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Harley Sportster Motorcycle - Brief History of the Ironhead
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Harley Sportster Motorcycle - Brief History of the Ironhead

By: Buzz Kanter

The Harley Sportster is considered by many to be America's first Musclebike. Light and fast the Sportster was America's answer to the narrow and lithe British sportbikes of the time. Available now as Sportster 1200 and Sportster 883 rubber mounted models, the Harley Sporster was launched in 1957 as the replacement for Harley K flathead motorcycle. The 1957 Harley Sportster featured a solid mount 55 cubic inch Ironhead engine.

1957 Harley Sportster XL Motorcycle

1957 Harley Sportster XL Motorcycle

The Sportster is a line of motorcycles produced continuously since 1957 by the Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Harley Sportster models are designated in Harley-Davidson's product code by beginning with "XL". In 1952, the predecessors to the Sportster, the Model K Sport and Sport Solo motorcycles, were introduced. These models K, KK, KH, and KHK of 1952–1956 are not always considered to be Sportsters, but are definitely the precursors and inspiration for the line. The Harley Sportster became nationally famous in the United States in 1968 with the hit TV series Then Came Bronson, starring Michael Parks.

When launched in 1957 no one could have known that the Harley Sportster would become the longest running motorcycle model in history. Not only is the Harley Sportster still in production more than fifty years later, but the new Harley Sporster looks and is based very much on the original 1957 Sportster design shown above.

2009 Harley Sportster Motorcycle

2009 Harley Sportster Motorcycle

Because the Harley Sportster is the least expensive new and used Harley, it is very popular with entry level riders as well as leading to a great number of custom Sportster motorcycles. And thanks to it's many years in production there is a large and growing list of Sportster parts and other Harley accessories available from the Motor Company as well as the aftermarket industry.

Harley Sportster XLCR Cafe Racer Motorcycle

Harley Sportster XLCR Cafe Racer Motorcycle

The earliest "Ironhead" Harley Sportster models are becomong more desirable by the motorcycle collectors and restorers, especially the Harley Sportster XLCR Cafe Racer and dual carb XR1000 Harley Sporster.

Harley Sportster XR1000 Motorcycle

Harley Sportster XR1000 Motorcycle

Many of the later Ironhead Harley Sportster models continue to sell at low prices. But even the less desirable Harley Sportster years are likely to rise in popularity and price in the future. The Ironhead "classic" Harley Sportster motorcycles were built from 1957 until 1986 when the more modern Harley Evo Sportster was introduced.

Harley Davidson offer the following designation Ironhead Sportster motorcycles between 1957 and 1986:

  • Harley Sportster XL

  • Harley Sportster XLH

  • Harley Sportster XLC

  • Harley Sportster XLCH

  • Harley Sportster XLR

  • Harley Sportster XLRTT

  • Harley Sportster XR

  • Harley Sportster XLT

  • Harley Sportster XLCR

  • Harley Sportster XLS

  • Harley Sportster XLX-61

  • Harley Sportster XR-1000

Like to learn more about older Harley motorcycles? Check out www.caimag.com - the Classic American Iron Magazine on line site where this article was first published. Also check out www.aimag.com the American Iron Magazine forum.

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