1971 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra Glide
Elvis Presley's Motorcycles


Elvis in Memphis on his 1971 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide - (said to be ) July 4, 1972
Photos by Pearle Melton, courtesy Torbon Lunde

By 1972, and probably earlier, back in Memphis Elvis had bought and rode regularly a White 1971 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide. In 1969 Harley-Davidson had introduced the detachable windshield fairing kit as an option, more commonly called a "batwing fairing" to deflect more wind off the rider and by 1971 it had become a standard feature. It was basically a shell and in the early years contained no instrumentation like those of the modern bikes.1 Elvis didn't seem to be initially too keen on the fairings since the few bikes he bought in those years before 1976 didn't have them.


Elvis (with Mary Kathleen Selph?) in Memphis on his 1971 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide - (said to be ) July 4, 1972
Photos by Pearle Melton, courtesy Paul's Elvis Candid Central

Cycle Guide in 1970 described them as kind of like cruising along in a glass bubble and watching the traffic and scenery go by... The windshield and fairing afford the rider with an extremely valuable pair of accessories for long or short trips. With these two items on the machine (they are not considered to be standard, but optional items that are ordered with the majority of 74s) the rider is not subjected to the buffeting wind and tiring job of fighting wind resistance at cruising speeds. (If you haven't ridden a machine with these items you are really missing a treat out on the open road.) While you're cruising along in that comfortable saddle and behind the big wind-shield/fairing you all but lose the idea that you're whipping along at seventy-five per. There's no wind buffeting noise." 2


The 1971 Harley-Davidson Tank Emblem and AMF logo on a black tank
Photo courtesy web

Elvis' 1971 Electra-Glide was likely his last Harley-Davidson manufactured in Milwaukee. In 1969 Harley-Davidson had been bought by American Machine and Foundry (AMF) which during more than a decade of ownership began to change the company and hence product. In the early seventies quality would drop but in all fairness they probably kept the company from going away like Indian. By some accounts AMF was a good deal as H-D badly needed the influx of capital to update antique equipment and increase production. Some said lots of other things about the merger. Either way, the AMF logo appeared on all 1971 gas tanks and was there to stay through all the 1970s and up to the end of the 1981 model year.3


1971 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide in Sparkling Copper
Photo Nick Cedar courtesy MCS

Available colors for 1971 were Black, Birch White, Sparkling Burgundy (Hi-Fi), Sparkling Blue, Sparkling Green, Sparkling Turquoise, Sparkling Red, Sparkling Copper, Bronson Red and Radiant Red.4 The tank emblem that had been in use since 1971 for this year was accented by black and white stripes on the top and bottom, but on some Birch White models a more patriot scheme was achieved with Blue and Red.


1971 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide in Birch White with blue and red striping
Photo courtesy Cycle Trader

By this time the auxiliary kick start was no longer included on the Electra-Glide. In 1971 the throttle was changed to a twist grip with a single cable running to the carb but no return spring. Prior years had a spiral throttle with its cable running through the bars. This was the year the carb changed from the venerable Tillotson to the Bendix/Zenith.3



Brochure for the 1971 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide

Regarding braking, Cycle World magazine flawed the Electra-Glide as others had. The rear brake is a hydraulic actuated item with conventional internal expanding shoes. The front brake has a new type lining this year to increase braking ability. As a whole, the 74 (referring to the engine) still, as in the past, is a slow stopper due to the weight factor and brake lining area.2 Disc brakes would not be introduced until the next model year, 1972.


Mary Kathleen Selph and Elvis on his 1971 Harley-Davidson FLH at the corner of S. Parkway and S Bellevue in Memphis - June 30, 1972
Photo by Dave Darnell The Commercial Appeal, courtesy Corbis

In June of 1972 Elvis was pictured on his '71 Electra-Glide riding in the vicinity of South Bellevue Blvd., near where he had been pictured previously in 1963 and not far from Taylor Harley-Davidson at 2549 South Bellevue, which in 1971 was the Mid-South's largest exclusive dealer.5 He was pictured riding with Mary Kathleen Selph, a local girl aspiring for a show business career who Elvis initially met standing with other fans at the gates of Graceland and had invited to some of his midnight screenings at the Memphian Theater. Sadly, her aspirations were cut short weeks later, not far from where the photos were taken, when early in the morning of July 18th she died, alone, in a single car accident at Interstates 240 and 55, the cause of which is unknown.


Mary Kathleen Selph and Elvis on his 1971 Harley-Davidson FLH at the corner of S. Parkway and S Bellevue in Memphis (no visible license plate) - June 30, 1972
Photos by Dave Darnell The Commercial Appeal, courtesy Corbis and web

Elvis' 1971 Harley-Davidson is likely the one that was referenced in the August 1972 property settlement agreement between him and his then estranged wife Priscilla as part of what he agreed to give her in the divorce. The agreement granted Priscilla ownership of a 1971 Mercedes, a 1969 Cadillac and the 1971 Harley-Davidson in addition to $100,000 in cash and half the income from the sale of their three California houses. When they finally divorced Pricilla was said to ultimately receive 7.5 times that.6 We don't know if she ever got the motorcycle.

article-2073646-0F28CBEE00000578-454_634x519_popup.jpg (59837 bytes)article-2073646-0F28CCF700000578-408_634x508_popup.jpg (120206 bytes)
August 15, 1972 settlement agreement
courtesy The Daily Mail

page added October 5, 2015

 

1 according to or excerpt from HOG Magazine - 031 2015
2 according to or excerpt from Cycle Guide of 1970 courtesy MCS
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 American Motorcyclist Association News - Feb. 1971
6 according to Original 1972 property settlement sells at auction for 6,000 by Graham Smith, Dec. 13, 2011

 

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