The Harley Davidson Super Glide was the original factory custom. It was born out of a culture in the mid 1960’s that was sweeping through the American biker community with gusto.
The Super Glide is responsible for being the motorcycle that bridged the gap between the Sportster line and the big touring machines. Also what would follow in the early 1990’s in the form of the prestigious Dyna line-up can all be traced back to the Super Glide.
Let’s take a look at how it came to be and how it evolved.
History of the Harley Davidson Super Glide
Harley Davidson motorcycles have got to be the most customised motorcycles in the world. From as early as the 1920’s riders were swapping out parts on their machines, tinkering with the engines, squeezing the most performance out of them and/or trying to make them more comfortable.
The Bobber scene can be traced back to the 1920’s but really took off in the 50’s spurred on by the likes of Lee Marvin (Brando’s nemesis) in the ‘Wild One’ rocking around on a bobber style Panhead.
West coast 1960’s motorcycles were all about the custom Chopper scene which was really blowing up with riders stretching the Bobber style to the extreme, sacrificing performance for style, captured in the legacy of another movie ‘Easy Rider’.
It is by the very nature of buying a Harley Davidson that riders want to make them their own. Whether it is just a styling swap or performance based improvement, the likelihood is most Harley owners will change something from the stock factory bike, this holds very much true to this day.
Willie G. Davidson, Harley Davidson’s Chief Styling Director and Grandson of HD’s Co-Founder William A. Davidson was very much in touch with what was going on in the custom motorcycle world in the mid-late 60’s. He had joined the design team in 1963, before being promoted to the Vice President of design in ‘69.
There was a pattern of swapping out Sportster parts for parts off the bigger touring bikes such as forks, fairings etc. and so Willie G. Davidson got to work with a team on creating a factory custom that merged the small and bigger bikes in the line-up together; offering big bike performance in a smaller package, creating a middle-ground.
In 1971 the Harley Davidson Super Glide FX was born. The Chassis was made up of the frame and rear suspension of the FLH Electra Glide and telescopic fork suspension from the XLH Sportster. The drivetrain and engine accessories were taken off the FLH, whereas the headlights and brakes came from the XLH.
The engine therefore was the Air-cooled 45° 1207cc, V Twin that produced 65 horsepower, solidly mounted, with a four-speed transmission, capable of 112mph.
The FLH and XLH acronyms were put together to create the FX which also earned its title from being dubbed the ‘Factory Experimental’.
The end result was a motorcycle with the power of a big Harley V twin engine, a narrow front end (chopper like), and big fat tyre on the rear. Another obvious benefit of this new mid-range combination meant the bike was a ‘big’ powerful bike but carrying significantly less weight than a big cruiser. The perfect combination for what was happening stylistically at the time in the custom world.
Add in a low seat height, plenty of chrome and the red, white and blue paint scheme and the Harley Davidson Super Glide was the motorcycle for all those that wanted to channel their inner Peter Fonda chasing down the miles.
Davidson had made a couple of mistakes with the FX initially but soon changed it just one year later. The boat-tail style rear fender that was being used on the Sportsters was unpopular even on the bike it was designed for so it was never going to be a success on a bike built for leading the pack stylistically. The other problem was the backward facing gear lever which again was quickly resolved for the 72 edition.
Harley Davidson Super Glide Timeline
Throughout the 1970’s and 80’s the FX would go through multiple upgrades and additions to the line-up, only again to be re-visited in the 90’s. Here is a breakdown of some of the models and timeline:
- 1973 the FLH Super Glide joined the mix.
- The FXE hit the scene in 1974 which was the FX with an electric starter, both versions also got a new one-piece tank.
- 1977, saw the FXS Low Rider introduced and a 228 Confederate Edition Super Glides were produced.
- 1979 the FXEF Fat Bob hit the market.
- 1980 was the year of the FXB a blacked out Low Rider and the FXWG Wide Glide. It was also the year of the FXB Sturgis.
- The FX and FXE Super Glides were discontinued in 1979 and 1985 respectively with the FXEF Fat Bob becoming the base FX model.
- 1982 the FXR and FXRS Super Glide II was produced (FXRS being a premium trim).
- 1983 the FXRT Sport Glide hit the showrooms which was a Super Glide with a sports package.
- FXRSDG Disc Glide was released and was the most rare variant aside from the Confederate Edition Super Glide.
- 1991, was when the tide turned and the new Dyna chassis was introduced and would be rolled out across the FX line of bikes over the next few years.
- 1995 saw the first Harley Davidson Dyna Super Glide.
- 1999 was the year of the FXDX Super Glide Sport.
- 2005 was a return of the FXD in the shape of the FXDC Super Glide Custom.
- 2017 saw the end of the Dyna line and 2018 was the introduction of the all new Softail chassis.
Engine changes and chain-drive to belt-drive were among the things that impacted the FX and later FXD line-ups over the years too.
The original 1971 Harley Davidson Super Glide may have been a relatively simple concept of giving the customer what they wanted straight from the factory instead of having to build it themselves.
I’m not entirely convinced Willie G. Davidson was prepared for the can of worms he opened when he designed the motorcycle that would become the basis for a whole line of other machines going on to dominate Harley Davidson for decades to come and create icons such as the Low Rider and Fat Bob within that.
The Harley Davidson Super Glide started it all so how did it perform on the sales floor when it was first released?
Harley Davidson Super Glide Performance
The Super Glide FX received a mixed reception initially. It was a contemporary design but riders just weren’t too enamoured with it. The change of fender after the first year improved sales but fewer than 5,000 were sold in the first year.
When the 1977 Low Rider was released, it was like a bull out of a gate and in it’s first year of production it out sold all other Harley Davidson models. The 1977 Confederate Edition also sold out (unsurprisingly with such a low production number) and to date is one of the rarest Harley’s and one of the most coveted.
The FXR Super Glide II in 1982 was met with a warmer response thanks to its chassis mainly being the same as the FLT Tour Glide which meant a rubber-mounted engine and five-speed transmission, this went some way to reduce the notorious Harley Davidson engine vibration and improve the riding experience.
Perhaps the flaw in the design of the original design was with the very fact that it was made to be a custom motorcycle (albeit a production custom, but custom nonetheless). What this meant was that it looked like a custom machine and for many the whole point of a custom bike was that it was a one-off and personal.
It could be argued that had Harley Davidson released it in all black and let the engine components, the chrome etc speak for itself then the motorcycle may have had better sales (which is certainly the aesthetic Harley would turn to in later years).
Had the FX been a blank canvas, riders may have picked it for the style of motorcycle in terms of mating the big chassis to Sportster components, but then gone away and added just custom paint work or done a simple exhaust swap etc.
This could all be speculation however, I for one love the red white and blue paint work. I saw a 35th Anniversary model last Summer which was very close to the original and I was in love. However, someone else may have had a look and thought, nope not for me, which is exactly my point in that the FX may have just been too divisive.
Regardless, the FX spawned a new range of motorcycles for Harley Davidson that have since become synonymous with the brand; without it the motorcycle community could have been forever choosing between Sportster variants or big Touring Harley’s.
Buying a Harley Davidson FX
When looking for a Harley Davidson Super Glide you need to be crystal clear about which model you specifically want and the differences between them. There are big differences between a 2005 Dyna and a 1971 FX.
I have concentrated the search on the early 70’s models and can safely say they are not the most common motorcycles to find on the market. The early FX has such a prestigious backstory that it has become a collectable among HD fans.
Old adverts on Bonhams from 2014/5 show 2 1971 models sold for $8,995 and $14,995.
There are currently 2 adverts on Smart Cycle Guide for 1971 models. Both seem to need some work to restore them to original condition and have already had some work done to them, they are priced at $17,850 and $15,000 respectively.
A 1978 FXE Super Glide is advertised on Classic Trader for £13,768 and Cycle Trader has various model years from the 70’s available varying from $7,500-$11,000.
There are some things as always to look out for when buying an original classic motorcycle:
- Try to get as much history on the bike as possible – this will ensure you know what parts are original vs replacements
- Look for rust, pitting, flaking on the chrome
- Check the inside of the gas tank for rust
- Start the motorcycle, make sure it sounds right when idle and goes through all the gears easily
- Look for any oil leaks
- Know the model year you are buying, and check it off against the spec for the original model of that year, this will ensure you are buying an original motorcycle; for example check the tank is correct, the pipes, the fenders, bars etc. It can even be as simple as knowing the paint schemes for each year so that you can check it correlates with the year of the motorcycle you are looking at.
Restoring an Harley Davidson FX Super Glide
Restoring an FX Super Glide can be a super satifying project and there are parts available to make it possible. Despite being a factory custom many owners still took it upon themselves to customise them further, so in actual fact there are more parts available than there are bikes.
Depending on model year and variant there could be more of a search required to find the exact original part you may need, but on the whole and largely thanks to the bike being made from parts from other key (long life production) Harley’s, it won’t be too much of a struggle. There is also a healthy replica parts market, if 100% originality is less important.
Is a Harley Super Glide a Good Investment?
An early model FX Super Glide is absolutely a good investment. They may not have taken off right away when released, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and HD fans appreciate the original factory custom now more than ever.
With the FX and Dyna range having been replaced, Super Glides from both eras will continue to be appreciated by collectors. So while from different ranges and decades, the motorcycles are icons from Harley Davidson; whether you want one as a talking piece for your collection or a cool HD to ride.
Willie G. Davidson knew the direction the market was headed in and he pioneered the factory custom that would soon dominate the Harley Davidson legacy.
Custom motorcycles remain at the heart of the company and Harley fans like myself need to give our props where they are due and Davidson’s Super Glide is well-deserving.
Wednesday 27th of July 2022
Hi am going to buy my first Harley Davidson, l like the super glide custom, what Harley bike should think I should go for? I have been riding super sports for the last 15 years and I am 65 years old.
Sunday 31st of July 2022
The Super Glide Custom is an awesome machine.
What you need to think about is managing the weight of a Harley compared to a Super Sport as obviously there is a significant difference.
The centre of gravity and low seat height counteracts a lot of that and when you’re moving the engine does all the hard work for you with ease.
And think about the kind of riding you want to get into with a HD, the power is going to be delivered significantly differently from that of a sports bike.
Harleys are less about peak power and more about the immense torque and cruising at speed capabilities.
To be honest in terms of riding a HD and what to go for, other than the Sportster (either the older Iron or new Sportster S) the bigger HD's are similar in size and weight, so it's best to get to a dealer and try a few.
Consider style, ergonomics and how useful the bike will be for your needs.
After that make your choice and enjoy the ride, a HD V Twin is a wonderful thing.