The Machine-Built 1950 Panhead

Words: Matt Darwon Photography: Luke Ray

The 1950 Pan head you see here started its Aussie life as a badly constructed 1950 pan bobber. It’s a sad fact that even though there are great stories of amazing eBay buys and finds there are also some that are not so good and not entirely as per description shall we say.


And that’s where this Pan started its rebirth. Having purchased and shipped this bike to Australia, my best mate Joe and I started dismantling it only to find layer upon layer of bad workmanship. What started as a quick makeover became a major overhaul.

We stripped the bike completely and had the frame blasted. We set about filing, grinding and re-tig welding each part of the frame to make good the previous bad work and filler that had been applied.

Once we had agreed to keep the existing frame we developed an aesthetic direction for the bike, that being, an amalgamation of ideas from many bikes that we had both owned previously and some we still owned. We were starting from scratch and because of this we wanted to see if we could push the design a touch more than your run of the mill Pan chop.

I also wanted to try and establish with this build my workshop business MACHINE as a builder of quality one off motorcycles. I did not want to have the workshop pigeonholed as a builder of just one type of motorcycle or another. I wanted to be able to cross over the marques and the types that had made an impression on me having been involved in motorcycles for the last 25 years.

The build was completed over a period of nine months and included long hours agonizing over very small details that had been tried and proven on my ‘48 pan but refined in this build. These included: rear brake linkages, clutch setups, mid control setups, carb and manifold positions and various other elements.

All this, overlaid with the vintage idea of lightening the bike as much as possible in order to make it faster led me to pursue a design that resulted in the bike you see here.

Harley-Davidson ‘50 1200cc Panhead
Harley-Davidson ‘55 4 speed ratchet top trans
Harley-Davidson wishbone frame, raked 3 degrees
Harley-Davidson '90s Sportster front end shaved
Kawasaki twin leading shoe front hub laced to a 19” Acront alloy rim
Harley-Davidson period drilled standard drum brake and star hub laced to 18” Acront alloy rim
Harley-Davidson auto advance distributor
S and S super E carb and modified inlet manifold
Modified Kawasaki fuel tank
Hand made seat pan and hand stitched saddle leather seat and race pad
Hand beaten and modified alloy fairing
All fabrication and paint done by hand at MACHINE.

Thank you to Joe for always believing in the cause and to my beautiful wife who loves me even when I’m totally consumed by all the impenetrable things that I adore so much.