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Installing Performance S&S Shovelheads

Making The Sturgis Shovel Smile Again

By Bandit with photos by John Van Trump
6/10/2010 6:43:41 PM

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Keith workin

Just before rolling out and leaving for Sturgis I check my plugs in the only stock item left on the 93-inch House of Horsepower/S&S hot rod Shovelhead—the early heads. Unfortunately every time I attempted to unscrew the short reach plugs the threads and heli-coil came with them. I rode to Sturgis without ever checking the plugs again.

I reinserted the helicoils with the infamous green bearing race Loctite and didn’t touch them again. The bike ran like a champ fortunately, but every time it hiccupped, I gulped with the notion that the plug might need removing. Phil’s Speed Shop rebuilt the heads with all the best components and Phil offered to fix them, but I was on my way to the Badlands. No time. Plan B was to replace the old stock heads with S&S Performance updated heads upon return to the coast. Sounded good to me and I started a Shovelhead improvement list:

1. Replace the heads.

2. Remove the front barrel and ream the oil return hole. (it leaked from where the factory drill intersected holes for the oil return passage from the top and the bottom of the barrel. We plugged it with a brass wedge and JP Weld. It always bothered me.)

3. Realign the Mikuni Carb for a better, more secure fit. There’s a critical trick to this.

4. Replace the copper/hard oil lines with plain old rubber lines. Sure, there not as sexy, but I was running a rubbermounted oil bag and solid mounted lines. Something was going to give. One line cracked in Sturgis. It was time for a change.

hose clamp0173
We decided to try out stock oil line clamps.

5.Take the pipes off, have them bead blasted and treat them with flat black heat paint.

drive side 0178
We’re still waiting on one more heat shield.

6. Have the replacement heat shield powder coated. One snapped off in Denver after a cannonball sized pothole kicked my ass.

I think that was the extent of it. Of course one fix often leads to another. The first prep aspect was to hit Larry Settle’s shop for Rocker gaskets, head gaskets and barrel gaskets. I needed one barrel gasket to replace the front barrel gasket after we removed it.

weld 0183

We disassembled the top motormount first and removed the carb, releasing it from the throttle cable and gas line and set it aside. I discovered that my brass carb mount was cracked where it met with the frame. I added a thick layer of braze.

5 carb

We watched out for spilled gas. We removed the push rods and kept them in order, because they were all different lengths. We removed the pipes and tried to organize the fasteners so we wouldn’t lose the bastards.

The above operations gave us space and accessibility to reach the barrel nuts and head bolts. We discovered that both fasteners had their quirks and why. Since this is a big bore engine (3 5/8), the head bolts were a narrow 12-point stainless steel jobs that were removed with 12-point 7/16 box end wrenches. All my cool head bolt wrenches were too large for the job. I discovered that it took every 7/16 box end wrench, in the tool box, to reach all those 12-point heads. Ultimately I altered a broken head-bolt wrench to reach in and find a secure connection. We welded two Craftsman short 7/16, 12-point sockets to the Snap-On head bolt wrench. Is that against the code of the West, or what?

7 custom

After MIG welding the sockets, grinding the welds, smoothing the surfaces and polishing the edges, it worked like a champ.

base gas0116

There’s another trick. The barrel bolts are also trimmed and small, reachable with a ½-inch open-end wrench. In addition they’re tall, so to remove them, the barrel must be lifted before they will come completely off the case studs. Tricky.

rear jugs 0084

There’s a trick about the oil lines that run to the rear head and between the heads. I loosened up the pipe fittings, but then let them sit. When the heads came loose so did the lines. We had to watch this procedure when we slipped the heads back together. I didn’t need to arch or bend the lines.

cylinders 0192

Once everything came apart we cleaned the gasket surfaces thoroughly. We discovered that the blue tephlon gasket material comes off with electrical contact cleaner better than trying to scrap it, which I avoid. The catch with big cylinders is the slim barrel gasket material and edges. Not much to work with considering the additional power. Be extremely careful.

heads 0198
Here's the other oil feed line. It comes right out with the heads removed. Don't bend it.

Before we go into the assembly process here’s the base material from S&S about their heads and assorted equipment:

head 1 008


Super Stock replacement heads for 1966 to 1984 shovelhead engines maintain a stock appearance for restoration purposes but offer improved port shapes for riders interested in more performance.

As with other S&S heads, our CNC machining maintains dimensional accuracy and reduces cost. This allows us to offer the finest possible parts at a reasonable price. While stock heads use studs to attach the rocker box assemblies, S&S heads utilize 5/16"-18 hex-head bolts.

Rocker cover bolts are included with each complete Shovel-style head kit. Otherwise, S&S heads accept all stock-style components.

6 bl gs
Note the fin in the intake. Also note the blown head gasket. I’ll tell you about that later.

PORTS AND COMBUSTION CHAMBER Intake and exhaust ports are in the stock locations and are the same size as stock. Stock intake manifolds and exhaust pipes are easily installed with no modification required. Heads are available for both the 1966-'78 o-ring and 1979-'84 rubber band-type manifolds.

Since S&S heads are compatible with stock manifolds, special manifolds are not required except for engines with taller than stock cylinders. S&S intake ports feature a directional vane to route the incoming fuel-air mixture around the valve guide and valve stem for improved performance. At 1.940-inch, intake valves are the same diameter as stock, but exhaust valve diameter (1.720-inch) has been reduced by .030-inch to improve valve to valve clearance for cams with high TDC lifts and to improve flow. A stock-like hemispherical combustion chamber is compatible with all standard Shovelhead style pistons.

shovel head 1 head gas


Valve train components used in S&S cylinder heads for Shovelhead engines are specifically selected for durability under contemporary, real-life conditions. They are compatible with present unleaded fuels. Valve springs can handle . 590-inch total lift. Heads are machined to accept cams with TDC lifts of .210-inch on both valves.

SIMPLE INSTALLATION Because S&S cylinder heads for Shovelhead engines have stock dimensions, they readily bolt on with a stock-like fit with no clearance problems with frames and standard Shovelhead exhausts. Complete kits include all gaskets required for installation except intake manifold seals.

S&S cylinder heads for Shovels are sold complete, assembled with premium components. Installed parts include valve seats, guides, seals, valves, valve springs, collars, and keepers. Complete kits also include rocker cover gaskets, head and base gaskets, all required hardware, and instructions.

s&s shot 0179
We used the big bore head from S&S.


Cylinder heads for Shovelhead engines are available from S&S in black powdercoat as well as natural cast aluminum finish.

Machining for dual spark plugs and/or external oil return lines is available at an extremely reasonable cost. Both of these options are normally associated with large-displacement, high- performance, competition engines. However, dual spark plugs are often used in street engines to control detonation or knock, and external oil returns are not uncommon on high performance Shovelhead street engines. External oil returns are used to redirect return oil from the cylinder heads so that it does not drain into the flywheel cavity in the stock manner. This is intended to reduce drag on the flywheels at high rpm. These options are available by special order only.


O-ring style 35/8" dual plugged – internal oil return
Set .....................................................................90-1491
Set without valves and springs .......................90-1489

8 brass gas

It was easy to clean the heads ‘cause Phil used thick brass gaskets and they were unharmed, like a big brass washer. Here’s where the quirky aspect jumped at us like a frightened cat. I had my three grandkids hanging out over the weekend, and they constantly asked me what they could do, so we positioned them around the lift with little wrenches to tighten head bolts, a boring job.

3 workin on head

Fortunately it was recommended not to use any gasket sealer or glue with the Rev Tech tephlon coated gaskets. We didn’t. The second tip was to align the O-ring heads with the intake manifold before tightening. We also fed the oil lines into place as we aligned the intake manifold and started the fittings, but didn’t tighten them. Then the kids went to work. Then highly educated Bikernet employees, like Snake, checked the head bolts.

Carb shit 0184
While fitting up the carb, I made a new bracket from the brace to the carb. It fit much better, and held the carb more in line than the previous strap.

The next morning I asked Black Market John if the headbolts were tight and received a positive response—I thought. That afternoon, we blew both the head gaskets during our first road test.

blown gas 0188
After a one-block road test, the bike failed. It died and Kyle discovered quickly that there was no compression. He pushed the Shovel home.

That night we drank whiskey and I tore into the top end once more. Fortunately we still had Phil’s copper gaskets and they were good to go, as if they put a hex on the project.

The next day we hit the lift like hungry dogs determined to remove and replace the heads pronto. All the other repairs were made, so it was just a matter of stripping her down, replacing the gaskets, bolting her back together and adjusting the valves.

Kyle pickin at shit 0185
Long shoreman Kyle Ross, tinkering with the oil line fittings and almost shutting off the return line.

I discovered that adjusting the valves had it’s own tricks. After we ran it a few miles I adjusted the solids by finding the lowest spot in the cam travel and taking out all the play (one at a time), but allowing me to spin the pushrods slightly. But then I tightened the rocker boxes and had to adjust the valves again.

4 done shot
There she is, ready to fly once more.

Jessica said we could go for a ride now.

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Reader Comments

I Like the techs and how you Don't Stop until you Get it Right. Even if it takes all Night of Drinking Jack-D. I'm in need of one's wisdom on the Best combo for my S&S Super E "Shorty."

I've Just put one on my Newly Stock, Rebuilt, 1975 dual-plug Heads. As far as I know, it's all stock 74-inch. It kick's right off, but its giving out a shit loud of gas fumes an I pulled off the air cleaner an it was full of Gas.

If you can Help me out with anything it would be appreciated.

Thank you For your Time.. "REDDOG"

Petaluma, CA
Monday, September 16, 2013
Editor Response Hey,

First check the float level. That's probably the problem. Make sure all the float bowl O-rings and components are in place. Let me know, if that helps.
I have a S&S 93-inch ShovelHead, and I can only use a open end wrench to tighten the cylinders down , how do you suppose to torque these nuts down to 35 to 40 foot pounds , how do you torque yours down. By the way thanks for the article,


Michael Cox
Rochester, WA
Thursday, May 10, 2012
Editor Response Hey,

You're right. There is an open-end wrench tool. It connects to the 3/8 or 1/2-inch torque wrench drive. I'll also ask Bruce Tessmer at S&S for a suggestion.

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