1957 Harley Davidson Panhead

The first bike up for auction at the Bulli Antique Motorcycle weekend on the 28th and 29th of august is this lovely 1957 Panhead Harley Davidson. This 1957 Harley-Davidson FL Panhead is a rare and extremely collectible model from the last year rigid frames appeared on the Big Twins. As a development of the EL Knucklehead, by 1957, the FLH Panhead had its “bugs” worked out and all the improvements the factory made to that model had been incorporated. In many ways, these last-year machines are the best of the breed and the best to buy for riding. The FL Panhead was introduced in 1948 with springer forks and a rigid frame, and it gained telescopic Hydra-Glide forks a year later. Eight years after that, the 1957 Panhead was the last to feature a rigid frame before the introduction of the Duo-Glide in 1958. While the Duo-Glide brought Harley-Davidson into the modern era, it was significantly heavier than the Hydra-Glide it replaced—60 pounds heavier, in fact. While the rigid frame was technically inferior, the saddle was sprung on the vertical seat tube and was very comfortable for extended riding, even over rough surfaces. This bike is ready to ride away and rally.

Price guide A$20-25,000

1983 Honda GL650 Silverwing Interstate

1983 Honda GL650 Silverwing Interstate.

Rare if not unique in Australia, I imported this bike from the USA in June 2014. It had 9184 miles on the odometer and was in original unmolested condition with all its factory accessories. It has now done 15800 miles and remains in the same condition. Below is a potted history of the bike and the reason I chased one down in the USA and brought it to Australia.

The Bike: When it was new, the 1983 Honda GL650 Silverwing seemed like a sure-bet winner for Honda. The basically identical GL500 had been successful for several years prior and before the GL, there had been the CX – the first of the series to use the transverse “twisted” 80 degree pushrod V-twin, which was (being a Honda) a better-engineered, better-built and more potent loose copy of Moto Guzzi’s engine of similar layout.

The GL650 was significantly updated. The “650” CC engine was completely re-engineered to handle the 22% higher power output. The connecting rods, rod bolts and main bearings were all upgraded. Cylinder studs are beefier. A finned, bolt-on oil pan was added to increase total oil capacity to 4.1 quarts. The intake valves in the “650’s” heads are larger.

The cooling system got a thermostatically triggered electric fan. There was also a new maintenance-free automatic cam chain tensioner system.

The GL650 also has a new-design, strengthened transmission with different ratios that help it get slightly better gas mileage than the 500 – despite the extra displacement and additional 14 hp. Larger diameter 37 mm front forks and higher-rate springs, along with steel frame tubes that were bigger and stronger than the ones used for the 500s.

The Ride: The first thing you notice is how light the bike is. It has a curb weight just over 500 pounds, or not much more than a current-year standard without any fairings at all – and hundreds of pounds less than a new Goldwing. It’s an easy bike to “walk” in close confines, such as trying to fit it into a spot in your garage. And it is an easy bike to ride at a fairly aggressive pace, too – if you want to do that. Though you sit high in the saddle, you can still squeeze the tank between your legs, shift your weight down onto the pegs and heel the thing over to fairly aggressive lean angles. The limiting factor here is clearance – which you’ll run out of long before you exceed the bike’s safe limits.

The suspension features air-assist on both ends – with Honda’s Pro Link monotube shock in the back. you can easily tailor this bike’s settings to your size and preferences – all without any tools.  The 650 feels strong, both off the line and in the middle ranges with reserves enough to comfortably maintain 75 mph with the tach reading about 5,000 RPM – a bit more than halfway to redline at 9,500.

But it was only produced in one year – blamed at the time on a 45% USA Gov. tariff designed to support Harley Davidson, who had filed for bankruptcy.

The GL650 is a great bike, it has the power – and the legs – to operate as a long-distance tourer. Yet it it also nimble enough (and economical enough) to serve as a commuter, too.

It’s a long-lasting bike. Many are still out there today in the USA and Europe– Parts are plentiful via Ebay, and in Australia it’s a one-off and ultra-rare bike.


Price guide A$4,500-6,500.