Will This 1947 Harley Knucklehead Run After Sitting Over 50 Years?



Over at Dale’s Wheels Through Time Museum, questions about whether or not a given vintage Harley will run aren’t uncommon. In fact, since they’ve made a video about this particular one to post on the official DWTT YouTube channel, it’s probably a fair bet that the question isn’t “will it run?” so much as it’s “how many kicks will it take?”  

Still, it’s always fun to see something like this 1947 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead come back to life after being in storage for over 50 years. The owner of this Knucklehead lives in Ohio, and had this bike—an EL model with a 61 cubic inch mill—sitting in storage for a long time. This package was created toward the end of the Knucklehead’s reign, so it represents some of the best of Harley’s achievements with this engine configuration, according to Matt. 

What do you need for a bike to run? Compression, fuel, and spark, of course. So, Matt goes through a quick assessment of the basic overall condition of this bike. It looks like it’s been taken care of over its lifetime. Even though it was clearly put away after having spent a lot of time riding dirt roads (as evidenced by some caked-on dirt and mud residue), the fluids were clearly drained before it was put away.  

The fuel tank was likely parkerized with a chemical phosphate to prevent corrosion, and looks to be in great shape after a quick peek with a flashlight. The oil tank also looks good, with just a bit of grime in the bottom that’s probably residue from when the oil was drained out before it was put away. A small squirt of gasoline and a bit of scrubbing from a copper wire brush clear all that gunk up very quickly, readying it for actual oil to go inside. 

A look inside the carburetor reveals what looks to be a more modern float than Matt expected to find, but which he still replaces with the rubber ducky float he likes to use in these Linkert carburetors. Suction now perfectly in order, he purposely doesn’t touch the needles at all, for reasons we’ll all see a short time later.  

Points are good, electrical system seems to be working, lights all work—the only obvious thing that doesn’t is the horn, which likely needs a rebuild. Preliminary checks complete, Matt decides it’s time to add fuel, oil, and a battery, and then see if it will run.  

Matt guesses it’ll take about three kicks to start, and we won’t spoil the surprise for you, but it does most definitely start. Not only that, it sounds quite good given that it’s likely been around 54 years since this bike was last run. Since everything else about this bike’s condition indicated that it was cared for, Matt said that’s exactly why he didn’t mess with the carb settings before seeing and hearing how it had been set up before storage. Why break it if someone clearly took their time to get it into good shape before putting it away?  

It’s a great, solid specimen, but it’ll need a lot more work to get back into shape if it’s going to go out on the road. Still, it’s such a great thing to see, and we hope it brings you as much joy as it did for us. 



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