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‘44 Harley Knucklehead – The Gasbox


Posted on May 22, 2015 by Andrew in Bobber, Classic. 27 comments

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Written by Marlon Slack.

10 years ago, public appreciation was heaped on enormous cruisers that were adorned with novelties and caked in chrome. People loved those things, all 500 kilos of rolling tribute to American ostentatiousness. But as the GFC hit and wallets emptied, tastes shifted and the love of gleaming polish and excess gave way to matte paint, raw steel and clip-ons. Somewhere in between these two extremes sits The Gasbox’s 1944 Harley Davidson Knucklehead. A bike that’s clean, lean and executed with no flourishes except an incredible eye for detail and a masterful understanding of knowing exactly what works.

The idea for the bike originated with an old photo that Jesse and Tim at The Gasbox found. It was the best kind of hybrid American drag bike. It had a Knucklehead engine mounted in a 30’s VL Harley frame and it ran British forks at the front. Low, mean and with a powerplant to match they declared that they wanted to build something like that old drag Harley.

The concept floated around for a while before they found the perfect starting point, which turned out to be a pile of parts masquerading as a 1944 Knucklehead engine. Purchased from a long-time family friend, the old iron powerplant had been rebuilt using an 80 cubic inch flathead flywheel and heads machined for the larger Shovelhead valves. Raced by local Cleveland legend Tom Kell, the performance-oriented engine would prove to be the perfect spiritual starting point for the new build. But there are other important things to consider when building a bike like this.

‘The one thing I pride myself with on all of our builds is the proportions,’ the guys from The Gasbox say. ‘Having the correct stance and overall line of the bike is crucial. For us it all starts with the frame and fork combination.’ To that end the engine was mated to a stretched VL frame that had its rake kicked out to improve handling. It runs aluminium hoops with an 18” rear and 21” front mounted to Norton Roadholder forks. The front drum is part Norton and part BSA.

Most of the other features of the bike were fabricated by The Gasbox. That’s the oil tank, the rear fender that hugs the tyre just perfectly and the 2 into 1 exhaust that makes it way neatly around the frame and the side of the engine. The fuel tank was modified to take an old Smith’s speedometer, which keeps the front end of the bike clean. A headlight sits up there. And that’s it.

At first glance there’s not much about this ’44 Harley which stands out. It’s only when your eyes adjust and you start to realize how well-crafted and clean everything is that it really becomes special. It’s got no badges, no stickers, no airbrushing or pinstriping. It’s just a beautiful motorcycle beautifully put together.

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I’m beginning to think that The Gasbox, with a multitude of amazing build under their belts, really know what they’re doing. Amongst other triumphs, their hospital-grade-of-clean BMW R80 placed third in Pipeburn’s Bike of the Year in 2014 and their 1950 Norton Dominator just took out second place at the Quail motorcycle gathering last week. But to my eyes it’s this Knucklehead which straddles the line between heritage and modern minimalism perfectly.

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  • guvnor67

    Niiiiiiice!! The white background doesn’t do it justice, so much better in the outdoors shot! Love that smiths speedo in the tank, love the colour. Really digging the use of a few Brit bike parts. Really clean build, and I’m not really a Harley D fan. Good work and thank god the O.C.C days are over!!!!

  • Hardley T Whipsnade III

    Very clean . Extremely straight forward . Not ground breaking or original but not bad at all . Pretty good actually . But if I may be so bold . A historical correction when it comes to the bike building trends here in the US . The gaudy cruiser has to a certain point [ there’s still plenty out there and even more being built as we speak * ] been replaced by the current trend of ‘returning ‘ to the bobber/stripper days of old . Primarily by the self proclaimed Hipster builders who for what ever reason are obsessed by the past to the point of mass societal self induced decay . Which is to say there really is nothing new or original about bobber/strippers . We’ve been building bobber/stripper cruisers since the dawn of the cruiser . For arguments sake call it around the 1920’s – 1930’s ( re. Paul d’O’s ” The Chopper ; the real story ) The bobber trend well and truly taking off after WWII

    Back to this particular example though ? Like I said . Pretty darn decent indeed . A solid 9.5 for the overall execution . About a 2.5 for originality and creativity

    * FYI ;There are currently at least three print magazines selling quite well here in the US solely dedicated to the many times OTT gaudy cruiser. Now with 20 inch + front wheels and more bling than ever . The trend that never dies .

    • methamphetasaur

      I agree. If it had ape hangers it could be every custom harley ever.

      also that is the fattest kickstarter knob i have ever seen, and whatever that roundy thing is on the left side of the transmission looks like a minibike torque converter.

      and why brown? No vehicle has ever looked good in brown or beige.

      • foiled again

        This one does.

        • methamphetasaur

          it sure doesn’t.

          • arnold

            Belt drive primary to clutch.

          • methamphetasaur

            the part thats on the outside of the chain and belt, is that the clutch itself? maybe ive just never seen one without the cover, but it just looks a bit weird.

      • Marlon

        Can’t disagree with your first statement enough.

        That kickstarter ‘knob’ is actually standard. Just about every knucklehead engine will have a kicker that large – it’s kinda necessary.

        That round thing – is that the clutch you’re talking about? Or the primary?

        • methamphetasaur

          Meh, you can disagree all you like, i still say it looks generic. It’s not that it’s bad, quite the opposite, but if it was parked on the street and i walked by, i probably wouldn’t give it a second look.

          I certainly don’t know enough about harleys to say what comes standard, but a google image search shows many having what looks like a bicycle pedal on the kickstarter [maybe they were different by year?]. I don’t doubt it’s necessary though, I imagine kickstarting an engine that big sucks a bag of dicks.

          The primary is the belt itself, no? so i suppose it’s the clutch i was referrring to?

      • Antoine Evans

        That’s absolute non sens, I’m sorry but it is. If it had ape hangers it would be a weird thing, but it sur wouldn’t be every custom harley. By saying this you show how little you know about harleys.

        This bike has a knuklehead motor, put in a Harley VL frame, which had to be cut and welded and worked on a lot to make it fit, it is something that has been made a few times, but definitely not a common thing ya know ? the kickstart pedal is just an iconic harley part.

        Finally this bike is gorgeous and brown works well here, like any color could work on any bike if done with taste.

    • guvnor67

      Good point, baggers especially, probably a good example of gaudy ugliness and ridiculous wheel sizes!!

    • Antoine Evans

      Yeeaaah don’t agree with you when you say

      “Primarily by the self proclaimed Hipster builders who for what ever reason are obsessed by the past to the point of mass societal self induced decay”

      First, If you are referring to those incredibly talented builders like those who attend shows like Born free or the handbuilt show in texas and such, you have to see one thing here : They set the bar higher than anyone ever did before, as long as craftsmanship and taste matter. This is excellence what they do. Some of them bring their cnc/engineer background in their “simple and not original builds” (like you say) to do things that were never done before. They crave simplicity and elegance, balance and soul. They look in the past to find inspiration and values, which they think were lost in the last 50 years, but they also bring the good stuff that came with progress and technology.

      Let’s put it this way : Taste was way better before, technology wasn’t so much, but in a way, maybe this lack of technical skill pushed the first manufacturers and builders extraordinaire to be more creative ! Maybe that is what those “hipsters” you describe thrive on. Those uncanny shapes, designs.

      Then technology kicked in, and in the 70’s and forth, people wanted to be in the future so hard, they just completely forgot about form to only consider function, which was exactly the opposite of what had been the idea until then. And now look at us, we have cars which all look the same, which are all grey or black, or white, a new model every six months, they work well until they don’t, and then you can’t put your hands in em cause they’re made to be brought to your specialist, so you can spend more money etc.
      Today, beautiful objects, designs still exist, but in a very low number, and exclusively for the richest people on earth. So I don’t agree with your “society in decay stuff”.

      I mean, I’m not saying it was all good back in the time, I’m just saying it sure ain’t now.

  • Gustavo Gonzalez

    Harleys are not so common in my country, here people with enough money to afford a luxury motorcycle prefer performance so they go for sportys even if they can not manage it. I’am not a fan of cruisers at all but this one is so plenty of well constructed coolest that I can imagine it as my ride on a long trip, open helmet, old style glasses, legs extended, a very slow ride looking the absorbing scenery of our mountains and valleys. It is a lovely image.

    • Marlon

      What country is that, Gustavo?

  • John Wanninger

    The fact that it’s a knuck gets it into heaven automatically. So, (amazingly enough) I have no further comments.

  • Ron T. Brown

    I’m too old to ride rigid bikes, but I have to admit it wouldn’t work without a hardtail ………

  • nathan

    Damn this is too good. I’d throw a sissy bar on it and ride it everywhere.

  • the only difference between a harley and a donkey is they don’t eat carrots

    • methamphetasaur

      A donkey has more power.

      • guvnor67

        LOL!!!

        • don’t get me wrong, i do like donkeys but why can’t a nation that put a man on the moon build a decent motorbike, like the Germans, who built the rockets that put them on the moon?

          • methamphetasaur

            erik buell keeps trying. His bikes are good, but not so much his business model, so he keeps going out of business. maybe next time round?

          • methamphetasaur

            although those engines were austian, so… the same deal.

  • Zundap

    This bike is a real stand out for me. Understated and cool. If it was mine it would have rear suspension and guard for the primary drive. ..Z

  • Simple, clean and elegant with just the right amount of chrome. A beautiful example of the genre. The knucklehead is an iconic motor and ahead of its time. Kudos to the builder.