Big twins have always been the signature of the Milwaukee models, but for a while, Harley-Davidson also produced some excellent singles, which are today extremely rare.
The late ‘twenties weren’t exactly salubrious times in USA. Down came the stock market, and with it the air of confidence that had been building since the end of WW1. Still, life had to go on, and in American motorcycling terms, that meant basically Harley-Davidson and Indian, and to a much lesser extent, Excelsior/Henderson. In the case of Indian, the company had been enjoying a phenomenal run of success on the track, wiping the floor to clean up national titles in 1928 and 1929. But while the v-twins continued to satisfy the home market, albeit a shrinking one, single cylinder models gained valuable traction for Harley on the export side.
The sales success of Indian’s Prince, a side-valve 350 certainly did not go unnoticed by the folks in Milwaukee, and in 1925 Harley responded with their own 350 side-valve, the Model A, which had magneto ignition, followed by the Model B with battery ignition. At $210, the Model A 350 was the cheapest motorcycle in the company’s range. The Model B was aimed mainly at the export market, with a three-speed hand-shift gearbox and the option of full electrical equipment. For the 1926 model year, the B was joined by an overhead valve version known as the Solo Sport which produced a healthy 12 horsepower. Like the side-valvers, this version was available with magneto ignition (Model AA) or the BA with battery ignition and lights. A single-gear competition model that immediately found favour on the nascent speedway scene in England, Australia and New Zealand, officially the Model S with Sager front fork, became known as the Peashooter, due to its pop-pop exhaust note from the stubby open exhaust. Running on alcohol, with 8.0:1 compression ratio, they reputedly produced around 30 horsepower. The new 350s accounted for almost one-third of Harley’s production in 1926, and for 1927 the cylinder head on the OHV model became a twin exhaust port design, with a subsequent increase in power. By 1928, the 350cc line-up had been refined with alloy pistons, air filters, an oil pump controlled by the throttle opening, and front wheel brakes in place of the spool hubs. As the economic belt tightened, Harley decided to expand the single cylinder line up with the addition of a 500cc version – the Model C – which was listed for 1930, although there is an official sales list that shows the Model C was actually available in 1929 and sold 1,570 units. This model basically used the bottom end of the 21, with an enlarged barrel and special head, produced for Harley by the legendary Harry Ricardo. Harley claimed the head could be removed, decoked, valves ground and reassembled in twenty minutes, with no special tools required. The 500 also had a new stable mate in the 750cc Model D vee-twin,
aimed squarely at Indian’s popular 750cc Scout. The new Model D was also available in a highcompression version, the Model DL, and both 500 and 750 versions used side-valves. Like all 1930 models, the C boasted an electrical system that automatically increased its output when the headlight was switched on. The new 500 single, which H-D emphatically stipulated was for solo use only, used the same frame as the 350cc Model Twenty-one (21 cubic inch) and the Model D, although when the 750 received a new chassis (with a wheelbase of 57.5 inches or 1460mm) in 1930, it was also used on the Model C. This gave a lower seating position and extra ground clearance. A cheaper version of the 500, the Model CB (of which just 310 units were built) sold for just $197.50 and continued with the early-style Model B frame until the singles went out of production. Along with the new frame and front forks, the 500 and 750 were fitted with front brakes as standard equipment. Although not a runaway sales success, the 500 claimed a major share of the 350’s market, and the smaller single was dropped for the 1931 model year, only to reappear a year later, drastically reduced in price as the Depression bit even harder. But it wasn’t just USA that was feeling the effects, and as the economical climate rapidly deteriorated in Europe (and Australasia), Harley’s export markets dried up. 1934 would be the final year of the singles from Milwaukee. The Model C used engine dimensions of 78.5mm bore x 101.6mm stroke, giving 493cc, with a list price in USA of $255. Initially, horsepower was listed as 8 hp, but by 1932 this had risen to 10, and 10.5 hp at 3,400 rpm for the final 1934 version. Weight of the final version was listed as 365 pounds (166 kg). On later models, the klaxon horn was replaced with the so-called sunburst faced type, and the twin headlight became a single unit. Which all adds up to make the Model C quite a rare motorcycle these days, with just 4,472 produced in the production years 1929 to 1934 inclusive. Indeed, the majority of the singles were exported, and certainly helped to establish the brand in the eyes of the European markets. One of those markets was Australia, but it is unclear just how many reached these shores. It is clear however, that only a handful survive. There was even a special speedway version of the Model C, the Type CAC which was primarily intended for export to the UK and Australasia.
Our featured motorcycle belongs to Alan Phillips, who until 2016 was the organiser of the popular Macquarie Towns Motorcycle Restoration & Preservation Club’s annual Show Day on the banks of the Hawkesbury River at Windsor in north western Sydney. This particular machine was among
1930 HARLEY-DAVIDSON MODEL C “1934 would be the final year of the singles from Milwaukee.”
literally dozens collected by the late Arthur Pendlebury, and it spent many years languishing in Arthur’s factory in Parramatta, surrounded by dusty bedfellows from many different manufacturers. Following Arthur’s death, the collection passed to his son Rob, who is also a member of the Macquarie Towns club and a close mate of Alan’s. “I used to borrow Rob’s 350 Harley to ride in club runs,” says Alan, “but what I really wanted was the 500. Eventually, Rob agreed to sell it to me. I was just 18 at the time. It is a 1930 model, with the twin headlights, and the toolbox on the front forks, in the same frame used for the 750 twin, so it is quite different to the earlier Model C which used the 350 frame.”
After riding his new acquisition for a short time, Alan succumbed to the inevitable and dismantled the bike. “It was painted several shades of green so it didn’t look very nice,” he says, “but in my restoration attempt I also committed the usual sins of chroming things that shouldn’t have been chromed and so on. The bike then lay around for a very long time before I decided to do it properly. The paintwork was actually done by Peter Scott, the magneto man, back in 1981 and it still looks perfect today, so in about 2010 when I decided to get stuck into it, I already had a big chunk of it done. I was fortunate that some of the bits that are peculiar to this model, or to the singles, were all in place, so I didn’t have to find much. One thing I just have not been able to source is the correct carburettor, which is a Schebler type G4. They were used on the 350 singles as well, although with a smaller choke. I saw one for sale on eBay a while back and they wanted $1500 for it! The one I have on the bike is a Schebler Deluxe as used on the 750 twin, and according to some specifications, this could have been correct, but I have seen photographs with the G4 fitted to the 500, which is distinctive with its rectangular float bowl, whereas the Deluxe bowl is circular.” So is Alan’s rare and desirable Model C a wonderful rally bike, as he remembered it from all those years ago? “Not really. It’s flat out at about 60 km/h, so you tend to get left behind. But it is nice to look at.”
Twin headlights were shared with the 750. Distinctive silencer. Front brake replaced earlier spool hub.
Harley described the 500 engine as “remarkably simple and accessible”. Instrumentation is not extensive. The lubrication department. Three-speed handchange gearbox. Barrel-shaped toolbox came on stream for 1930.
Owner Alan Phillips with his Model C. 1930 HARLEY-DAVIDSON MODEL C
Where to put the suitcase.