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Thread: The Nickle and Dime Express: a Not Really 1946 Harley UL Big Twin Flathead

  1. #1
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    Default The Nickle and Dime Express: a Not Really 1946 Harley UL Big Twin Flathead

    Lurking in the back of a garage, shed, or basement of many motorbike enthusiasts is a pile of cast off or spare parts. These parts build up over time – and one day you have to ask yourself the question: What am I doing with this stuff?

    Some people vend, some people trade, and others build Frankenbikes (aka as Bitsas). And that is how the Nickle and Dime Express came to be. The Man says it is a 1946 Harley Davidson UL – but there’s not a lot of 1946 to the bike. Pretty much only the left case and the transmission case are 1946. The rest, well, it’s a story.


    Several years ago, I ran across a screaming deal on a 1958-64 Big Twin frame, swing arm, and a bunch of random parts. The frame was not pristine. Someone had started to cut it up, but thankfully stopped before they got to the rake job. They thoughtfully tacked the cut off brackets back on and then left it for a good long time. So, it was possible to use it on a restoration, but I really bought it to build a rider. When I was done selling the other parts that came with the chassis on fleabay the cost of the frame was zero.

    My initial thought was to track down a complete Panhead motor and build a somewhat correct rider. About the same time, the price of good Pan motors with clean titles went through the roof. I started thinking about what big twin motor I could stuff in the frame on the cheap and a light bulb went on. What about a big twin side valve?

    I made a few phone calls and learned that indeed, it’s not terribly difficult to drop a U series flathead into most post 1936 big twin frames. There’s some tricks, but they do fit fairly well. V series motors present more challenges (and are harder to find complete anyways). So, we had a plan – a cheap big twin flathead in a duoglide chassis.

    Now, at the time, big twin flatties were getting no love and complete motors with paper were going for less than $3000. Today, the story is different and suddenly flatties are worth something to custom builders. I wound up buying a set of mismatched cases from David Sarafan. The left is a clean 1946 UL case that was a snap to get a title for. The right case is a 1939 case and needed some minor motor mount repair. Those of you in the know will say: wait, you can’t match a blind race case to an open race case. Sure you can . . . it just takes some tooling and patience. We’ll talk more about that later.

    I now had a frame and swing arm, cases, and a title. And about now is when I learned that it is much harder to find all the parts to build up a UL motor than you might think. The main challenge at the time was finding cylinders. I lucked into a pair of 1939 ULH cylinders in nearly pristine condition. In another one of those AMCA created moments, Grant Peterson took mercy on me at Wauseon and sold me the cylinders for a very fair price. I now suddenly had a rarity – good, original, 80” cylinders! Yippee!!!

    However, by now I was pushing my budget and decided to raid the spare parts bin. Besides my own lot, I started stalking the $5 and $10 tarps at AMCA meets for beat up and discarded parts. I didn’t have to look for specific years – just parts that would fit and work together. Not dead parts, just ugly parts. By the end of summer I had collected enough parts to start building a custom bike. Everything, including the cases, needed some type of repair. It was clear this was never going to be anything but a rider – so let’s do a custom. Not a chopper, not a bobber – not any of the “kewl” stuff you see too often on TV today. Just a custom bike made out of HD parts left for dead.

    Here’s the initial pile of parts . . .

    46 UL 2.jpg

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    What comes out of the pile is pretty different.

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  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
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    Oregon
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    Default

    bitsa bikes are way easier & tons cheaper to build & just as much fun to ride.
    iv'e got lots of random parts available if you need anything.

  3. #3
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    Chicago
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    I agree. When you have a pile of parts; sometimes a bike just needs to emerge.

    Thanks for the offer. I'm actually finishing up a few details right now whilst stuck on "lock down." Some folks are going to cringe like mad when they read further.

  4. #4
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    One of the things I've gotten bit on before with assembling a bitsa bike is the straightness of the chassis -- and specifically the motor to transmission alignment. Usually there is a reason a frame wound up as a bare frame.

    I also had to do a lot of work on the frame. The head stock was cut, but not bent for a rake job, tabs were cut off but rough tacked back into place, etc.

    Before I started assembling other parts, I decided to sort these things out first.

    The frame wound up taking about 20 hours of work. It was slightly tweaked from the head stock cut and welding. I didn't have a frame table available . . . so I bolted the frame down to a level concrete floor, heated the neck and twisted it to straight. Then everything got welded back together. Because it was a mess and a half, I decided to mold the frame. Not mold with bondo. Mold with weld and lead. That took awhile and consumed quite a bit of argon and mig wire. I learned three things: 1) I really need to learn to Tig weld; 2) my el cheapo mig welder was barely up to the task; 3) cold welds are bad welds.

    With the frame mostly straightened out, I moved on to checking the case fit. There's a lot of mythology about whether you can easily match non-matching cases. Basically, it comes down to three primary things: 1) do the bores align; 2) do the mount pads align? and 3) do the Cylinder Decks align? It is much more challenging to match two different series of cases. In the case of these cases (all puns intended) we were dealing with a right case that has a blind insert and a left case that has an open. What this means is that in the earlier series, HD used a mandrel to align the main bores. The cases were then put together around the mandrel. These cases also have a master case "stud" at the center and two other precision fit studs in the lower corners. Later cases have open main bores and aligned differently. In theory, it's a mother to make two totally different series align.

    Thankfully, prewar Harley machinists were top notch. The dimensions of the cases are the same -- so centers of bores didn't change, just how they are assembled. But, there's a bit more to it. The two case halves use different diameter bolts/studs. If you ram the wrong size through . . . well, you can crack things. So, I made all the connecting hardware out of 4140 rod and hex stock to match each case half. We then bolted it all together around the right case dowel studs. Surprisingly, the cylinder decks were in .0005 alignment - the motor pads were out .001 and the bore center line was almost spot on. Yeah, HD.

    So, I welded up the cracked mount and decided to go old fashion and hand file it flat. It is better to mill this sort of stuff; but for some reason I can't remember, I wasn't able to use the mill. Anyways, just took our time dressing the mounts. Filing can be enjoyable.

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    To mount up the motor, we also had to make up a front spacer plate. With the introduction of the hydra glide -- and in prep for the Panhead motor -- the front motor mount is .380 lower on later big twin frames than earlier ones. So, the flatty requires a spacer plate. HD sold these for retrofitting - and VTwin does a repo. I just made one out of 6160 alloy.

    The motor fit up to the frame nicely and so we focused on making sure the main bores would align with out issue.

    They were quite close. But, it's hard to hone them because of the blind race. You simply can't stroke the hone. So, I decided to go low tech, low budget and slow -- I made custom lapping heads. I bought an ARCO lap in nearly the correct size and then copied the design.

    I made up a tapered insert for the left case half that exactly fit the shank of the lapping head. It was then a matter of slowly revolving the lap for more turns than I care to remember. It was very little material -- but lapping is not fast.

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  5. #5
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    From there, I started sorting through the parts pile and figuring out what I'd use. For several reasons, I decided we'd mix and match parts from the 1930s through the 50s, but as much as possible had to be HD parts. As I went through stuff, I discovered that I had mid-star hub stuff. This meant I could use a later hydraulic brake in the rear and a later hydra fork in the front with the right side drum. Nobody seems to be after right side hydra legs -- so a pair came to me for basically free. Beat up, but mostly free.

    I also scored a seat for .99 cents on fleabay. It was from an early 80s bike and a dual seat. I cut that into a large solo. You can't pass up seats for less than a buck.

    With that decided, I started mocking up different configurations of parts.

    Here are a few first trials:
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  6. #6
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    It may not be so apparent in those mock up photos, but a big twin flathead is actually a pretty trim and compact motor. There's a lot of room in that duoglide chassis. As I added more and more parts, I felt the bike started to look too "heavy" in comparison to the motor.

    I also realized that because I bought "junk" parts of the $5 and $10 tarps, plus my own collection of cast off garbage, that every single part needed some serious attention.

    At this stage, I said to myself: "why not just make the bike light and tight?" Not chopped, just light and tight.

    So, I grabbed a sportster tank off the shelf and started messing with some other sportster parts. Most guys try to make sportster look like big twins by adding fat bobs -- I went the opposite, I wanted to slim down the big twin by using a sporty tank and rear fender.

    Here's a couple of very early fit ups.

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  7. #7
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    I like what you're doing, thanks for bringing us along for the ride!
    Pisten Bulley is Harry Roberts in Vermont.

  8. #8
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    I was now happy with the more slimmed down tank, but the front end still seemed too wide for the bike. I also have never been particularly impressed with the front drum on big twins. About now, another light bulb went on -- a Triumph twin leading shoe hub uses the same spacing for the brake anchor as HD. It's a different type of anchor, but nonetheless in the right spot. And, we have right side anchor because we went with the later hydra legs. Yippee.

    The width of the forks was dealt with by buying a set of "narrow glide" 39mm trees from a late 1980s Dyna. To make it work, I made up a boring table and a through boring bore for the lathe. It was then just a matter of slowly boring out the 2mm. Well, a little tougher than that, but basically, just opening them up.

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    The lower sliders were beat up pretty badly. Lots out gouges and just a mess. BUT -- and it's a big BUT -- the bushings were phenomenal. To deal with the cosmetics would have required some serious, serious sanding before repolishing. Or, filler and paint -- but I just don't like painting alloy fork bits if I don't have to.

    Instead, I decided to commit a mortal sin and shave the legs. Yep, they got mounted in the lathe and whittled down before being repolished.

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    I then cut down and rethreaded a standard axle to fit the now narrower profile and spacers to adapt the Triumph hub. I also swapped out the bearings in the hub to fit the HD axle and made up a new inner spacer to suit. The backing plate got a nipple welded onto the brake anchor, which was then drilled and tapped for the anchor bolt. I wound up using a 1968-69 style TLS backing plate because it actuates in a slightly different way from the later series (straight vs. bent linkage) and fits the bike better.

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  9. #9
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    We also raided the parts bin for a discarded XLCH rear fender, which we used to make a rear fender for the flatty. Mrs. Chuck found an old Mack truck marker lamp at Davenport years ago, which we modified into the rear lamp. I added an 1157 bulb holder so we could have stop and tail light functions -- and made up a reflector to give it some juice.

    We also decided to use a set of rear shocks/air bags off a later HD, add square floor boards, and some other junk. The front head lamp holder and fork covers were to try an idea; not for the final product. We also beat together a 2:1 exhaust -- the repo exhaust systems don't fit a duo glide chassis. You'll also spot a magneto -- we decided to keep this one minimal, well that and we had a magneto on the shelf.

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  10. #10
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    It was then time to start cracking into various details.

    Because I wound up making more than 2/3rds of the hardware on this bike and almost all of the bracketry, I had a lot of parkerizing to do.

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    I also decided to lace the hubs to borrani-style alloy rims.

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    My late pooch always liked to steal stuff when I was lacing wheels -- the flatty lost a whole wheel to her for a few days.

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    With these little things done, I turned my attention to the chassis. I molded the poor, beat up chassis using lead. Yep, lead. I used Johnson Products lead free body solder (sold commercially through Eastwood). It has a tensile strength MUCH higher body filler. It was a good few weeks of work to mold and finish each joint on the frame. I did use some finishing filler to top off the lead filling and smooth all the transitions. I also added the left rear down tube gusset upgrade and added a second gusset to the right rear down tube. The later DOES interfere a bit with the oil feed line . . . more on that later.

    I also media blasted everything and prepped it for some outdoor fun in the sun.

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