Elvis' 1956 Harley-Davidson KH


Elvis on his 1956 Harley-Davidson KH outside his home on Audubon Drive

Sometime in 1955 after earning a regular income as a performing artist Elvis purchased his first Harley-Davidson.  It was a small 1956 Harley-Davidson ST 165 (#56ST1603), basically an entry level motorcycle which he likely used to learn to ride.  It was a 165cc motorcycle sometimes incorrectly referred to as a Harley Hummer.  Technically speaking , the true "Harley Hummer" was only produced from 1955 until 1959, and it was a very basic, stripped down, no frills, 125cc motorcycle.  By January of 1956 he had outgrown it and was ready to move up to a bigger bike.


1955 Harley-Davidson Model 165 similar to what Elvis' 56 ST 165  looked like
Photo Courtesy Harley Hummr,com


the conditional sales contract for Elvis'  1956 KH dated January 14, 1956


The 1956 KH with two of his Cadillacs and his parents at the Audubon Dr. home.

On January 14, 1956, while still living at 1414 Getwell Road in Memphis, he bought a new 1956 Model KH (#56KH-1459) for $1143.00 from the Memphis Harley-Davidson Co. receiving $438.70 in trade for his ST 165.  It is the motorcycle he is most often pictured with at his home on Audubon Drive and in the famous collection taken by Alfred Wertheimer, especially the one where Elvis is sitting on the bike looking dramatic and deep in thought.  In actuality he was looking at the tank since they had just run out of gas.


Elvis Presley on his 1956 Harley-Davidson Model KH
Photo Alfred Wertheimer

Evan Williams wrote in The Harley-Davidson Reader that Elvis became a lifelong bike enthusiast and was a member of the American Motorcyclist Association, number 94587.  In May of 1956 he appeared on the cover of Harley's The Enthusiast magazine riding his 56 KH.  Williams goes on to say that the article in The Enthusiast was one of the first public announcements that Elvis' contract had been sold by Sam Phillips to RCA.


May 1956 cover of The Enthusiast, a Harley-Davidson publication
Photo Harley-Davidson

The K series were introduced in 1952 with a side valve 45 cubic inch motor.  The 56 Model KH was a 54ci (883cc) side valve motorcycle and the precursor to the ever popular Sportster which was released in 1957 with an overhead valve motor.  Elvis' 56 KH was equipped with a windshield and an optional buddy seat.


Elvis kick starting his Harley-Davidson KH


The sound of a 1956 Model KHK


Nick Adams and Elvis at the Memphis Fairgrounds in September 1956
Photo by Robert Dye EPE

In less than a year Elvis had moved up to an even larger motorcycle when he purchased a 1957 Harley-Davidson FLHBrian Peterson in The Atomic Powered Singer wrote, "Elvis bought his new Harley on November 1, 1956 while he was in downtown Memphis to have his Continental Mark II insured. Later in the day Natalie Wood, clad in jeans, climbed up on the seat behind Elvis and they gunned out from the Audubon Drive driveway and roared around the Memphis streets for three hours accompanied by a motorcycle policeman and Nick Adams, who was riding Elvis' old Harley Davidson."


Elvis' 56 KH on display in Milwaukee
Photo courtesy TheHarley.com

It has been said that Elvis gave the KH to a friend, but according to Lamar Fike, Elvis long time friend and member of his "Memphis Mafia:, Elvis later traded it in towards a Harley 74 (1200cc) motorcycle for Lamar.*  In either case in the early '90s Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Co. acquired it and has it to this day.  For awhile it was on display in Milwaukee, WI and will be a part of their new museum there planned for 2008.  Renditions of two famous photos of Elvis on his FLH and KH (the Wertheimer photo) became covers of two RCA releases, The Rocker and Return of the Rocker.  After returning from the Army in 1960 he would buy many more motorcycles and remain an avid enthusiast for the rest of his life.


Covers to RCA's The Rocker and Return of The Rocker
 

James V. Roy
September 20, 2007

* since publishing this page other sources have written that Elvis ultimately then sold his 1956 KH to a Fleming Horne, who is said to have sold the bike along with complete original documentation including the bill of sale, registration paperwork and insurance documents, to Harley-Davidson in 1995.

 

All photos on this site (that we didn't borrow) unless otherwise indicated are the property of either Scotty Moore or James V. Roy and unauthorized use or reproduction is prohibited.

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