "year" will be the same as or one year prior to the model year on the VIN. This is one of the ways you can sort out good from bad VINs. In this instance, everything is on the up and up. We have a good VIN, good belly numbers, a clean title, and cases without cracks, or repairs. The only oddness is that someone started to polish the left case and gave up about 1/3rd of the way in. Believe it or not; we can restore that finish. We'll go over that in future "episodes".

    Now for the finale -- it's great to have a 1964 motor and title . . . but what about the frame?


    On the right hand side of ironhead sportster frames is a date code. It is stamped just below the seat ears and is often ground off when someone removed the seat ears (argh!). I used a sharpie to make this one stand out for the pictures. You can see it is marked "D4." The D = April and the 4 = 1964. Notice, however, that there is a 1965CH style regulator mount just behind the seat post. Turns out HD started getting ready for '65 a bit early and several 1964 frames show this feature . . . starting in April 1964. Similarly, this is a CH frame -- meaning there are no kidney oil tank mounts on the right rear down tube and no coil mounts on the left rear down tube. The gas tank mounts are sleeved and not just drilled, etc. All in all, this is a seriously straight and non-molested frame.

    To recap, we have a relatively high VIN, matched by relatively high 1964 dated cases, and a spring '64 frame. All this points to a bike assembled in the second half of the 1964 model year. So, now we know what we are playing with.

    As a word to the wise, I insured the lot almost immediately with Hagerty. Remember, they will insure basket cases. You just have to send photos and set a realistic price.

    We head to Davenport next week to pick up the front end for the Q ship; track down a few parts; and drop off the cases for boring. It will be a great meet and lots of fun! Hope to see some of you there.


    • #17
      The Q ship Saga Part 4 -- Parts Evaluation

      One of the biggest challenges with a basket case is curbing our enthusiasm. Part of the reason there are so many basket cases available is because people either bit off more than could chew or failed to plan out the project – and often both.

      Before we go much further, we need to take stock of the parts we have to determine what we’ll keep, what we may trade, and what will just become wall decorations. Don’t blindly assume that because a part came from a known associate that it is a “good” part or ready to go. Check everything over and be honest with what can be salvaged and what needs replacement based on your skill level and wallet. Keep in mind any short cuts you take may wind up costing you more in the end.

      Chuck’s normal order of attack on a basket case is to complete the chassis, then the power train, and finally the body work. The reason for tackling the project in this order is many fold. Generally, it takes much longer to assemble a full chassis than it does to build a motor. Similarly, you may have to send things for paint/powder coating, plating, or other specialty services. Starting with the chassis means you can have things out to specialists and use the downtime to work on the motor and transmission. We’ve found this helps keep the project moving and prevents you from going too nuts wondering why the 12 week lead time from the platers has stretched to 16 weeks.

      With all this in mind, Chuck started working his way through the parts. The frame is in fantastic condition and only need refinishing.




      Even the neck cups are nice and tight on frame. The seat posts are in good condition and no tabs are missing or damaged on the frame.

      The swing arm, however, is for a later bike and is one inch too long for the Q ship. We will need to source a new one, along with a shorter brake linkage to fit.

      Really, the only challenge provided by the chassis is the front suspension. We knew this going into the project and so Chuck had already asked a fellow sportster enthusiast to put together a correct front end for a 1964, which we picked up at the Davenport meet. Handlebars, mirrors, and switch gear are all things we have on the shelf. We also have to decide on rear shocks – original equipment or aftermarket. We will see what comes our way over the next month or two. Finally, we have to find a good original side stand.

      The body work is minimal and largely limited to surface rust removal. Fuel tank and front fender are as new, though both are reproductions and will need some massaging to fit correctly. The rear fender requires the most massaging – though it is also easy to source a better fender or even a brand new reproduction. We will need to source a correct tail lamp and license tag holder, as well as fender struts.


      • #18
        Wheels and brakes are another story. The rear hub is lovely and shows no evidence of being worked on by a ham-fisted mechanic. The spokes and nipples are in good shape – but the rim is shot. We can reuse the spokes by either cleaning them up or having them replated. The hub likely needs only a repaint and the bearings cleaned/packed. The rear drum is in great shape, but it will need a new sprocket.

        The front hub is missing its internals and so those will be all new. We also will need to source a new backing plate as the one that came with the bike is for a 1952-1963 “half” drum brake and not the correct full width hub. Spokes, nipples, and the rim are in fair shape. We will likely replace them with new components instead of replating. We will have to strip the crusty chrome off the front hub – but that isn’t as difficult as it sounds.







        • #19
          Moving onto the power train – we hit the lottery on the transmission. Everything is in very good order and we have two complete sets of Andrews gears to work with as well as Andrews main and counter shafts. We also have our choice of stock or Trock trap doors. Basically, our expenditures will be limited to some shims, washers, and needle bearings. It doesn’t get much better than that.







          • #20
            The motor is also very solid. Upon tear down no glaring issues were found. The motor has been bored to .020 over in the past. The pistons are nearly new and the bores are very clean. A simple hone and rering would sort them.

            Similarly, the heads are in excellent condition and a light valve job would see them well. The main bearings are also in good shape and we’d expect the rod bearings to also be in good condition. The only glaring “problem” is the replacement timing cover. Mechanically it is fine, but cosmetically it’s terrible. Someone had it chromed and 50 years later that chrome is trying to come off. We will send the cover to be stripped and replace all the bushes when it gets back.

            In sum, if we were building a stock motor we’d be really happy with this motor as a foundation. Total expenditures appear to be limited to gaskets, piston rings, and perhaps new rod bearings. Otherwise, a good cleaning and careful assembly would see this motor last a long time on the street.







            • #21
              However, we bought this project for a reason. Chuck already has a stock 1959 XLH he rides regularly. It is a great bike and a delight to motor down a country lane. With the Q ship, Chuck wanted to up the fun ante and do something that is rarely done these days – build a big inch bike on a 900 ironhead platform.

              The core of such a bike is the crankcase. If the cases aren’t top notch – then everything is a compromise from that point forward. Compromises on a stock bike won’t generally cause trouble – on a high performance machine they can turn the bike into a nightmare to own. When evaluating a set of cases, we want to find a set that is as unmolested as possible. The Q ship is one of these motors. On disassembly it was clear the bike had not had treated badly by previous mechanics. Most everything was as original and in very good shape. The mating surfaces were clean, true, and flat.

              Taking a close look at the primary and transmission cavities shows no signs of cracking or previous repairs. There are some tool marks from the transmission being pulled -- but nothing unusual or concerning. We also examined the cylinder studs and all the threaded holes. Everything is in excellent condition, especially considering these cases are almost 56 years old.







              • #22
                One of the fun things we discovered in looking at the cases is the date codes. Remember, these are cases that came together from the factory and were machined in the spring of 1964. If you look at the left case, you’ll see the date code just above the transmission trap door – it is marked 6-63; meaning it was cast in June 1963. On the right case, the date code is 12-63; meaning it was cast in December 1963. This means the two halves of the case were cast six months apart and not machined for a few months into 1964. Just more fun stuff showing how the factory did things.



                As we noted in the last installment, these cases are being handed off at the Davenport meet to have the case opening enlarged for big bore cylinders. To get the cases ready, we washed them down with mineral spirits, followed by a scrubbing in a 50/50 mix of Simple Green and hot water, and two trips through the dish washer. The final step was wiping down the surfaces and the bearing races with WD40. The only downside of doing it this way is that it tends to darken the cases. Because this isn’t the final wash or finish, we just wanted to get them clean. No machinist likes being handed filthy parts.

                The last thing we had to do to get the cases ready was to find the original hardware. Someone had started replacing the original bolts and nuts with aftermarket chrome bits. Thankfully, they didn’t toss the original hardware. Rather than spend a long time hand cleaning the hardware, we employed one of our favorite secret weapons, a vibratory tumbler.


                The tumbler is loaded with coarse walnut shells and talcum powder. After 48-72 hours in the tumbler, the hardware comes out looking as close to new as possible. Not a bad deal for flipping a switch. If you have a lot of parts to clean up or do a lot of restoration work, a tumbler can be a very good investment.

                Now, we are ready for Davenport. We have cases to drop off; a front end to pick up; folks to BS with; and a list of parts we are hunting. It’s going to be a fun Labor Day weekend.


                • #23
                  Since you have to repair the wheels and replace a rim why not make them correct instead of those '70 up rims?
                  Robbie Knight Amca #2736


                  • #24
                    Originally posted by Rubone View Post
                    Since you have to repair the wheels and replace a rim why not make them correct instead of those '70 up rims?

                    The rims will be shouldered alloys.

                    I'm on the fence about original rims vs. repo.


                    • #25
                      If they are the correct profile those spokes won't work.
                      Robbie Knight Amca #2736


                      • #26
                        Originally posted by Rubone View Post
                        If they are the correct profile those spokes won't work.
                        You'll be pleased to know no 70-up alloy rims fell into my hands at Davenport. So, we'll be ordering up Borrani repos and appropriate SS spokes/nipples later on this year. The spokes from the current set will just get cleaned, bagged, and likely sold off to someone who needs them.


                        • #27
                          The Davenport meet treated me very well and I was able to find just about every single major part I was looking for. We now have about 90-95% of a motorbike -- save things like hardware and some sundry items. The vast majority of what we found at Davenport is of the correct year for the '64CH -- though a few items are from earlier than '64. All in all; because this is a bike that isn't being refurbished with judging in mind, it's a good haul of OE parts.


                          • #28
                            The Q Ship Saga Part 5: Stroker Piston Choices

                            The Q ship Saga

                            Part 5: Stroker Piston Decisions

                            We finished the last installment by describing how we evaluated and prepared cases to go out for boring. It is important to note this is totally unnecessary for a stock rebuild. Instead, we decided to build a hotrod sportster in a fashion very similar to what would have been done in the late 1960s.

                            Let’s start with a quick and dirty overview. Ironhead sportsters can be split into two major motor groups: 900s and 1000s. 900s were produced from 1957 to 1971 and have a 3 inch bore. 1000s were made from 1972-1985 and have a 3-3/16 inch bore; though 1972-early 1973 involves some uniqueness. If you are thinking about a stroker, it is far easier to build one on a set of 1000 cases than a 900. This is for a variety of reasons, but today it comes down to one critical factor – pistons.

                            Put simply, off-the-shelf supplies of 900 stroker pistons dried up decades ago. This leaves us with five options for achieving our goal.

                            Option One: NOS 900 Stroker Pistons – First, this is a game of luck and patience. These pistons are out there, but they don’t often come up for sale and if they do; it is relatively rare for them to be truly NOS. If you do find a set, they are most likely to be Dytch, Axtell, TRW (S&S), or JE (Jahn’s). They can be in a variety of compression heights and so you have to measure carefully to determine if they will fit your needs. Rings “may” be an issue depending on the oil ring used.
                            they will fit if you did your homework
                            When broken in properly, they have a long service life
                            Light weight, in most cases

                            you may only get one set
                            Replacement may be impossible
                            Rings maybe difficult to source
                            May not be the bore size or compression height you need
                            Ring lands may be too close to top of cylinder

                            Option Two: Use stroker plates and cut down stock pistons. This is the original way of making a stroker. This works surprisingly well, though you leave displacement on the table as you can only go so big on the stroke.

                            Pros:inexpensive – you can use readily available pistons and ring packs
                            Easy to build and live with
                            No lowering of oil holes in many cases
                            More piston choices

                            Cons: Thick stroker plates may cause head to frame fitment issues on the rear
                            Thick plates may require longer cylinder base studs
                            Thick plates are easy to spot and “spoil” the motor’s appearance
                            Depending on cylinder height; manifolds and pushrods could become issues
                            Leaves power on the table

                            Option Three: Custom pistons. Over the years, we’ve ordered pistons from JE, Ross, and Venolia for various projects. Service from all three has been excellent and the pistons have been exactly what we ordered. The process is not as complicated as you may think. You simply fill out some forms with your specifications and 8-16 weeks later, pistons arrive.

                            Pros:Pistons are made to your exact specifications
                            They will fit – provided you measured correctly!
                            Can take advantage of tech advances in rings, pins, and forgings
                            Can have custom dome shapes, etc.
                            Generally made from higher quality (tougher) materials than stock pistons

                            Cons: Cost – you generally buy 4 pistons at a time at $150-200 per piston
                            Generally all 4 of your new custom pistons will be the same size – meaning if you destroy one AND need an over bore – you’re ordering new pistons
                            Long lead times, often 8-16 weeks for pistons to arrive

                            Option Four:
                            Adapt the 900 cases to accept 1000 top end components. It is not easy, but it does allow you to take advantage of 1000 stroker pistons which are readily available (at the time of this writing) from S&S.

                            Pros: cylinders are readily available
                            Brand new stroker pistons are available from S&S
                            Simply moving to the 3-3/16 bore nets a 10% displacement increase
                            Can be combined with a shorter stroke choice to utilize stock pistons

                            Cons: Requires the most machine work.
                            You have to buy a lot of new or very good used parts
                            You have to find a really good machinist if you want the motor to last
                            Not as “cool” as NOS or custom speed parts

                            Option Five: Dytch, Axtell or Trock cylinders with matching pistons. This is the deep end of the pool. Most everything becomes “custom” to some extent when going this route – made more difficult by the fact these parts have been out of production for the better part of 40 years. They also were never sold in large quantities and most were bought by guys who blew up more than one motor. As a result, finding survivors in good condition can be challenging. The results, however, are often worth the quest.

                            Pros: Stronger cylinders that are tough and more wear resistant the OEM.
                            More bore choices
                            Sleeving options
                            Length options
                            Oil holes are already lowered.
                            Hard to spot to the casual observer.
                            3-3/16 and 3-1/4 cylinders can often use S&S 1000 stroker pistons.

                            Cons: Cost. Finding good cylinders is neither cheap nor easy.
                            What you find may not fit your needs.
                            Cases must be bored to fit
                            Heads must be bored to fit
                            You may never get a second set

                            It all comes down to pistons. They are our deciding factor.

                            After weighing the options, we decided to stick with those solutions that allow us to use S&S stroker pistons. These pistons are sized to work with up to 4-5/8 strokes with either no or very thin stroker plates. This is good because we do not want to stress the cylinder base any more than necessary, nor do we want to disturb the original cylinder studs unless we must.

                            So, really, why would we bother with all this? It comes down to two words: fun and displacement. The fun comes from the extra horsepower, which is provided by a serious knock upwards in displacement. In this case, we’ll be using a 4-5/8 stroke and 3.25 inch pistons to give 76 inches. This is a whopping 21 inches or 40% more than the stock 900’s 55 inch motor.


                            In the above photo, that is a stock 3" 900 piston sitting in a 3.26 axtell bore . . . Just a wee bit of daylight around the edges.


                            • #29
                              Part 5 - Pistons

                              Let’s stop for a moment and look at different pistons. Dr. Dick was kind enough to share with us his collection of pistons and piston sectionals. He kept all these because they clearly show different types of solutions to the same problem.


                              Let’s start with looking at stock 900 pistons. These are cast aluminum with reinforcing struts and substantial pin bosses. The weight is distributed well between the crown and the skirt, making for a stable piston.



                              When you flip them over, you can see a couple of critical things. First, notice how the underside of the crown is an even, dark brown/black. This is a heat mark. It shows this piston was transferring heat evenly to the top ring and that the oil flung on the underside was clearly stopping at the oil control ring.



                              When looking at the oil ring land – you can see it is slotted, not drilled. This is great for a stock bike and works well with a variety of ring packs. However, you can easily compress the piston in a high output application. In terms of weight; this piston is .020 over. With its pin and keepers, but without rings, it weighs 501 grams.


                              • #30
                                Part 5 -- pistons; Axtell/Dytch vintage pistons

                                Next up is an Axtell 3-1/4 stroker piston. In just looking at the piston, you can tell something is different. The crown is similar to later 1000 pistons and the skirts are very different. These are also cast pistons and intended to move the compression up to 10:1. As such, when put on the same pin as a stock piston you can see they have the same compression height, but the ring lands are at different heights.






                                In the last photo; that is our stock 900 piston on the left and the Axtell on the right