Originally posted by Buck Lovell on Thursday, 17 May 2012 in Buck Lovell's - American Biker Blog
The COPY CAT PANHEAD
AFTER ALL… IMITATION IS THE MOST SINCERE FORM OF FLATTERY
Way back in the late 1960's or early 1970's an unknown builder produced the black Panhead Chopper shown here. This Black Panhead Chopper is typical example of the kind or style of custom motorcycle being created in that era by most bike builders be they a custom shop or a homebuilder. Few if any aftermarket parts or components were available for Harley-Davidson motorcycles at that time, so anything and everything a builder used to" customize" his or her motorcycle was truly custom in the purest sense of the word. At any rate, looking at the black Panhead is like looking through a window back in time. Many if not most of the so-called "Old School" motorcycles I have seen today don't really represent any motorcycles I saw back then. Most of the so-called Old School bikes I've seen seem to be motorcycles with Hot Rod influenced paint schemes, and customization. I have been riding choppers since 1968, and I know for a fact that the use of white sidewall tires back then was at the very least undesirable. White sidewall tires were for Dressers, or squares. So have fun looking at the Black bike, then take a longer look at the red Panhead.
John Ventriglia, at the time VP of then two companies Rivera Engineering and Primo Belt Drives decided he wanted to build a "chopper" styled like the good old days. Not the so called "old school" bullshit passed off as real "back-in-the-day" Choppers.
I had in my possession a Mike Edlund repro 1964 Panhead rigid frame. I was going to build a motorcycle just like the bike I had in 1974. He talked me out of my precious Mike Edlund reproduction 1954 Panhead frame (cradle), and started the process of chasing parts. I got the Frame from Mike just before he returned to Sweden for the last time. John used the photos I had of the Black Panhead as a blueprint for his "in progress" red machine. He wanted his motorcycle to be as accurate as possible in depicting an early style chopper, or at least this particular early style chopper. Only a few deviations from the black blueprint bike were made, one of which was the modification of the rear wheel brake pedal. The pedal on the copy-bike was extended slightly forward to make brake activation quicker and safe without the need to search for the pedal. John opted to use juice brakes on the red Pan for rear wheel braking rather than the mechanical stuff.
Note that the brake pedal position as seen on the black bike was typical, and that sloppy mechanism sometimes it difficult to get the foot on the pedal in an emergency. Of course, with constant riding we became accustomed to sloppy stuff like that and adjusted for it in our riding style. Practice makes perfect. As a long time rigid frame motorcycle rider, I can tell ya that very first thing I learned when riding a hard tail motorcycle was to watch the road surface. Not just part of the time, all of the time. I constantly scanned the road near and far looking for potholes, debris, and anything that would go bump. To this day, I constantly scan the road surface, it has become an ingrained habit. That scanning habit has saved my butt more than once, allowing me to avoid a dangerous something in the road. I rode a motorcycle without a front brake for so long, that all the behavior required for riding survival without a front brake I still subconsciously use today. I'm constantly watching out for the other vehicles on the road. Fear of the other four wheeled vehicles using the roadway is a very healthy notion.
Back to the bikes. John Ventriglia spent a great deal of time gathering the parts needed to copy the black bike. NOS Springer parts were obtained from a friend who had a secret stash of NOS parts on the East Coast. John actually managed to locate a complete, and brand spanking new Harley-Davidson Springer fork unit with a complete mechanical brake assembly........Even when they work...they don't really work worth a shit! Dick Ellavsky at Atlas Precision put a lot of fabrication time into getting the red bike to look as close as possible to the configuration of the black bike. If anybody knows about yesteryear choppers its Dick. An untrained or inexperienced eye won't notice the Triumph ribbed front fender being use on the red bike as the rear fender. Why would anybody use a Triumph front fender as seen used here? Because at the time the black bike was being assembled, the Triumph fender was plentiful because Triumph owners were removing them and tossing them onto the scrap heap. The ribbed fender also looks real cool and custom, way better than most so-called custom fenders of today.
So here is the description of the red Panhead as created or rather copied into life by John Ventriglia with a ton of help from Dick and many others too numerous to mention here.
John Ventriglia's Red "Hot Rod" Panhead is a 93 cubic inch monster, the black bike is a 74. The red Pan is equipped with a Joe Hunt magneto and a monster two-inch SU carb, Mel Magnets favorite aspirator. Hot Rod Pan is a rigid frame Harley-Davidson of undefined vintage (special construction) that imitates the choppers of late 1960, and early 1970. The Springer fork is genuine Harley-Davidson as is all the front brake equipments. Everything that could be plated has been treated to a show chrome finish. Ditto for the rear wheel, and juice-brakeninstallation out back. Ditto for the whole bike actually. The frame, gas tanks (split), and rear fender have been painted an appropriate House of Kolor non-candy double red, which makes the bike look as if it's traveling faster than it usually is. At least to a traffic cop. A spring-sprung saddle on the little red Pan keeps the rider somewhat isolated from the rigors of the road surface, but not as much as some of the sissy riders of today would tolerate, you know who you are. The passenger is not so fortunate. She, as a rider on the P-Pad of this bike, must contend with the bumps and jerks of whatever road the rider chooses. Of she can hang on to the "sissy bar" that why they are there, to allow the sissies to hang on! The primary cover on the red Pan is of the early diamond style (the black bike uses the late style cover with compensator bulge up front), and clutch hand action is assisted with a "mousetrap" (both bikes) because the stock clutch would have had heavy springs that were intended for foot clutch use. Under the tin primary cover on the red Pan is of course a Primo belt drive, not a chain. Did John get it right when he made the copy? Pretty damn close,…I haven't seen anything like this bike anywhere. It truly is an accurate copy. Horsepower wise, it is head and shoulders above any 1960's Harley-Davidson. The bike has so much torque, and so little weight, first gear is almost never used. Rolling on the throttle while rolling at 25 MPH in second gear is almost as useless. The 5:10 X 16 original tread Goodyear tire just spins and smokes. Try it again in third, and it's the same. The red Pan is a real arm stretcher, if you can get the tire to hook up. If you like the red Panhead, and want to ask John any questions about building a copy, and about how much hair he pulled out trying to get it exactly right you can call him at Rivera-Primo 562-907-2600.