With the XL model line, the “H” for touring, the “CH” as the high performance version, Harley-Davidson satisfied the needs of riders looking for lighter, nimbler high performance motorcycles. Following in the tracks of the K model, which remained only in racing form as the KR750, the XL Sportster arrived in 1957. The biggest advancement was overhead valves plus eventually electric starting on the basic H model. But the XLH options list included saddlebags, a windshield, buddy seat and riders could even opt for two ride heights by specifying 18 inch or 19 inch wheels. Seat options varied from traditional sprung post to rigid mount in later years, and there was even the “boat tail” for awhile.

While it has played an extremely limited role in the military, or as a police mount, like its predecessors the K Model and the WR model, the Sportster has been a very flexible machine. Properly equipped it was a light weight “sport touring” machine. Stripped, it served well at the drag strip. And men like Leo Payne were able to tune it for assaults on the Land Speed Record at Bonneville. Some riders have enjoyed chopping and bobbing Sportsters as well.

With the high performance Buell no longer in Harley’s product mix, after over 60 years in the model line-up the Sportster lives on. Recently with big changes to bring comfort, smoothness and overall sophistication, the Sportster is as cool as ever. This great original Sportster is on loan to the National Motorcycle Museum from the Jill and John Parham Collection. It’s one of several Sportsters, stock, custom and competition that you’ll see when you visit.


    • Engine: 45 Degree Overhead Valve V-Twin
    • Displacement: 54 Cubic Inches / 883 cc’s
    • Bore & Stroke: 3.00″ x 3.81″
    • Carburetor: Tillotson
    • Primary: Triplex Chain
    • Clutch: Dry, Multi-disk
    • Transmission: 4-Speed, Foot Shift
    • Ignition: 12V Battery, Points & Coils
    • Horsepower: 61HP
    • Frame: Steel, Double Down Tube
    • Suspension: Telescopic Fork / Dual Shocks, Swingarm
    • Brakes: Drum, Internal Expanding
    • Wheelbase: 58.5″
    • Weight: 530 Pounds
    • Wheels/Tires: 3.50 x 19 / 4.00 x 18
9 replies
  1. Roger Sawyer
    Roger Sawyer says:

    I’m noticed that the gages and the lettering and the seat look very close to the 1971 HD SPRINT SS350 that I owned.

    Just picked up a 2009 click 1200 c for my wife. Looking forward to the snow melt and finally getting to ride it.

  2. Andrew Rolfe
    Andrew Rolfe says:

    But they didn’t have draconian emissions standards in the ’50s and ’60s. Ironheads were just about the fastest stock bikes available at the time. And enormous fun, too.

  3. Andrew Rolfe
    Andrew Rolfe says:

    But they didn’t have draconian emissions standards in the ’50s and ’60s. The old ironheads were about the fastest bikes available at the time.And enormous fun, too.


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