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A look at post 1979 Harley Sportsters - Last of the breed and great deals indeed

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  • A look at post 1979 Harley Sportsters - Last of the breed and great deals indeed

    I’m a member of the AMCA and it comes up all the time. Old bike or classics are too expensive for the beginner to participate in the fun. This is my perspective on why that doesn’t have to be that way.

    As values have risen, the affordable and available vintage mounts spectrum has narrowed. Lurking in plain sight and often overlooked are the 1980-1985 Harley model Sportsters. Robust, and easily made reliable they are still found in original condition and are fun to ride. For far less than four thousand dollars the joy of an American V-twin for an AMCA vintage mount is readily available. These make great introductions to joy of the AMCA style of motorcycling fun. A great way to introduce a younger person with less disposable income. Or even the older modern rider who may want to get in the pool but at the shallow end to start. Even at the end of their production run these ironheads had that unmistakable look that made them attractive from the get-go.

    Let’s look at the production numbers and see how many they made.
    Production Numbers for Ironhead Sportster Models 1980 - 1985
    Model 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985
    XLH 11,841 8,442 5,015 2,260 4,074 4,074
    XLS 2,926 1,660 1,261 1,135 1,135 616
    XLX 0 0 0 4,892 1,824 1,824
    Total Models Produced 38,906

    Enough survivors you can find one to your liking.

    By 1980-disc brakes all around were part of the design. The suspension is complaint with 35 mm Showa forks and rear shocks that makes riding enjoyable. Parts are everywhere for this era and still quite affordable, new, and used. There are plenty of folks who know them well. Many like myself who were there when they were still on the show room floor. Most of us willing to pass on our knowledge.

    With six model years and several different models of the bikes you can still find bargains. Many to be found in OEM livery. Toned down a bit from their raucous youth in the 1960’s but still quite powerful. The sixty-one-inch motor is capable of a steady 60 as long as the fuel lasts. 80 plus in bursts of enthusiasm. In a good state of tune, they will easily top the ton. They are just new enough to have escaped the personalization days of the 1970’s. And if the exhaust or seats and air cleaners have been changed the OEM components are all over at swap meets and on the internet. Often NOS if you spend the time to look diligently. I recently looked over offering on the internet and found complete speedo/tach sets with mounts NOS for less than sixty dollars. NOS handlebars for less than thirty. New old stock OEM 1980 seat for less than a hundred. New levers for eight dollars each. And there was much, much more.
    Newcomers to the hobby are often put off by the costs. We all know the older bikes prices have risen dramatically. The cost of these bikes can be quite low. Many are low mileage garage finds languishing because the owner purchased a new bigger bike decades ago and the Sportster was pushed to the corner. Renovating them to riding condition is not an overwhelming task even for the neophyte. Service manuals and OEM parts books are plentiful. And these bikes are much more robust than mythology states. By 1980 they have a spin on oil filter and sufficient oil capacity to warrant lots of mileage. A cared for sportster will easily see 50,000 miles between top end jobs and 80-100,000 miles on the bottom end. Top end jobs are relatively inexpensive and done in a weekend by DIY mechanics for very little money compared to big twins and many imported brands.


    A 1980 I purchased and renovated

    Two summers ago, I located a low mileage 1980 XLH. Original black paint with the large HD logo and AMF gold decals. Purchased as a low mileage nonrunner it had two prior owners. After some negotiation, for a paltry $1300 I loaded it up along with a box of service items and the owners and factory service manual. The second owner who had obtained it only months before gave up because of carburetor problems. The original Good Year tires testified to its 7412 miles since new being genuine. In the box was a brand new Sudco Mikuni 38 mm carb, manifold, air cleaner and throttle kit. Resale of this left me with $1050 initial cost of the bike. l like to look on these extras as rebates on purchase. A new oil filter, and Diamond final drive chain that all lowered my out lay of renovation costs were in that box of extras.

    The bike like many that have sat for lengthy periods had need of a chassis service and new rubber. The carb problem was a result of an incomplete cleaning and failure to install the low-speed jet completely. Its electronic ignition still provided a bright blue spark. And after the Keihin carb faults were rectified, it easily fired up. We all know the joy of hearing a hibernating beast awakened from its long slumber. It is a smile that doesn’t fade quickly.

    Finally tally below provided to clarify just what something like this can be done for. The items like the brake pads were new old stock from a company that has a warehouse of 80’s HD parts at bargain prices. New premium grade pads form a manufacture in Canada. Items like the carb kit and air filter readily available from the original manufacture still in current production. Yet another advantage to these bikes.

    Cost for Parts

    $34.99 OEM manufacture Keihin carb kit
    $44.99 new sealed battery
    $39.99 one pair of new tire inner tubes
    $99.99 new Avon Front tire
    $116.99 new Avon rear tire
    $11.99 HD transmission primary oil
    $24.99 4 quarts of premium oil
    $15.99 4 new wheel seals
    $29.99 UNI air filter
    $9.99 fork oil
    $22.99 pair of fork seals
    $8.99 rear brake pads
    $14.99 pair of new front disc pads

    $476.87 parts expenditures
    $1050.00 initial cost of the bike after carb sale rebate
    $1526.87 total cost for what has become hundreds of smiles per mile

    81 Black orange rt.JPG
    A 1981 I acquired and renovated - The Milwaukee Special

    I see many that range from unmolested to slightly altered Sportsters from this era every week on the internet. Prices vary by regions, but I’ve personally bought them from one thousand to three thousand and never regretted any of them. Even my buddy Chuck, (AMCA forum member ChuckTheBeaterTruck) a hard core early Sporty rider enjoys them. His friend Dan, nick named the gold wing killer has a mostly stock 1980 XLH. Chuck has been known to take it out, run it to red line and put it thru it paces with a big grin. He, like myself agrees they are bargains for what they are. An American V-twin for a low price.

    82 XLS left.JPG
    1982 XLS Anniversary Special - tribute to 25 years of the Sportster line

    Conclusion? To expand the range of members and therefore riders I think we have to accept many have a view that the AMCA is about real old, really expensive bikes. Those of us in the organization know that isn’t exactly factual. None the less the 1980-1985 iron head Sportster fills the bill for attracting new riders. It’s affordable, and available for the riders new to vintage motorcycles. And above all just fun to roll around on. For me, that’s what old motorcycles are for.


    1983 XLX the factory Street Fighter
    Attached Files
    Last edited by Tin Man; 04-06-2021, 08:03 AM.

  • #2
    Nicely done commentary and pictures. Very enjoyable! Thanks for posting it. ......Smitty


    • #3
      Thanks Tin Man. The Sporty is a Fantastic deal all around!



      • #4
        Great write-up, Tin Man. Finding a relatively unmolested one after all these years is the challenge, but they are out there. My cousin has a low mileage 81 that a friend gave him for free. The friend's sister was the original owner and she stopped riding years ago. It only took some cleaning up, carb, hoses, fluids and wheel bearing service and he rides it all the time.
        AMCA #41287
        1998 Dyna Convertible - 100% Original
        1982 FXR - starting restoration
        1979 FXS 1200 (1340) nearly done
        96" Evo Softail self built chopper
        2012 103" Road King "per diem"
        plus 13 other bikes over the years...


        • #5
          I do enjoy beating the hell out of Dan's 1980. In fact, last night (April 5) he and I took a 65 mile cruise and we're heading out again for 100 miler in about two hours. I "warmed up" his 80 yesterday by pulling power wheelies up and down the street (I live on a private road).

          For how dirt cheap that bike was . . .it is friggin fantastic. The only wrenching I've had to do to it involved replacing a voltage regulator that wasn't grounding well and burnt itself. With an extra ground wire . . problem solved.

          I'm looking forward to seeing more and more of these "late" ironheads show up at AMCA meets.


          • #6
            And here is Dan on his 1980.


            He literally killed a 1981 Honda GL1100 in a spectacular way by a simple, but costly diy maintenance mistake -- and this was his replacement scooter. VERY different from the 'wing -- but he LOVES this bike in a way he never did the 'wing. The wing was a great bike and just boring as could be.

            Come to think of it; I have to get on him about joining the AMCA. It is part of his "rental plan" for shop space.


            • #7
              As Dan the gold wing killer shows, smiles and Ironheads go together.


              • #8
                I've judged a few post 1980 XL models over the last few years, so they are already showing up at meets.