1966 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra Glide
Elvis Presley's Motorcycles


Elvis on his new 1966 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide - ca. Oct. 1965
Photo courtesy Brian Petersen

On October 12, 1965, after returning to Memphis, Elvis bought a new 1966 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide from Taylor Harley-Davidson, reputedly for $1941.25. Taylor had bought the Memphis Harley-Davidson Co. located on Poplar Ave. after which they relocated to 2549 S. Bellevue Blvd. The motorcycle was Hi-Fi Blue and Birch White and had the king of the highway option, as was his preference, complete with saddle bags, crash bars, buddy seat and windshield (clear). According to Marty Lacker, Elvis' bikes didn't normally make the trips back and forth across the country. The west coast bikes generally stayed on the west coast and the bikes in Memphis stayed there. However, one deviation from this at this time was Priscilla's Honda. According to Peter Guralnick, Elvis had it shipped in so she could go riding with him.1


Harley-Davidson Collector Card for the 19966 FLH Electra-Glide
Photo courtesy ebay


Panhead (1948-1965) vs. Shovelhead (1965-1983)
Photo courtesy Working Class Zeroes

The FLH was the top selling model in 1966 and listing at $1610 for the top of the line "king of the highway" option (over $300 less than what Elvis was said to have paid). It was the first year for the new "Shovelhead" engine which boasted a new, efficient combustion chamber. Like the Panheads and Knuckleheads that preceded it, the name was given to it by the enthusiasts because of the shape of the (cast aluminum) rocker covers. The cylinder heads were patterned after the ones on Sportsters and with a new style carburetor added about 10% more power than in 1965 bringing the 74 ci engine to 60 hp at 5,400 rpm.2


1966 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide in Indigo Blue Metallic and Birch White
Photo courtesy 2040 Motos


1966 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide in Sparkling Burgundy (Hi-Fi) with Birch White
Photo by Nick Cedar, courtesy Classic Harley Big Twins : Knucklehead, Panhead, Shovelhead

During the first year of production, 5625 Shovelhead FLHs rolled out of the factory. Another 2130 low-compression motors were fitted into FL bikes. The FL was intended as a police or government bike, used also for low-speed duties such as escort work and accompanying someone on their last drive in a funeral procession. The lower compression of the FL motor cost it 5-6hp, in the name of reliability and lack of heating problems. Of course, performance dropped an equivalent amount, too. Most agencies opted for the faster bike over the reliability. What the cops didn't want was a bike with less performance than the one the public could buy off the showroom floor. The stock FLH, full of gas, creaked onto the scales at a hefty 785lb--top speed, after a half mile run, was 98 mph.3


1966 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide - The Panhead had a fuel shutoff valve in front of the left gas cap; the Shovel has it moved off the tank and down under the left side
Photo by Nick Cedar, courtesy Classic Harley Big Twins : Knucklehead, Panhead, Shovelhead

1966 also saw the tank emblem change again to a new design that would be would used through 1971. Available colors for 1966 were Birch White, Black (with Birch White), Sparkling Burgundy (Hi-Fi) with Birch White, Hi-Fi Blue with Birch White, Indigo Blue Metallic with Birch White, Crystal Blue with Birch White and Holiday Red with Birch White.4 The FLH, replete with touring package--new and thicker windscreen, saddlebags, deluxe seat, supplementary lights, and extra chrome trim--became the ultimate in touring machines. Coupled with improved reliability, it heralded a new era in riding.3


Deborah Walley, Joe Esposito, Larry Geller, Elvis on his 1966 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide, and Jerry Schilling in Cornell, CA - ca. Spring 1966
Photo EPE, Inc.

By February of 1966 Elvis was back in California and began production on his 22nd film, Spinout.  Around this time he acquired another 1966 Electra-Glide and more than a few photos exist of him with it and his entourage and co-star Deborah Walley riding in the Malibou Lake area and Cornell, CA where several scenes of the film were shot.  This bike had a tinted windshield also and chromed primary case cover.  No one asked seems to remember the color of it, but the seat appears to be a tan or possibly brown, unlike the more common white, black or combination.


Marty Lacker, Joe Esposito, and Elvis with Deborah Walley on his 1966 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide in Cornell, CA - ca. Spring 1966
Photos EPE, Inc.


Larry Geller, Marty Lacker, Alan Fortas, Joe Esposito, Elvis with Deborah Walley on his 1966 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide and Jerry Schilling in Cornell, CA - ca. Spring 1966
Photo EPE, Inc.

Elvis was pictured riding the same '66 Electra-Glide later that year with, reputedly, singer Johnny Rivers and others. Oddly Johnny was reported to have fallen out of graces with Elvis in 1964.  The story is told that while Johnny was formerly friends and a frequent visitor of his, Elvis played him a version of Chuck Berry's Memphis Tennessee which was to be his next release and then Johnny recorded and released his version first. Peter Guralnick wrote that after that Elvis felt betrayed and didn't care to see him around.1 If that is in fact the case, then the pictures would suggest that by 1966 he was either not as persona non grata as had been stated or that's not Johnny in the pictures.


Elvis on his 1966 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide and, reputedly, Johnny Rivers on a Triumph - ca. 1966
Photos courtesy FECC

In 1967 Elvis began filming Clambake, his 27th film, and in it he is pictured riding a 1967 FLH Electra-Glide. Unlike many of the vehicles, guitars and props he used in his films, this was not believed to be one of his own or to go home with him after.  It is, however, interesting to note some of the things about it while doing the history of his motorcycles. For some strange reason, possibly to cover up some damage, they simulated a two-tone paint scheme on the tank with white adhesive tape applied to the front and bottom. As was often the custom with the Colonel and instrument manufacturers that didn't pay for the privilege of advertising, the brand logo, in this case the Harley-Davidson name on the tank emblem, was taped over.


Elvis in a scene from United Artists 1967 Clambake on a 1967 Harley-Davidson Electra-Glide. Note the tape on the tank
Photos courtesy web and Keith Russell

The 1967s were also the first year that employed a large oval air cleaner and the Tillotson diaphragm carburetor that was introduced on the Sportster in 1966.  By 1968 the entire 12-volt electrical system had been redesigned for the Electra-Glide's new Homelite manufactured starters since the original electric starters were susceptible to water damage and corrosion. The rest of the electrics benefited as a result. In short, the review given by Cycle World magazine in their July 1968 issue gave the Electra-Glide much accolades, concluding that H-D has hit a new high in design. They flawed them only for the antiquated and inferior front braking.5  This would not improve though until the addition of disc brakes in 1972.

page added October 5, 2015

1 according to Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick
2 according to or excerpt from Art of the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle by Dain Gingerelli courtesy Motorcycle Classics
3 according to or excerpt from Classic Harley Big Twins : Knucklehead, Panhead, Shovelhead By Greg Field, Tom Murphy
4 according to John Pierce ColorWrite

5 according to or excerpt from Harley-Davidson Electra Glide The "Leanlessness" of a Long Distance Runner - Cycle World Magazine 1968 courtesy Classic Road Tests Walneck's Classic Cycle Trader July 2008

 

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