In the first half of June 2023, Wheels Through Time’s Matt Walksler started taking anyone viewing the museum’s YouTube channel into the heart of an extremely rare Harley-Davidson race bike. Now, those familiar with the museum might well ask the question, “what else is new?” This bike, though, is an excellent answer to the question “what’s rarer than rare?”
It’s a 1942 Harley-Davidson FLTT, with an ultra-rare 80 cubic inch racing engine that’s basically got every single trick that the factory mechanics of the time could throw at it. From ported cylinders, shortened pistons, polished connecting rods, and lightened flywheels, virtually everything that could be done was done to make this bike go faster according to what was known at the time. Reducing friction, shaving off incremental amounts of weight wherever possible, and strengthening parts under heavy stress were all in evidence inside these engine cases.
In this video, the WTT team is so close to getting it running, they can almost taste it. The bike came to the museum about 70 or 80 percent complete, but as anyone who’s ever attempted a project will know, sometimes it’s those last few things that end up being the most frustrating hurdles to cross.
Another great piece of the puzzle came from Walksler’s amazing collection of parts that he’s amassed over the years. Like many moto maniacs who find themselves drawn to a particular niche, he developed the ability to recognize parts that might come in handy down the line early on—or, at least, early enough on that he had the correct primary cover to use in this application. If memory serves him correctly, he’s had it since he was about 25 years old, when he picked it up at a swap meet and has been hanging onto it for an unknown future project that’s now here at last.
Once it’s all back together and looks like it should be in good running order, it’s time to kick it, and kick it, and kick it, and—nothing. Walksler keeps kicking, and kicking, and it’s visibly an exhausting process because he attempts it so many times. Still, the thing just won’t start. It has great compression, it has spark, there’s fuel in the tank—what's the problem?
If you’ve ever attempted any kind of project, bike or otherwise, you know that there comes a time when it’s best to give it up and sleep on it before it goes from bad to worse. Walksler and his team put it aside for the night, then come back to the workshop fresh the next morning. The carburetor on this bike is different than the standard unit found in other, non-TT race bikes that Harley made at the time. As Walksler explains, he’s pretty sure that the low speed needle jet was in too far, so the bike wasn’t fueling properly, which is why it wouldn’t start yesterday.
The good news is, it starts today—and it’s a good, healthy rumble coming out of those race pipes. According to Walksler, the engine itself is pretty quiet—but the exhaust that’s on it is quite loud. In any case, fans of ultra-rare bike startups will appreciate the ending of this video, so be sure you’re wearing your best headphones for the fullest appreciation of what you’re seeing.