Retro Harleys go back to basics

By Motoring Staff Time of article published Feb 3, 2012

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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.

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.

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!

“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 R 209 500.

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