Retro Harleys go back to basics

Comment on this story
IOL mot pic feb3 Harley 72 1 . High bars, low seat, metal-flake paint; it couldn't be more Seventies if it tried.

Harley-Davidson has gone for a 'less is more' approach with two new cruisers, just released under the designation Model Year 2012.5 - one a retro 1970's Sportster, the other a modern, matt-black take on the Bobbers of the 1950s.


The Seventy-Two recalls an era of disco balls and metal-flake paint, a time when Arlen Ness and Uncle Bunt were showing the world just how minimal a motorcycle can be. The name, however, doesn't signify the year but commemorates Whittier Boulevard, the legendary cruising street in East Los Angeles also known as Route 72.

Harley-Davidson manager of industrial design Frank Savage said: “Those early choppers were colourful and chromed, but also narrow and stripped down to the essentials; they were almost as simple as a bicycle.”

For the Seventy-Two, Harley has jazzed up the iconic metal-flake paint finish of the time by laying down a base coat of straight black, followed by a polyurethane colour coat carrying hexagonal flakes seven times the size of traditional metal-flake particles, each flake coated with a thin aluminium film and then tinted red.

Over that there are four coats of clear lacquer, flatted by hand between coats, a logo on the tank top and pinstripe scallop details on both mudguards - with a final clear coat over the whole job.

IOL mot pic feb3 Harley 72 2 You almost expect him to be wearing bell-bottom jeans. .

Add a solo seat that leaves most of the chopped rear mudguard on display, a round air cleaner with a dished cover, powder-coat the engine an understated grey, top it off with a classic 7.9-litre 'peanut' fuel tank and your disco-ball-on-wheels is ready to roll.

The Seventy-Two will be available in South Africa before the end of the first quarter at R118 000.


A big part of the Harley-Davidson legend is the inability of many GI's returning from the Second World War to settle down; today we'd call in post-traumatic stress syndrome, they just called it 'the itch'.

They took military-surplus WL45's and junked everything that didn't make the bike go faster, to create the first custom bikes, known as bobbers after a cowboy-era fashion for cutting short or 'bobbing' the tails of working horses.

And that big-engined, no-bling look lives on in the Softail Slim. From the trimmed front mudguard to the narrow rear frame there's simply less of the Slim; fewer covers, a solo seat and 16” wheels at both ends.

IOL mot pic feb3 Harley Softail Slim 3 There is nothing extra on the Softail Slim. .

Senior designer Casey Ketterhagen said: “It's time once again to make the engine the focal point of a motorcycle, so we put a Softail on a diet. With a narrow tyre and chopped rear mudguard, the heart of the bike, the engine, becomes the focus.

“We left a gap between the nose of the seat and tank so the rider can see the top of the motor - I like to be able to look down and see what's moving me”


Keeping the back of the bike clean and simple, the Slim has no tail light - there's one built into each rear indicator - and the forged rear sub-frame struts are left uncovered.

The engine covers are polished and lacquered rather than chrome-plated for a softer glow, and the edges of the cylinder finning are left black.

Ketterhagen admitted: “My own Slim doesn't even have a front mudguard, but we can't go that far on a production bike!

IOL mot pic feb3 Harley Softail Slim 1 At 305kg the Softail Slim is a very big bike, but none of it is bling. .

“The Slim is intended as a modern interpretation of those home-built customs of the 1940s and 50s, and we used a number of components that evoke that era, including the Hollywood handlebar.”

The low, wide Hollywood bar was originally an accessory for pre-war Harley-Davidson models with a Springer fork, so-call because many riders of that era used the cross-brace to mount lights and bags. We call it bling, they called it 'going Hollywood'.

More period details include a louvered headlight nacelle, gloss black 'cat's eye' tank console with retro speedometer, half-moon rider footboards, a gloss black, oval air cleaner cover and gloss black rims and hubs.

The special Slim solo seat is upholstered in a tuck-and-roll pattern, and it's only 650mm off the floor.

Ketterhagen explained: “The bars are nice and low, too, so when you're riding you have an unobstructed view forward, which reinforces the idea that this is a very elemental motorcycle, a real back-to-basics ride.”


The counter-balanced, 1690cc Twin Cam 103B engine, rigid-mounted in the Softail frame, churns out 132Nm at 3250rpm, while an 18.9-litre tank will take you a long, long way beyond the street-lights.

The Softail Slim will be available in South Africa before the end of the first quarter at R209 500.

Motoring newsletter - click here to keep up to speed with the best in motoring

sign up

Comment Guidelines

  1. Please read our comment guidelines.
  2. Login and register, if you haven’ t already.
  3. Write your comment in the block below and click (Post As)
  4. Has a comment offended you? Hover your mouse over the comment and wait until a small triangle appears on the right-hand side. Click triangle () and select "Flag as inappropriate". Our moderators will take action if need be.

  5. Verified email addresses: All users on Independent Media news sites are now required to have a verified email address before being allowed to comment on articles. You are only required to verify your email address once to have full access to commenting on articles. For more information please read our comment guidelines 

justinw, wrote

IOL Comments
09:16am on 7 February 2012
IOL Comments

Its a pity its so over priced. I loved my 883 std that cost R65000.00 in 2008. Cant afford anither onbe so will have to look at another manufacturer. Paul. I could handle that Harley better than our 600rr

Report this

IOL Comments

paul, wrote

IOL Comments
10:11am on 4 February 2012
IOL Comments

Harleys have the handling of a Bull Elephant in Musk! I the performance category: They have Tassels on the handle bars so you can see when they are moving. The engine is donated from the construction industry ex Dumper Truck.

Report this

IOL Comments

Anonymous, wrote

IOL Comments
08:48pm on 3 February 2012
IOL Comments

Ill take victory anyway at 40K cheaper than the slim with a 106 cu motor

Report this

IOL Comments

Brian, wrote

IOL Comments
01:21pm on 3 February 2012
IOL Comments

Overpriced bikes!

Report this

IOL Comments

Showing items 1 - 4 of 4