1981 Harley-Davidson FLHC Electra Glide Classic
With an experienced team and a lot of data.
Harley-Davidson equipped the Electra-Glide with electric start beginning in 1965, but the big change was to the Panhead engine the next year. The new “Shovelhead” (named because of the shape of the valve cover), had an aluminum head with a different-shaped combustion chamber, and rocker arms attached to the rocker cover instead of to the head itself. While the base FL produced 54 bhp, the FLH made a full 60 bhp.
The Electra-Glide was a serious long-distance tourer with a top speed just under 100 mph and a dizzying array of optional extras. By 1969, the factory “King of the Highway” package included a fiberglass fairing on the handlebars, hard saddlebags and a top case at the rear.
1970 was the year that the American Machine and Foundry (AMF) conglomerate took control of Harley-Davidson, and significant changes were made to the FLH. Ignition was relocated inside the gear case cover and driven off the camshaft. An alternator inside the primary case replaced the generator, and that widened the housing. 1960s FLH models can be divided between generator shovels and alternator shovels. The wider housing moved the footboards outwards, which led to complaints that the footboards and exhaust were too easy to drag on the ground.
A front disc brake was a welcome addition in 1972, and even at a hefty 738 lbs the quarter mile time was a decent 15.42 seconds. Bicentennial models were offered for 1976, the first Classic FLH appeared in 1977 with all options, and a 75th Anniversary Edition was offered in 1978. This also introduced electronic ignition and brought an increase in displacement from 74 cubic inches to 80 cubic inches and a corresponding bump in performance to 65 bhp. Alloy wheels were offered with tubeless tires were also offered, and the large sprung buddy seat became an option, with a hard-mounted double seat standard.
The FLT and FLHT Tour Glide were launched for 1980 with a new frame and a three-point mounting system. It didn’t stop the vibration inherent in a 45-degree twin, but it did at least insulate the rider and passenger for added comfort.
The FLT frame was attached to the fairing instead of having it bar-mounted. The fork tubes were now behind the steering stem to lighten low speed steering, and a five-speed transmission, oil bath chain and spin-on filter were introduced. Belt final drive was tested and fitted in 1983.
Also in 1983, the AMF conglomerate was pushed away from Harley’s affairs through a buyout, and a smaller management team with Davidson family members, managers and some AMF figures took over. The 1984-98 Tour Glide would jump into the modern era with the launch of the V2 Evolution engine, which was actually developed on AMF’s watch.