It survived the Great Depression. By a miracle, so did Harley-Davidson.

By 1934 the Great Depression was in full swing. Harley-Davidson's sales had plummeted from 21,000 in 1929 to 3,703 in 1933. That didn't stop Harley from introducing a new lineup in 1934, despite the fact that people couldn't afford much of anything, let alone a motorcycle. This VD, for sale on Bring a Trailer, is an excellent example of a Depression-era Harley.

The engine is the same 45 cubic inch flathead unit Harley introduced in 1929, just as the Depression started. It features Ricardo cylinder heads, four cams driving two valves per cylinder, and a total-loss oiling system because nobody cared about the environment back then. Yes, this Harley constantly dripped oil, by design, which is probably where the jokes about more modern Harleys doing it came from. It even runs, and runs well. I'm amazed at how similar it sounds to a modern Harley. 


This engine is connected to a three-speed manual, not sequential, transmission, controlled by a hand shifter on the left side of the gas tank. The left lever controls the front drum brake rather than a clutch, and the left grip controls the ignition timing, something that's automatically controlled today. The right grip does the throttle as we're used to (unless it's an old Indian), and the right foot manages the rear drum brake.

Gallery: 1934 Harley-Davidson VD

The only gauge this bike has is an ammeter. There is no speedometer and no odometer. It also has no rear suspension, just a solo springer seat to absorb the bumps. An adjustable springer front end soaks up the shocks in front. The chrome wire wheels are in great shape, but the tires are older and have cracked sidewalls. You'll want to replace them if you plan on taking this out on the street (which, with a clean Montana title, you totally can).

This seems to have been the right bike at the wrong time for Harley-Davidson. Soon after this bike was introduced, Harley resorted to building industrial powerplants based on their motorcycle engines, as well as commercial vehicles like the Servi-Car. Ultimately, World War II would save Harley-Davidson, with massive government orders for military motorcycles.

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