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Adventures in Panland

Prepping a '48 Panhead for the Australian Great Race

Words & Pics by Doc Robinson

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Editor’s Note: I recently received a note about the last ’48 Panhead I owned. Two years ago Doc Robinson, a moto-journalist and tech writer from Australia, talked me out of it. Since it arrived on his little island in the Pacific he had a mission, to make it vintage road race rally ready. When our reader commented Doc shipped us the latest report on the classic 61-inch EL with dual carbs. Here’s the reader’s letter and Doc’s report.

BANDIT’S ’48 PANHEAD--Hey man, I came across this picture of your Panhead. I was wondering if you had anymore shots, and could tell me anything more about it.

One of the best lookin’ Pans I’ve ever seen.


Ah yes, old bikes have some things in common with old lovers, as anyone who has ever suffered a broken heart will attest. And hasn’t that been all of us at some time? For quite some years I had not owned a bike that would qualify for entry into the Great Race, an Australian Institution that sees early Harley-Davidsons pitted against Indians. Details and pictures of this event can be found at and the site is well worth a look.

But with the acquisition of this ’48 Panhead from my good buddy Bandit (from Bikernet) a couple of years back I figured I was “in like Flynn”. Alas, a combination of last minute problems with the bike, a back brake that suddenly decided to lock up completely whenever it was activated, plus a suspect coil and plug lead saw me scrambling. On top of that my wife’s mother suffered a major illness and was in hospital in a critical condition and I didn’t want to leave wife Jane at home alone in that circumstance. But roll on 2013 - come hell or high water I was going to be there.

Now Patty - yes “Patty Panhead” - in my ongoing though somewhat lame tradition of naming my bikes, wasn’t running as smoothly as I would have liked and even seemed to be going downhill somewhat. So I enlisted the services of Neville Lush of Neville Lush Racing to give her a good tune up, a not so simple task given that she runs twin Mikuni 42mm carbies that are directly affixed to the heads.

Now after some work on her, Neville suggested the aftermarket automatic advance distributor might be part of the problem and fortunately I was able to source a brand new Mallory from Mark Hood of Hood Engine Service.

But despite his best tuning efforts, which did result in a decent improvement, Neville informed me that he’d found the front cylinder exhibited somewhat reduced compression and that this needed checking out. Time now, was running short for the Great Race, and in my neck of the woods blokes who are prepared to work on Panheads are somewhat thin on the ground.

However, my big break came when I was discussing my problems with a young tech at Harley-Heaven who volunteered to take a look at Patty for me. Now Adam Kalb, or SuperKalb as I once nicknamed him after he fitted an automotive turbocharger to both his late model Fat Boy as well as his 140cc scooter (the latter which jumped from a stock 4hp to 18hp), is one of those blokes who was born with a spanner in one hand and a screwdriver in the other. While this no doubt wouldn’t have done much for his mum’s birth canal, it did result in him being a problem solver par excellence when it comes to anything mechanical.

Well he pulled off the rocker covers and noticed that one of the lands that supports the rockers had a fingernail-sized piece of metal missing from it. Where had it gone?

Removing the heads provided the answer; it had gone down into the front cylinder and scored the bore significantly. Damn.

So, I raced the heads and barrels down to Hoody who did some measuring and found I had one more rebore left in those old barrels, but said that finding pistons was going to be tricky. However, Hoody worked his usual magic in super-fast time and called me a couple of days later to let me know he’d located some pistons and the job was ready.
In the meantime SuperKalb had checked the cases and flushed them and informed me that the bottom end rebuilt by Lee Clemens of Departure Bike Works in Richmond, Virginia, seemed quite fine.

Now, Hoody told me that the thread in the head under one corner of the land looked like it had been faulty from the factory, and that had allowed the screw to loosen and then the land to jump up and down until a chunk of it had broken off. But he sorted that out and went over the heads, originally rebuilt with roller rockers by Baisley's Performance, thoroughly, pronouncing them ready for another 65 or so years on the road.

So it looked like I was going to make it this time around thanks to the sterling efforts of SuperKalb and Hoody. Looked like. Until it came time to put the oil pump back together and Murphy reared his butt ugly head. You see we found that we were one gasket short - and it was a critical one in terms of dimensions - so no cardboard cut out was going to do. Double damn!
So, there the bike sat, all ready to go, with all the major problems dealt with and some minor ones attended to, just missing one teeny-weeny bloody gasket, and before we could source one time ran out on me. Another couple of days and I’d have been charging around the Snowy Mountains with a great bunch of Harley-Davidson and Indian enthusiasts, grinning no doubt, like the village idiot. Ah well, as Ned Kelly said, “such is life." Fingers crossed for next year.

I suppose, now that the bitter disappointment of missing the Race for the second time has faded to just a tight knot in the pit of my stomach and a sour taste in my mouth, I can reflect that some good things have come out of this. SuperKalb has repainted the barrels and rocker covers to schmick up the look, completely cleaned and resealed the fuel tank which he’d found to be pretty rusty internally, tidied up some wiring, and fitted new brake shoes to the rear drum.

Doc Robinson on a test ride.
Doc Robinson on a test ride.

With a picture of the Snowy Mountains hanging right in front of her on the wall of my garage where she is parked, I’m hoping some magical osmotic effect just might occur and get her all psyched up for 2014. Meanwhile I’m enjoying the ride and building my retro riding skills.

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Reader Comments

Good to see the bike in good hands Bandit.

ogden, UT
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Editor Response Can't wait for it to hit the Australian Great Race. Hang on for the report.

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