1965 H-D FLH Electra Glide
The end of the Panhead
Some bikes are instant classics. Take this 1965 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra Glide, the last of the Harley Panheads.
The ’60s were a revolutionary time for motorcycling, as Japanese brands made great inroads into the U.S. market with small, lightweight bikes offering exceptional performance for their size. But the Glide line was a perfect example of Harley’s policy of evolution, rather than revolution, in developing its bikes.
For ’65, the Glide still came with the venerable 74-cubic-inch (1,200cc) “Panhead” motor, which got that nickname from its pie-pan-shaped rocker-arm covers. Panheads had powered big Harleys for 18 years, including models such as the Hydra Glide and the follow-up Duo Glide. In ’66, though, the company would switch to the more modern Shovelhead design that would carry it all the way into the ’80s.
But while this machine had a motor rooted in the past, it also looked to the future with a feature that earned it the Electra Glide name: an electric starter. This was the first big Harley to feature push-button starting, along with the required 12-volt electrical system. But it also retained a kickstarter for traditionalists.
In keeping with that “something old, something new” approach, the company also offered ’65 Glide buyers a choice of either hand or foot shifting. Harley felt that the foot shift would appeal to new riders and those used to British bikes, while the old-style hand shift would be favored by the company’s hard-core base of loyal riders.
All together, that mix of features makes the 1965 Electra Glide a perfect period piece, an artifact of a company in the process of adapting its products to meet changing demands.
But there’s one other thing that’s special about this 1965 Electra Glide, donated by MBNA America to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum. This bike, which was part of the “Heroes of Harley-Davidson” exhibit at the Museum, located at AMA headquarters in Pickerington, Ohio, was the only one of the 50 classic machines on display that you could actually sit on.
Looking at historic motorcycles is great, but with this bike, you can actually get a feel for what it was like to be an American motorcyclist in 1965.