Harley-Davidson is one of the best-known and most established motorcycle companies. This American motorcycle brand was established in 1903, so it has a long history. Over the decades, the motorcycles they have produced have changed to adapt to the changing needs and desires of motorcycle enthusiasts. However, they have continued to produce top-quality vehicles that were popular in every decade. During the 1930s, they manufactured some particularly special models that are regarded as classics despite the fact that this was the era of the Great Depression in the United States. Here are five of the best Harley-Davidson motorcycles of the 1930s.
1932 Harley-Davidson RL 45
The Harley-Davidson RL 45 was produced between 1932 and 1936. It was their first flathead V-twin and 45 cubic-inch motorcycle. The production of this motorcycle helped Harley-Davidson to become one of only two motorcycle manufacturers to survive the Great Depression. At this time, car manufacturers were using Art Deco stylings on their vehicles. Harley-Davidson copied the idea and featured similar images on the tanks of the Harley-Davidson RL 45. Clark Gable owned a 1936 red Harley-Davidson RL 45.
1931 Harley-Davidson Model D
The Harley-Davidson Model D led the way in switching from F-head to flatheads and using V-twins. The first model in this range they produced was a 45 ci that was intended to compete with the Indian Scout. This model was followed by the 61 ci and then the 74 ci Big Twins. The 45 ci differed from the larger options because the drive-chain was on the right rather than the left. Before 1933, customers who bought this motorcycle could opt for either the standard olive green or for a customized color. However, after 1933, there were only two color options and the bikes featured an eagle motif.
1934 Harley-Davidson VLD
When the Harley Davidson VLD was introduced in 1934, it became one of the motorcycles that helped Harley-Davidson through its low point. Although the olive green was still available for traditionalists, Harley Davidson wanted to appeal to a modern market and offered two-tone color options, such as Orlando Orange and black. This motorcycle was a flathead V-twin and came in two variations; the 45-cubic inch and the Big Twin 74-cubic inch versions. This motorcycle was used as the basis for developing other models. For example, the 45 cubic inch variation was adapted to become Servi-Cars which were produced until the 1970s. The Big Twin 74 cubic-inch option was the inspiration for the EL overhead-valve Knucklehead produced from 1936.
1936 Harley-Davidson EL
Harley-Davidson released the details of the El to dealers in 1935 and this raised the levels of hype and speculation that surrounded this model. When the 1936 Harley-Davidson EL was finally released, it was somewhat anti-climatic as it was not quite as wild as the rumors had suggested. Despite this, the 61-cubic-inch EL set new standards in the motorcycle industry. Harley-Davidson switched from their flathead design to using overhead valves for the first time. This created a new shape for the rocker covers and was the reason that these motorcycles became known as Knuckleheads, a name that has stuck over the decades. Harley-Davidson’s motorcycles previously had a total loss set up that was messy and inconvenient. They resolved this by introducing a new recirculating oiling system in the EL. An unusual fact about the production of this model is that Harley-Davidson decided to change the timing case cover three times in just one year, with each new design slightly smoother than the last.
1938 Harley-Davidson UL
Arguably the best Harley-Davidson to come from the 1930s was the 1938 Harley-Davidson UL. At the time, Harley-Davidson were making a comeback following the low period of the Great Depression and the introduction of the UL was one of their most innovative designs to date. The 1938 Harley-Davidson UL motorcycle was one of a range of 11 models that Harley-Davidson introduced in the period when they were making their comeback. It was a Sport Solo model that boasted a 74-cubic-inch flathead powerplant. The handlebars of this motorcycle were raised slightly for a more comfortable riding position and Harley-Davidson simplified the instrument panel by replacing the oil-pressure gauge with a green lamp and the ammeter with a red warning lamp. They also introduced new colors, including the option of striping. It retained the recirculating oil system that Harley-Davidson had introduced the previous year in the Knucklehead.