1941 Harley-Davidson 61ci EL Engine no. 41EL3146

Riding motorcycles for pleasure became the embodiment of American motorcyclists by 1940. They had withstood the sacrifices necessary to overcome the Great Depression yet during that period this country witnessed the most lasting styling exercises to ever come out both automotive and motorcycle design shops. Witness the fabulous Duesenbergs and front wheel drive Cords of the ‘Thirties, or the beautiful DuPont color combinations offered by Indian at that same time. In these years, the Harley-Davidson EL, or ‘Knucklehead,’ was born. In the late 1930s, the Knucklehead continued to impress riders with its art deco paint schemes and stylish lines. Growing into the 1940’s, Indian introduced the elegant Chiefs with sweeping skirted fenders that still turn heads. Harley-Davidson continued to modernize the Knucklehead as it was a wonderful ‘do everything’ motorcycle. It was a touring bike in wolf’s clothing as it was equally adept in cruising as it was racing down the streets of America.

The Knucklehead was an overhead valve engine, the first Harley-Davidson produced except for special racing engines with roots going back to the 1920s. The 61ci V-twin engine got its name from the massive iron heads which gave the appearance of a fist. However the first Knuckleheads were flawed mainly with oil distribution problems. For 1941, a vastly improved gear-driven oil pump was introduced that incorporated a bypass valve which was regulated by engine speed. At low speed, the valve opened to bypass the gear case and return oil to the tank under the seat. At high speeds, this bypass would close maximizing oil distribution to the motor. This improved oiling system was introduced on the new 74ci FL Knucklehead and also incorporated on the smaller 61ci EL.

As fashions changed in the ‘Forties, so did motorcycles. Both Indian and Harley-Davidson opted for less striking paint schemes often choosing monochromatic hues and dressing the machines with metal strips to define fenders and tanks. A certain elegance evolved, and in the case of the Knucklehead, defined Harley-Davidson’s image of what looks right on a motorcycle. This motorcycle incorporated engineering improvements like a double downtube frame, interchangeable Star hub wheels and a change in the rake of the frame neck to improve handling. New 16”x 5.00” tires improved the ride quality and the clutch received a huskier clutch to deal with the engine performance. Styling was enhanced by a streamlined tank and new instrument cluster in a ‘cat’s eyes dash.’ Sportier speedster handlebars provided a rakish fast look to the bike.

As Harley-Davidson entered the war effort, civilian sales of motorcycles were limited to about 6,000 units before these were halted. The majority of Harley’s production went to the 45ci WL’s. Meanwhile only 2,280 EL’s were made, selling for $425. A nearly equal number of the larger FL’s were also manufactured.

Typically, wartime Harley-Davidsons had a lack of chrome and other plating, reserving those materials for essential production. This motorcycle, finished in ‘Brilliant Black,’ has the Deluxe Solo Group of accessories which offered lots of chrome and a Buddy Seat. Given these luxuries, it was surmised that the original owner of this Knucklehead was a wealthy enthusiast.

This 1941Harley-Davidson EL was restored by Lonnie Reed of Belle Plain, Kansas in the 1990s and displayed by Santa Cruz Harley-Davidson in their museum from 1996 through 2007. The motorcycle was authentically restored using a few non-standard accessories to accentuate its design.