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How did Harley serial number their bikes?

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HarleyCreation

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Post Sun May 13, 2007 9:59 am

How did Harley serial number their bikes?

How did Harley start their serial numbers in the vintage years from the late 1950s and earlier?

That is, if we took the first motorcycle off the line of a given model what would that first bike's serial number be?

For example, the first knucklehead built for the 1936 model year: i.e.: 36ELxxxx would have what 4-digit number following EL? (Substitute numbers for the x's)?

Hint: Most people get this wrong.
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cane

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Post Sun May 13, 2007 11:07 am

1001
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Chris Haynes

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Post Sun May 13, 2007 12:16 pm

I have seen factory photos of bikes with a number of 1000. Some years started with 1001.My 36 EL Is 36EL1004 and the sidecar is 36LE1001. I have also seen 36EL1002 and several 36EL1001's. :D
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Skip

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Post Sun May 13, 2007 7:07 pm

My 48 Panhead 1808.....Skip
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HarleyCreation

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Post Wed May 16, 2007 10:56 am

We need more entries....
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nationalzjug

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Post Mon May 21, 2007 5:14 pm

serial numbers

is it 0001,0002,0003 ? because in order to start at 1000 you would have had to build a thousand of them first...I always assummed that my number 42WLA64632 , that that's how many were made to that point...and I think the 42WLA has the highest number,because they made more of these for the military than any other production bike ever shipped....am I wrong about this??? Bruce Palmer??Chris???
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Curt!

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Post Mon May 21, 2007 5:36 pm

I'm not sure about any other Harleys, but the XLCR started at 1001. I haven't been able to find my reference, but I remember reading it.
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Cotten

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Post Mon May 21, 2007 6:48 pm

Didn't they start with 2001 in '62 ('64, '66, etc.)?

Just askin'.

...Cotten
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john HD

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Post Mon May 21, 2007 8:23 pm

here is another related question, usually how far apart are the belly numbers from the actual serial numbers?

my serial is in the low 1500's for 1955 and my belly numbers are very close as well.

i have seen and heard of cases from the previous year being used early in production runs.

is this the rule or an exception?

john
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Johnny

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Post Tue May 22, 2007 6:00 am

Like Chris, I have seen factory photos with serial number 1000, but I believe the production models started at 1001.
The belly numbers have nothing to do with the serial numbers. The incremental difference between belly number and serial number is different on every motor I have. I believe the belly numbers were stamped when the casting was made and the serial numbers were stamped when the bikes were assembled.
I have a set of unstamped cases (no serial number) that have belly numbers. I also have a set of cases with a 1933 serial number, but 1932 belly numbers. The castings were probably made in '32, placed in inventory, then assembled in a machine in '33.
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HarleyCreation

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Post Tue May 22, 2007 9:00 am

Hmmm.....

Keep 'em coming...

We can see that there is NOT much agreement on this matter, but that opinions differ widely. At this point I'll say this much: There was a significant change in where serial numbers began starting in the mid/late 1950s and that adds to the confusion. In other words, before that time H-D did it one way and after that time a different way.
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nationalzjug

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Post Tue May 22, 2007 4:50 pm

Well, do you know ? or not? somebody does...
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peter reeves

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Post Wed May 23, 2007 9:10 am

Nationalzjug.

Your 42WLA64632 was probably built in 1943 or 1944, for some reason all wartime WLAs were numbered with the 42 prefix.
The serial number 64632 does not mean that yours was the 64632nd 42WLA off the production line firstly the serial numbers would normally start at 1001 and it was normally the case that any other bikes off the line using the same type of motor (in this case the 45 inch side valve) Would also use the same sequence of serial numbers.
So in the case of your WLA. This would include civilian and all the 42 WLCs that where built before your WLA.in the 1942 production year. At a very rough guess I would think that your WLA was around the 40,000th 42 WLA built.

I hope this helps Pete.
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HarleyCreation

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Post Thu May 31, 2007 12:16 pm

nationalzjug wrote:Well, do you know ? or not? somebody does...


I do know, but I'm waiting to see if anybody has the full correct answer and to see what guys think is right. So far, nobody has provided the full correct answer. This subject is even more misunderstood than I thought.

PS: The North Shore is a wondeful ride! I took my '49 Panhead around Lake Superior in 1977. It was a great trip!
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peter reeves

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Post Thu May 31, 2007 1:20 pm

I have not heard of any genuine 30s or 40s Harleys with numbers below 1001, except the one Chris mentioned, so could this be a trick question.
Is it possible that completed bikes where assigned the serial numbers after they came off the production line and after they had been tested?

Always willing to learn more, don’t keep us waiting to long with your answer.

Pete.
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MarkBranst

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Post Thu May 31, 2007 3:08 pm

It was alway my understanding that HD production of individual models started with 1001, for each broad motor type ..

Thus, in 1936, all of the E's started with 36E*1001, and the second bike would be 36E*1002, and so forth ... Different models of E's would be included in the same number sequence, and could be all mixed up, based on what was being built ... only the serial number would be sequential.

In 1941, as in previous years, the model range included other basic motor types, so there would be a 41E*1001, a 41F*1001, a 41U*1001, and a 41W*1001. Again, all E's, F's, U's and W's would have their own number sequence, but varying models would be included (mixed up) as they were produced.

Now, I'm pretty sure this is the standard rule for most of the 30's, 40's and 50s, but I would be very interested in learning if that is correct. I'm guessing that at some point in the late 50s, they started combining serial numbers from all models, so that there is only one number sequence, and all different models are in the same sequence.

More than willing to learn something new ...

Mark
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HarleyCreation

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Post Fri Jun 01, 2007 11:26 am

peter reeves wrote:I have not heard of any genuine 30s or 40s Harleys with numbers below 1001, except the one Chris mentioned, so could this be a trick question.
Is it possible that completed bikes where assigned the serial numbers after they came off the production line and after they had been tested?

Always willing to learn more, don’t keep us waiting to long with your answer.

Pete.


It's not a trick question. And I won't prolong the agony much longer. But I'm very interested in learning what most people think is correct first. No offense to anyone, but mostly it's wrong.

As to when bikes were stamped with their serial number it was NOT during final motorcycle assembly.

It went this way:

Each engine was stamped when it was done being assembled in motor assembly and the number was entered in a special book. Then the finished motors were normally sent to the motor storeroom where they remained until enough orders came in to assemble a batch of any certain model. There are published Factory photos of the motor storeroom FULL of knuckleheads.

A beautiful sight indeed like Aladdin's Treasure Cave!

When taken out of the motor storeroom no attention was paid to motor serial number. They were just told: "Get me 10 EL motors." However, at times when orders were coming in fast and furious motors were sometimes assembled when the parts were still hot from being machined and these motors might have gone directly to the final motorcycle assembly thus bypassing the motor assembly room.

Thus, there was no consistent system of how motors or motor serial numbers went into finished bikes. That is, you might get a bike with a low serial number that had been in the motor storage room for some time and was assembled into a motorcycle later in the model year. Again: no consistent system except that serial numbers got higher as the production year progressed.

This info came directly from Harley factory workers including guys who worked in motor and final motorcycle assembly and from one guy who stamped in the numbers. Some of these guys were nearly 100 years old and couldn't remember why they had gone into the bathroom, but their job at Harley was still crystal clear in their minds (well, some of them at least).

PS: I never asked any old timer if crankcase "belly" numbers related to motor serial numbers but I doubt it. Like Johnny already said there is apparently NO relationship between belly numbers and motor serial number because there didn't need to be.
Last edited by HarleyCreation on Wed Jun 27, 2007 10:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Chris Haynes

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Post Fri Jun 01, 2007 12:53 pm

Although there is no relationship between the VIN and the line bore numbers there is one fact. The Service Department at the MoCo has a numerical list of all the line bore numbers ever stamped. Listed next to this number is the VIN that was stamped on that case. In the early Knucklehead years it is common to find that the VIN is usually within a thundered digits of the line bore. Just a coincidence I guess.
Another note. During some years the engine groups had their own number pool. So there could be an E and an U and an W with the 1001 number. Other years they all shared the same number pool so you could have E1110 and U1002 and W1003.
Sometime during the late '50's/Early '60's the VIN started with a ODD number during odd years and Even during even years. When you had a machine with 5 digits in the number the first TWO numbers made up the odd or even number. So a 5 digit 1961 would be 11456 and a '62 would be 12456.
Let's not even try to get into all the different casting codes yet.
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HarleyCreation

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Post Sat Jun 02, 2007 9:52 am

Chris Haynes wrote:Although there is no relationship between the VIN and the line bore numbers there is one fact. The Service Department at the MoCo has a numerical list of all the line bore numbers ever stamped. Listed next to this number is the VIN that was stamped on that case. In the early Knucklehead years it is common to find that the VIN is usually within a thundered digits of the line bore. Just a coincidence I guess.


Either I read or somebody told me (or both) that the line bore/belly crankcase numbers were saved on a special notecard that each bike had and that went into a special file at the Factory. The motor serial number was on that card too. Harley retained these cards in a big file and they could be consulted in case a question came up about a bike; either from a dealer or a rider.

For example, if a dealer suspected a stolen motorcycle with a altered serial number, the crankcase belly numbers could be sent in and the serial number checked against the correct one listed on the Factory card. A sure fire way to properly identify a motor with an altered serial number.

The card also showed any fixes or mods done to the motor (bike?) by the Factory over the years of the bike's existence.

After AMF came in one old guy told me that he saw THOUSANDS of these older motor cards stacked up by the dumpster. He went in and said: "Hey, we need those cards! Save them!" But nope, nothing doing, they were all thrown out. I don't know for sure how far they went back, but I'll bet it was a LONG LONG way back probably to the 1910s!

I say 1910s because the traditional way of doing things stayed in effect under Wm. H. Davidson until AMF times, plus another old guy said that when AMF cleaned out a "sub-basement" of old records that stuff went back to the 1910s!

I like to think those old records are entombed in a landfill around Milwaukee somewhere and someday may be excavated like the priceless treasure they are.
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Plumber

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Post Sat Jun 02, 2007 10:14 am

I like to think those old records are entombed in a landfill around Milwaukee somewhere and someday may be excavated like the priceless treasure they are.

I was in Dalager's, the local lawnmower shop, one morning and the owner told me, "Here, I want to show you what a customer brought in..." It was some lawnmower catalogs from the 50's in pristine condition. The shop owner said his customer was part of an excavation crew that was removing layers of trash from an abandoned landfill. The landfill was covered by clay, which preserved the trash for 50+ yrs. without damage. Perhaps the city of Milwaukee has plot maps of the city dumps, and with a steam shovel, "tree ring" layers of trash cold be cross-sectioned and en-earthed. Just keep digging until you get down to the 1970-1971 AMF layer.
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