Rare Harley Davidson 1946 Knucklehead FL – Bonhams Auction
1946 Harley-Davidson 74ci FL Knucklehead is one of the rare motorcycles from the Lonati Collection, being autioned this weekend October 17, 2015
The handsome motorcycle offered here is one of 3,986 ‘Knucklehead’ models produced by Harley-Davidson for the civilian market in 1946 following the end of WW2. Without question one of the most handsome and readily recognisable motorcycle engines of all time, the Harley-Davidson overhead-valve v-twin – known as the ‘Knucklehead’ after its distinctively shaped rocker boxes – had first appeared in 61ci form in 1936, powering a stylish all-new motorcycle. The sidevalve engine had served Harley well since the end of the preceding decade, but it had become obvious that something more advanced would be required for a new high-performance model: hence the Knucklehead. Dry sump lubrication was a feature of this new engine, which produced 37bhp in ‘E’ and 40bhp in high-compression ‘EL’ form. The EL Knuckle’s top speed was within a whisker of 100mph.
A twin-loop frame was deemed necessary to handle the model’s increased power while the front suspension too was beefed up, the forks switching to oval tubing in place of the previous forged I-beams. Teething problems associated with the earliest examples had been sorted out by 1937 and the Milwaukee factory quickly set about establishing the EL’s performance credentials. Joe Petrali set a new speed record of 136mph at Daytona Beach on 13 March ’37 while Fred Ham later averaged 76.615 mph for 24 hours at Muroc Dry Lake in California to set a new best mark, covering 1,825 miles in the process. Progressively improved, the OHV Harley became available in 74ci (FL) form from 1941, remaining a cornerstone of the Milwaukee range in ‘Panhead’ and later ‘Shovelhead’ versions until superseded by the Evolution-engined bikes in the 1980s.
A shortage of chromium in the immediately post-war years enforced the adoption of alternative finishes for many components, as evidenced by this FL’s black-painted headlight, wheel rims and ‘crash’ bars. Not until 1947 would Harleys again boast a full complement of chromium plating.
Full auction details available at Bonhams
E-catalogue available The Lonati Collection of American Motorcycles