1938 Harley Flathead: Rider’s Machine of Choice

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Harley Flathead

Decades of improvements all culminated in a bike that even the staunchest enthusiast could enjoy. 

Harley-Davidson motorcycles have never really been known as all-out speed machines. But in the early days, speed wasn’t even really a consideration at all. This remained true until 1930, when H-D finally ditched the F-Head engine design it had employed since 1903 in favor of a much improved sidevalve design. The Flathead debuted in 1920, but had a bit of a reputation for being slow. That is, until a massive engine redesign made the Model V a true contender in 1931.

1938 Harley Flathead

Unlike the J series, the Model V had detachable cylinder heads, fatter tires, and bigger brakes. Harley continued to improve the chassis and styling until it found the sweet spot in 1936. At this point, the the Flathead big-twin became the Model U. Sporting essentially the same chassis setup as the EL Knucklehead, the U was actually favored by traditionalists afraid to make the switch to overhead valve engines.

1938 Harley Flathead

Riders who wanted even more could opt for the UL, a high-compression variant carrying more power. Each came with a 4-speed transmission, dry-sump oil pump, and the familiar hand shift/foot clutch setup. All of which made the UL an obvious fan favorite and the rider’s machine of choice. And that also makes this well patina’d 1938 Harley UL Flathead a truly special machine.

Brett Foote has been covering the automotive industry for over five years and is a longtime contributor to Internet Brands’ Auto Group sites, including Chevrolet Forum, Rennlist, and Ford Truck Enthusiasts, among other popular sites.

He has been an automotive enthusiast since the day he came into this world and rode home from the hospital in a first-gen Mustang, and he's been wrenching on them nearly as long.

In addition to his expertise writing about cars, trucks, motorcycles, and every other type of automobile, Brett had spent several years running parts for local auto dealerships.

You can follow along with his builds and various automotive shenanigans on Instagram: @bfoote.

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