The Harley-Davidson motorcycle company was 100 years old in 2003, and it’s been producing American motorcycles with a distinction that sets them apart from all others. They battled through the ups and downs of the economic depression and multiple recessions to keep afloat and deliver a consistent stream of machines that helped to built their legacy of continuity and hard core performance. The 1970s was a productive era in the history of Harley-Davidson and they manufactured some of the most beloved editions that have stood the test of time to become vintage examples suitable for any collector’s stable. Here is a look at the 10 best Harleys of the 1970s.
10. 1975 Harley-Davidson SS-250
This bike first rolled off production lines in the middle of the decade and made history for the brand as the king of the Harleys with their largest two stroke single cylinder engine as of that time. The design team was inspired by Yamaha’s engine design. Harley had partnered with Aermacchi of Italy in the previous decade to produce their line of four stroke single engines under the HD badge, but in the mid-size bike had not yet come up with a powerful two stroke. The SS-250 was the largest street version that the brand offered, and for enthusiasts of the on/off road models, they offered the SX with each bike available in a 175 and 250 cc editions. The design wasn’t eco-friendly, and within a few short years, they were discontinued because of the EPA’s regulatory conditions that would have made it difficult to continue production of these 2 stroke models.
9. 1971 Harley-Davidson FX Super Glide
The Super Glide takes the place in the history of Harley as their “first factory custom” motorcycle. It’s number nine on our list because of its significance in the evolution of Harley machines. Although the sales weren’t high in 1971, this composite of the XL sportster and FLH “Big Twin” models is valued as a collectible vintage bike. This was the brand’s attempt to take on the aftermarket suppliers with their own custom bike, thus creating a new breed within the Harley lineup. Although it wasn’t a raging success in 1971, the FX Super Glide paved the way for their custom lineup of later models that have made up for the low sales of the 1971 which opened the doors for bigger and better things. When the redesigned version of this bike reappeared the following year, it was a much greater success and it was at this point that Harley began to turn their attention to the production of custom bikes.
8. 1978 Harley-Davidson FXS
The FXS Low Rider was a hit in its first year out. The first model was offered in one choice, metallic gray and an orange script. The single option made it stand out and distinguished it from the rest of the pack. The FXS came seven years after the brand’s entry into the custom bikes market with the FX Super Glide, that established the FX designation. The FXS signaled a departure from the 1977 XLCR with a muscly 27 inch seat height that was embraced by riders of all sizes for its comfort and fit. The success was so great that sales surpassed all other Harley models made that year, and as the company neared the year’s end, they offered these bikes with a choice of the original color combination or a black and white edition. This would be the last year that we’d see the 74 cubic inch V-twin as the displacement would be moved up a notch to 80 cubic inches the following year.
7. 1977 Harley-Davidson XLCR
This highly attractive machine came out when the Japanese bikes were putting up some stiff competition in the American marketplace. It was Harley’s attempt to make good in the cafe racing scene of the 1970s era, but the Japanese bikes had already captured the attention of the new crowd and Harley buyers had other interests at the time. The XLCR was only marketed for two years, but in retrospect, the model set the stage for a later resurgence. It features a small fairing and slight front fender with a fiberglass tail section, a solo seat and an angular fuel tank with triple disc brakes. The attractive bike featured a standard 1000 cc Sportster with two into two exhaust headers with the entire production cloaked in black. Although it only lasted two years, this has only served to increase its value as a collectible.
6. 1975 Harley-Davidson XR-750
The 1975 Harley-Davidson XR-750 is a rare piece if you’re fortunate enough to find one in its original state. In 1975, the rear brake pedal was moved to the right side to comply with government regulations. The XR 750 was produced with this change and was created to be a powerful racer, and it was successful in that arena. The engine was a smaller 750cc, inspired by the Sportster, it cranked major horse power of 90 and responded with a burst of gallop at a quarter turn of the throttle.
5. 1978 Harley-Davidson XL-1000 Sportster
In 1978, Harley produced the celebratory edition of their 75th anniversary with the XL-1000 Sportster. This edition was released in a limited run featuring Big twins and dual front disc brakes. It called for special trims including a leather seat, black paint and gold striping. The addition of gold tinted cast wheels set it apart so everyone knew it marked a special occasion. This was the year that all Sportsters received a new electronic ignition system, making the old setup of points and coil obsolete.
4. 1978 Harley-Davidson FLHS Electra-Glide
The FLHS Electra-Glide rolled out ofo production with a stripped down and lean appearance. It took a leaf from older models to present a vintage look that was reminiscent of the older FLs. It was powered with a 74 cubic inch engine and a rear fender that displayed the engine specs. Finding one with the original appearance is a tall order, and you have a rare find if you come across a bike with the block lettered tank badges intact.
3. 1973 Harley-Davidson FL Electra-Glide
This model is one of the few HD bikes in existence that feature the AMF signage beside the Harley brand on its logo. AMF was purchased by Harley-Davidson in 1969, and by 1971, AMF began to make a few appearances. This wasn’t very well received by Harley fans and most promptly removed it, giving their bikes are repaint. Collectors who own this model in its original condition are few and far between but there are still a few of them around.
2. 1971 Harley-Davidson XLH Sportster
For its time the paint colors of this Harley Sportster were nearly revolutionary. The Sparkling Turquoise made more of an impact that the design features. It borrowed the rear fender design from the 1970 Sportster, but the boat tail styling wasn’t a hit with Harley enthusiasts. The other paint option was a red, white and blue Sparkling America scheme in an attempt to appeal to the patriotism of Harley riders, but the Japanese bikes were impinging on the big bore crowd, leaving this 833cc bike out in the cold. It was discontinued after one year but the rare find is a gem to a collector.
1. 1975 Harley-Davidson XL-1000
Perhaps one of Harley-Davidson’s most rare bike from the 1970s is the XL-1000. These are hard to findd in their original state. Many of these bikes had their original appearance altered as this was a popular trend during the AMF era that had bikers scraping and repainting. The altered bikes are collectible enough but none are more valuable that those that maintain their original manufactured state without paint alteration, even if there’s chipping or fading.