Old Gas

Right side of the tank. Note the tight paint… was hoping to keep it.

Wow… there is just something very bad about the smell of old, varnished gas. The smell hits my brain and seems to burn itself in to my senses – like staring at the sun too long and seeing spots in your vision. Only a smell. The garage stinks, my clothes seem to stink, and I can’t get it out of my nose!

So today I decided to get to work on the gas tank(s) on the Lowrider. It has a “FatBob” style split tank, so there are two halves to work with. Unfortunately, the insides are rusted and there is a bad liner in the tanks. I am guessing, but it looks like someone tried to line the tanks with Kreem and now it is bad. The water and rust got under the liner, the liner lifted, and now everything seems to be a big mess. Getting this shit out of there is going to be a challenge.

One option is taking it to a radiator shop and letting them etch and boil the mess out, but that will probably wreck the paint. The paint is pretty nice and I was hoping to preserve it… but now I am not so sure.

I did what I felt I could get done – which wasn’t much – then decided to go have a beer and pizza and think about it.

Photo Gallery

Shop Time

When I was a kid, it was important – well, required – that after school I changed my clothes and found my dad. My “job” was to follow my dad until supper time. (Yes, we called it “supper” on the farm.) It seems to me that as many times as not, I ended up in the shop helping him on everything from routine maintenance to whatever he might be building, fixing, or working on at the time. And – because he is my dad – he was (and still is!) awesome.

This post is really about rebuilding the wheels on my Lowrider project, but indulge me a little here.

I remember being amazed that my dad not only knew the size of bolt heads by looking at them (“That will need a 9/16 socket…”) but he knew how to pick up exactly the right wrench! My first job: learn the wrench sizes (as well as the difference between a 1/2″ drive and a 3/8″ drive ratchet) and be able to hand them to him when he asked for them. When dad said “Get me a 3/4″ end wrench and the big vice grips.” – he wasn’t planning on waiting a long time for me to look at every wrench!

Remember… lefty loosey… righty tighty…

So today I tore down the rear wheel and the front wheel. Sprocket (51 teeth) is off. Rear disc is off (damn, there was a lot of LocTite there!), Front discs are off. The wheels need new bearings and seals, but to be honest, I did not feel like fighting the grease and muck tonight. I made some progress – and I taught my mano that it is “left loosey, righty tighty”. That seems like a pretty good two-beer night in the garage. The grease will wait until another day.



Some Images from the Wheel Work…

Carb Rebuild

The S&S Super E, before beginning the cleanup and rebuild.

The bike has an S&S Super E carb on it, clearly added some time after the motorcycle was purchased. Its a great carb and along with the air cleaner, I am certain it opens up and helps the bike breathe better. The only problem is that sitting for four or five years lets water and old gas wreak havoc inside the carb. So, I ordered an S&S rebuild kit and waited for a nice day to get after the tear-down and rebuild. While I am at it, I plan to polish up the carb body and get all the accumulated crud off the outside as well. Gas lines were rotted, clamps rusted up, and the typical effects of being more than 30 years old and sitting for a long time in storage.

The rebuild kit is complete – all the small parts. And I mean “small parts.” Good lighting, a clean bench, and patience is required for this job! And a can of Gumout Carb Cleaner, some compressed air, and some 800-grit wet/dry sandpaper. Other than these speciality items, a couple screwdrivers and end wrenches are about all you really need to get the job done. I do find having a couple small picks handy helps as well. Take a look at the accompanying photo to see what I mean by “small” parts – there are some springs and check-balls in the accelerator pump that are about 3/32″ in diameter.

Cleaned up and rebuilt. Ready to install and tune!

I split the rebuild into two sessions in one day – it was a nice day so I snuck in a ride from noon to 4! Things proceeded without issue. The carb should be good to go when I get the engine reassembled. I will need to reset the adjustments and possibly re-jet the card once the engine in in place. I also cleaned up the intake manifold, buffing the aluminum. See the associated photo gallery and captions for more information.

Wiring Pictures

Leads come in from each handlebar through the top, and a bundle go to the frame out the back. This is the interconnection point for all the wiring!
Wiring and connectors in the headlight bucket.
Beginning to sort out the connectors, the bundles, and a little slack.


12-pin connector. Note the plug as a reference point.
Headlight lamp connector – just three wires here! Ground, hot, high beam.

Here are the pins, removed from the connector. Note the seal still needs to slide off.
Beginning to disassemble the email connectors from the connector body.
This pigtail connects to the top of the bucket and works the indicator lights.
This “Y” connection is a common wire to both handlebars, and the one wire that needs to be cut and re-soldered later.
A shop notebook (hopefully) helps when it is time to put it all back together again! Always take good notes.
Connectors are off and the bundles are ready to be removed from the bucket.
One leg of this connection will need cut in order to free the wire bundles. It will be soldered back together during rebuild.
More notes and drawings. The wiring diagram and service manual will help too!
Voila! The cable bundles are coming out. Next, remove the headlight bucket.
Note the plastic grommet holding the bundle in the bucket. These compress, push out, then open up and free the wire bundle.
One of the grommets coming off the wire bundle after removal from the headlight.
Rubber seal slips off the wires. When assembled, this seal keeps out dirt and water.
Cutting this zip tie will let the wire bundles come up through the triple-tree and then the handlebars are free!
Headlight and handlebars are off! Now for the triple-tree…

Electrical Connections

Well the day started off with a tedious task… small work that goes slowly.

Wiring and connectors in the headlight bucket.

When you see the Deutsch connectors in the headlight bucket on a Harley, the first question is “how the hell do I get these wires out of here?” Yesterday’s work stopped for me because I could see no way to get the connectors through the holes, and I certainly did not want to cut wires! Well, 10 minutes on YouTube and I had the answer… you need to disassemble the connectors. That’s right – every wire and every pin gets taken apart!

12-pin connector. Note the plug as a reference point.

So the day started with the tedious work of using a very small screwdriver, prying up small latches, and pushing out make and female connectors. But before taking out the wires, I was certain to document the wire colors, locations and in the connectors, and what wire bundle goes where. I am certain this will be a PITA when it comes time to reassemble everything.

Here are the pins, removed from the connector. Note the seal still needs to slide off.

Actually, the disassembly was not so bad and although my eyesight makes this a challenge, the work went pretty smoothly. The handlebars are off, the headlight bucket is off, and the rest of the major disassembly of the bike can proceed now.

A Little More Progress (Teardown Day 3)

Meh… some days you just don’t feel it. Today was a couple hours of work, but I feel like I accomplished about 20 minutes of progress. Oh well… the back fender is off, front pegs are off, and I took off a bunch of other shit. There are about as many parts on the shelf as there are parts on the bike. I am determined to take it to the frame… so we are moving ahead. I drained the oil, opened the primary, and in general have the bike “dry” now. Next I need to remove the front fender, then drop the front forks. Once the front forks are off, the engine and transmission will come out. I leave for a couple weeks of business travel right after the first of the year – maybe I can get the frame stripped by then. (I knew the day was in the crapper when I dropped my flashlight and it landed in the drain pan full of used oil.)

Next, I need to remove the front fender, then drop the front forks. Once the front forks are off, the engine and transmission will come out. I leave for a couple weeks of business travel right after the first of the year – maybe I can get the frame stripped by then.

Open primary. Lots of small parts taken off.

Just 5 Minutes… (Teardown Day 2)

OK, I got home from work and just wanted to think through the project. But something is telling me this thing is going to get stripped to the frame, the frame will be sent out for powder coating, and I will rebuild it from the ground up. Meh… could be worse. So – sitting there looking at the bike, I thought “Hell, it won’t take that long to drop the rear wheel.” True enough – brakes are off (another decision to make there… more later), chain is off (the PO loved grease), shocks came off easily (most likely junk), and the rear axle came out easily enough. Probably about 30 minutes with no cussing. The problem is, the bike was unbalanced on the stand. Nothing to do but take off the front wheel.

Front brakes off. Brake lines stowed. Bottom caps off and the front wheel is off. Another 30 minutes, plus time for a beer (maybe 2) and a chat with the neighbor. Hey – Jordan has a flat-head Ford in his garage in some state of rebuild, so how can you not stop to shoot the breeze about important things like this? The lower ends of the front forks are painted (thanks, AMF) with the same shitty paint on the rest of the cast parts. I am thinking it will all get powder coated, but nothing is set in stone. Yet.

So… 5 minutes, 2 hours – who cares? Progress is progress. Oh, and today I ordered the H-D shop manual for this ride as well as the official parts list. Should be here in a week or two… If I spend most of January on tear-down, the spend won’t begin until February! ha.

day 2
Shocks, brakes, wheels – gone. Helper showed up for the photo op… typical. He might be in a union.

Day 1 Teardown Gallery

Teardown: Day 1

I have spent enough time looking at this bike. Even though I am not sure of the exact direction I am going with it, this much is certain: all the fluids need draining and the bike needs a thorough cleaning. So we can get started with teardown and clean up. Along the way, we might decide just how far we are going to go with this thing!


Well, the seat is easy – one bolt and you lift it off. Total effort – about 2 minutes. We are rolling now! The seat is a pretty nice Corbin seat and it looks like good quality leather. Some serious care and cleaning and this will go back on when all the other things are done. (I am feeling like this bike needs a sissy bar… more on that some other time.

Gas Tank

The gas is old and smelly – definitely a mix of water and varnish in there. I am going to use Kreem to get the tank back in good condition, but first I need to get it off the frame and drained.

Gauge cluster. Aftermarket, not really liking them.
gauge backs
Somebody has been in here before! Duct tape… still going strong. Taiwan origins on the speedo and tach.

Before the tank comes off, the gauge cluster needs to come off. The gauges are definitely aftermarket and not in such great shape. Look like Taiwan manufacture… I guess I will start looking for NOS Harley speedo and tach. And the leather tank bib is a little rough. And if I am going to reuse the gauge mount, then I will need to find a replacement rubber base for it – the rubber is dried and cracked. The gauges come off easily enough, then there are just a few mounting bolts and some rubber hoses to remove. (Those hoses need replacing too… add them to the list.)

exposed tank
Gauges and tank bib are off. Note vent hose connecting the split halves of the tank.

After draining the old gas, I realized I am not sure how to dispose of this and the used oil that will be coming out of this thing. I will ask around and find the proper way to dispose of this stuff. Everything in the garage smells now… but at least it isn’t diesel fuel!



Battery Case, Kick Starter, and Exhaust

The battery case needed to come off… plenty of crud caught in behind it and under it. In addition, I plan to remove the oil tank (another day) to drain and clean the oil tank. So getting the battery case off was a simple start to stripping things down to the essentials. The more I remove, the more I think I might take it all the way down to the frame.

kickstart shaft
Worn kickstart shaft. Crappy bolt in here too. Will deal with all of this later.

The kickstarted has worn the shaft end unevenly. The square end of the shaft is rounded off – it might work a little longer, but I might as well replace it. I will need to look, but I think this shaft runs through into the transmission. If it does, then I will pull the transmission and rework it on the bench. For now, the kickstart lever is off and on the shelf. (I removed the chrome spring cover too… I kind of like the look of the exposed spring!)

The exhaust wasn’t much to take off… one bolt hold the flange on each exhaust port, and the pipes were basic drag pipes. This thing had to be loud as hell when it was running! I like the look of the original 2:1 from Harley – and the rear pipe came forward and looped around the timing cone and cover. I think I will look for a similar style when I rebuild. For now, these tubes can go in the junk pile.

All in all, it was a small start but I validated how much I like the look for the rocker boxes! Getting the engine cleaned up, running smoothly will be a fine milestone – and then it will need to go back in a bike designed to show off the Big Twin!

Day 1 teardown progress. Now you can see the profile of the shovelhead!

Gas Tank & Guages




I don’t really know why, but the gas tank and gauge cluster on this bike leave me with mixed feelings. I am not even certain they are original for this bike – more on that as my research advances!

At least some of the ’79 FXS bikes had a speedometer that went to 150 mph. While I don’t think the bike ever went that fast, it is a cool idea. I will continue to search for the “correct” gauge cluster.

The gas tank… well, talking about the gas tank leads to discussing the paint, and discussing the paint leads to talking about the color of the bike. Hmm. The paint appears to be original factory paint and the fenders match. And the paint is in good condition – no scratches or other problems. It seems like a shame to paint over it. On the other hand… the color leaves me, well… unmoved. It is kind of cool and retro… but not awesome. I need to think about this some more. I don’t see any reason not to paint the entire bike, but I have not decided yet. Maybe as I spend more time working on it and getting to know it better, the direction of the paint will become clear to me.

My biggest beef with the tank is the profile, and more specifically, how it drops down and obscures the rocker boxes. I wanted a shovel because the top end is so cool – so making them hard to see seems counter-productive. (And I am thinking about some special treatments for the rocker boxes… more on that later.) So I need to figure out how to change out the look and profile of the tank.

The engine is going to be the centerpiece of this bike when it is done. This is what makes it cool, and while I don’t want to destroy the original design intent of the Lowrider, I also want to make certain the shovelhead is front and center.