Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I've had so much response to the Hacker-built Harleys at the Grossglockner Hillclimb, it seemed appropriate to give a littl background on these enigmatic and compelling machines.  First mention on these pages was the appearance of the 8-Valve Harley at the Bonhams Pamplona collection sale; photographs of the machine from the Bonhams press kit had me immediately cross-eyed.

It was clear the machine was special, and very likely indeed A Special, as four-valve cylinder heads weren't used on J-model crankcases... but you never know what you'll find in the motorcycling world, and there was a slim chance it was some factory-built European roadracer, a la the OHV 1926 Indian 750cc, of which 3 were built to compete in Europe, complete with brakes, mudguards, and megaphones.  The black Harley was very clearly built in this spirit, although 'modern' touches like the twin Amal TT carbs gave a hint to some modern thinking. The bike was clearly built for speed, with a period aspect, giving the whole ensemble a unity which is very convincing.  Plus, an applied patina to all parts gives a feeling of real period authenticity.  Full marks.

The black Harley sold at Bonhams for £29,000, to an English rider/collector, who was kind enough to bring it to Grossglocker so all could revel in its glory.  Unfortunately, serious magneto trouble prevented a run up the hill, even after long hours spend on Friday night; only one cylinder would cooperate, so the bike was shelved for the weekend.  Sad, as the bike was built by Harry Hacker to make some serious horsepower.  Note in the above photos how slim is the machine; those 1920s Harleys were lithe and fast, giving no hint of the bloated dinosaurs the marque would produce in years to come.

I spoke with Harry Hacker, proprietor of his own shop and perhaps best known as partner of Fritz Simmerlien in the Harleysons motorcycle club and website, during the weekend, to prise the secrets of his build on the two OHV Harley conversions at the Hillclimb.  The Black machine used standard Harley 'J' crankcases, with cylinder barrels and 4-Valve heads provided by Fred Lange Restorations.  A standard J rolling chassis is used, with the addition of a front drum brake, from a later model; the rear brake is the typical contracting-band item which grips the outside of the brake drum.  Kind of humorous, that brake, given that Harry reckons the bike puts out around 70hp!  That's almost 3 times the original output of the inlet-over-exhaust J... expect wheel-spinning antics from the new owner of the machine... although he seems a civilized sort, sporting a tie underneath his Belstaff jacket - a Vintagent for sure!

The Second Hacker machine, in green, was hitched to a vintage Harley sidecar, ridden by the man himself, with wife Otilie as active ballast.  The green bike is similar in general configuration to the black, although the engine is entirely new, with beefed-up crankcases, all new internals, and replica Peashooter cylinders and heads.  It makes a little more hp than the earlier black machine, around 72hhp Harry says, but sports the same patinated condition, lagged exhaust pipes (four of them!), English saddle, and later front brake, this one looking identical to a BSA 8" item, but methinks it is actually a Harley 'K' model item?

A Harley such as this would have no problem hauling a chair and passenger up a steep incline, if those hp figures are accurate.  The Peashooter heads share a single Schebler carb of large diameter, making a tune-up much easier, and perhaps a better low-end mixture - very important when carrying a bunch of weight alongside.

The result of all Hacker's work is a pair of extremely appealing vintage motorcycles, with serious performance and an eye towards authenticity.  To the uninitiated, they look like 'the real thing', even though such bikes never existed in the 1920s...would that they did!  But, it would add another zero to the selling price...
And a little video action from youtube!