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Harley Davidson XR1000 – 1983 American Classic

Harley Davidson was bought back from AMF in 1981 with Willie. G. Davidson at the helm. The XR1000 was meant to be the fierce machine that reminded the pubic why HD remained top dog.

Let’s have a look at the Harley Davidson XR1000 and you can decide whether it achieved it’s goal or not. 

History of the HD XR1000

The roots of the XR1000 trace back to the birth of the super successful race bike, the prestigious XR750. The XR750 attracted a huge following of fans that wanted a version for the street but the idea never really got off the ground. 

It wasn’t until the early 80’s when Willie G. Davidson, Grandson of the founding company partner William. A. Davidson, decided a Sportster with an XR engine could be a pretty mean piece of kit that would sell well to the yearning public. 

Willie had designed the XLCR Cafe Racer previously but it had been underpowered and not sold well, so this new project needed to work and in theory using a combination of XLX Sportster and modified XR750 parts it seemed like an inexpensive and viable project. 

Dick O’ Brien was the head of Harley Davidson’s racing department and he was put in charge of the project. The XLX Sportster had been released in 1982 and and was in it’s essence just a stripped back, raw machine, that was built to be as pure a motorcycle as possible, using the Sportster as it’s blueprint. 

The key difference to its predeccessors were the welded steel tubes, instead of individual castings, handling was meant to be pretty good on the basis that proper suspension was used to complement the not too stiff or too flexible frame. A stock Sportster bottom end was to be used with the new XLX chassis with some new special heads and barrells.  

The XR750 alloy cylinders were not going to work as they were too small, so new iron cylinders were made, along with new aluminium pistons and as a result new connecting rods. The XR750 heads also needed to be recast to fit and larger valves to account for the bigger 998cc displacement.

All of this was adding up and the simple idea at the beginning was starting to cost way more than anticipated. Regardless, Harley pushed forward and they claimed 70hp at 5,600rpm, along with 48lb/ft of torque at 4,400rpm for the new XR1000.

The chassis remained very Sporterish in its appearance as opposed to the race stylings of the XR750, and the engine vibrations were very noticeable as was the basic suspension. The bike weighed in at over 500lbs and Harley did offer a kit that could adapt it for racing increasing the performance by 20HP. 

The seating position was a little awkward with many riders burning their trousers on the exhaust, the bike could do the ¼ mile in 12 seconds reaching over 100mph but the vibrations would shatter your teeth. The gas tank was small, the pegs too far forward more Sportster than XR750 and the bike had a tendency to lean left as the weight wasn’t balanced thanks to the exhaust. 

It did look good though, stylistically Harley had nailed the XR1000, let’s see how it performed for the dealers.

XR1000 Sales Floor Performance

Dick O’Brien saw an opportunity in 1982 at Daytona to build a race version of the bike which was named Lucifer’s Hammer. It competed in the Battle of the Twins class and won. It made for great publicity coinciding with the XR1000 release in 1983.

On its release though the XR1000 just confused the public. It was intended to be a bigger XR750 built for the street, but it was kind of just a sportier Sportster. Dealers were expecting to sell loads of them. They were all machine, quick, mean looking and with the win at Daytona it should have been a sure hit.

Aside from the few quirks with seating position etc. the main drawback for the XR1000 was the price. The intention had been to build the bike at very little cost, however during the design and build process many modifications had to be made and it wasn’t so simple anymore. 

The end retail price ended up sitting at around $7,000 whereas the XLX went for $4,000. For the average joe the two bikes looked very similar and many just couldn’t justify the extra $3,000 and the benefits for that extra money were not all that clear either.

Harley produced 1,000 models in 1983 and not all were sold. Compared to the 5,000 XLX units that were sold, the XR1000 was a flop. Despite low sales numbers HD pushed on and produced another 700 the following year. The majority of these were sold at discounted rates to get them out of the showrooms.

The press didn’t really know what to make of the bike either…

“What most of us thought we wanted when the XR moved from rumor to reality was a race bike for the street. What we got was a street bike that could be raced. It was more than a Sportster, but less than an XR750.”

Cycle World, March 1993

Buying an Original XR1000

About 1,700 XR1000’s were built across 1983-84 so there just are not that many around. However, they are not impossible to find and certainly not as rare as other bikes we have researched, so if you want one, with some patience and internet digging you are likely to find your XR1000.

When they do appear they vary wildly in prices, maybe as they are so rare that many people just don’t know what they are, mistaking them for just another Sportster and others overestimating their value. 

One example came up for auction in 2016 with Coys in the UK, it had a Cafe Racer makeover and was up for between £19,000-£22,000. Where as Bonhams sold one for $8,050. Classic Driver also has an old advert up from Auction America with a price estimate between $10,000-$15,000.

Harley Davidson XR1000
Bonhams sold this XR1000 in 2010 for just $8,000. A year later they sold one in the UK for £15k

Currently Hemmings has 2 listings of XR1000’s for auction in Las Vegas, but there is no reserve or price guide advertised, so may be worth investigating or keeping an eye on if you are in the market.

Restoring an XR1000

Part’s do not come cheap for an XR1000 but they are out there, more parts than donor bikes actually. Some price examples are as follows:

  • $299.99 Cast Wheel
  • $3,495 Oval Port Heads Front and Rear
  • $1,095 Carbs
  • $1,999 Cams and Rocker Arms
  • $4,395 Rocker Boxes

A key word of caution when it comes to restoring an XR1000, should you be the lucky one that found one sat in a barn for 20 years and therefore doesn’t need to spend a fortune on finding your donor, make sure you buy an old manual for the XR1000. 

Many sellers of these parts on places like eBay won’t know that parts off the XR750 or indeed the XLX won’t fit the XR1000. 

Remember that many components were either modified or completely new for the model. 

Is a Harley Davidson XR1000 a good investment?

Today you can buy a new Harley Davidson 2021 Iron 1200, Sportster for $9,999. Judging from the variance in prices you could likely pick up an XR1000 for $10,000. So is it worth it? 

The prices of the XR1000 are unlikely to rocket so the investment would mostly be in buying one to ride. 

You wouldn’t lose money but the value would be in the ride and owning a rare piece of Harley history. However, for the same money you can buy a 2021 Sportster with all the modern conveniences. 

Yes I know, it’s a classic bike and new bikes just aren’t the same, but actually the Sportster really hasn’t changed that much so the ride would be very similar and for the reliability of a new bike for the same money I’d probably in this instance shoot for a new bike.


As some of you will have read in my previous Sportster article, I am a big fan of the Sportster mold and consequently many of the variants that came with it, bar the cafe racer but let’s not dwell on that Harley hiccup. 

I think the idea of the XR1000 was brilliant but it wasn’t executed perfectly to its full potential, it didn’t have the racing style of the XR750 and was way too similar to a stock Sportster to justify the cost. 

The Indian FTR750 has taken modern flat track racing by storm since the new Wrecking Crew was assembled and the FTR1200 for the street followed shortly after. Frankly that is a more recent example of getting it right.

However, we can forgive Harley, the heart was in the right place, they bowed to public pressure to give riders a bike they wanted. Unfortunately, it cost more than initially thought to build and the standard XLX Sportster undercut their own new model.

Maybe in the near future they can give it another go?

Featured image at top of page “Harley Davidson XR-1000” is by pilot_micha and is kindly licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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Michael Jones

Sunday 5th of March 2023

Yep the cost and price vs stock Sportster kind of reminded me of Chevrolet and the 69 Camaro ZL1 COPO!