How can you tell that David Tracy and I are related? We are both idiots when it comes to vehicles with “soul,” especially those that have been neglected.
Back in January, I received a WhatsApp message from my good friend, fellow rider and bike builder Andre:
The message, which includes a picture of a Harley Davidson — a bike one rarely sees on the streets of Hong Kong, especially not of this vintage — reads: “This has not moved in 8 months, no plates, no paperwork. Must’ve 1980’s surely.”
After a bit of back and forth about how old we thought the bike was, whether it was abandoned or whom it might possibly belong to, I conducted a few Google searches and found that this is a 1965 Harley Davidson Electra Glide, a machine that was quite a significant milestone for Harley Davidson. Not only did this bike have the last of the Panhead engines but also the first electric start (hence the name), making it a single year release with such a configuration. (Also, Elvis Presley is said to have owned one).
How on Earth did such an incredible bike end up in Hong Kong, ultimately left to rot on a small street of an industrial district? In hopes of getting some answers, Andre, another good friend/fellow rider Aaron and I agreed to meet up the very next weekend to have a gander, take a few photographs and ask nearby shops about the bike.
The motorcycle looked nice from about 10 feet away but on closer inspection, it had its faults. Plenty of chrome had peeled with the underlying bare metal rusted, a few screws and parts were missing, and the bike appeared to have been painted where you wouldn’t want paint, like on the spark plugs and gas tank petcock valves. All rubbers and wiring were cut from the bike, and the speedometer appears to have been filled with water at some point. It seems that the last owner really wanted a beautiful but non-functioning bike, like those that can be found in Kiehl’s stores at shopping malls all around Hong Kong.
We spent a good half hour discussing and photographing when a nearby mechanic came over and asked us what we were doing (in Cantonese), probably curious as to why three foreigners (“gweilo”) were loitering around such an older beater that most folks wouldn’t find interesting. I responded that I was only taking photos (“ngah yin-seung”); he didn’t seem to understand, probably because of my mispronunciation. A few moments later two other mechanics came by who spoke a bit of English and also asked what I was doing. This time I responded that I was photographing the motorcycle, but was also interested in possibly buying it. One of the mechanics immediately got on the phone with the owner of the bike who stated that he does not have any paperwork and that he could only sell it as a “Display Car”.
I asked how much he was looking to sell it for, to which he, to our surprise, responded “$2k to $3k HKD” ($256 to 384 USD). I thanked the three mechanics and told them I would think about it. Like a team huddle, Andre, Aaron, and I turned to each other and discussed how the price was too good to pass up on, and that some of these parts alone were probably worth the gamble. I asked Andre if he wanted to purchase the bike since he’d found it, but, seeing the excitement on my face, he said “If it’s going to make you this happy, then you better buy it. It’s really a no-brainer.” Andre also mentioned he has enough to sort out on his current Honda-Ducati build.
I walked over to the shop in which the 3 mechanics were working and asked if they would take $2k HKD cash. They agreed and filled out a bill of sale with the seller’s ID and the VIN of the “Display Car.” I was officially the owner of a classic Harley Davidson!
It’s been over a week since I’ve owned the Harley and have found that this project is not an easy task and will take a while, especially with my limited tools, small workspace, and novice wrenching background. This past weekend I started to disassemble the bike with yet another good friend Laurent. One slight issue we came across was that there is quite a significant oil leak, with the entire lower end of the engine block missing.
Yikes. That’s definitely a problem.
This means I’ll need to somehow find and replace the engine case with one that comes with a title (since the case has the VIN on it), and I’ll have to swap whatever other parts are unusable due to the lack of oil and more importantly moisture intrusion.
Now why am I taking on such a project that seems impossible to finish in Hong Kong? There’s nothing like learning from wrenching on a bike. Simply getting a bike that was considered scrap in Hong Kong back on the road State-side and handing it down to my future kids is the ultimate goal. Plus, buying foolish projects is in my blood.