What Is a Harley Shovelhead Engine?


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The Harley Shovelhead engine is a V-twin engine developed by the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company in 1965 and which was in operation from 1966 to 1985. The engine’s rocker box covers resembled inverted coal shovel heads, which led to the name “Shovelhead.” A redesigned model of Harley’s panhead engine, the Shovelhead provided greater power and acceleration but received complaints from riders due to its heavy weight.

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Full Answer

Harley-Davidson modified its panhead engine in response to consumer demands for greater horsepower. The Shovelhead engine was originally designed for use in outboard motors but did not perform well in marine and humid environments. The Shovelhead engine featured rocker boxes and rocker arms in place of covers that pivoted on the shafts. The engine’s promise for improved power and acceleration was dampened by its larger weight, which created additional problems. The heavy weight of the engine caused steering issues at top speeds.

The Shovelhead engine powered the FLH Electra-Glide model of Harley-Davidson, which featured an electric starter. Police and law enforcement agencies used this motorcycle model. In the 1970s, Harley-Davidson made some changes to the Shovelhead engine to resolve weight issues. However, the engine did not live up to consumer expectations and continued to wane in popularity.

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