Showing posts from April, 2012

The legend of Cuba's lost Harley-Davidsons

Harlistas with circa-1952 FL Hydra-Glide with side shifter.     PHILLIPPE DIEDERICH  was one of the first — perhaps the first — to chronicle Cuba's Harlista movement.    It was in March 1997, in the Miami New Times , that the Florida-based writer and photographer told of the island's Harley-Davidson owners and their singular devotion to the rumbling old machines.    Diederich wrote about the late mechanic José Lorenzo Cortez — nickname: Pepe Milésima — whose skills kept the big bikes going for decades after the Revolution, and Sergio Morales, the one-time apprentice to Cortez who would inherit his teacher's role as high priest to the island's Harleys.    He told how the Harlistas make crank pins out of Russian pressure bearings, craft perfect reproductions of Harley exhaust systems and retro-fit sorely needed rear shock absorbers to Hydra-Glides. Every Harley-Davidson in Cuba today is said to be 25-per-cent Cuban-made.    And in this fascinating account, Diede

That's no old plug

  A fellow I know in Cuba told me he owned a 1950s BSA. "It's a chopper," he said.   I pictured some stripped-down veteran British machine, like the Matchless that Marlon Brando posed on during filming of The Wild One (in the movie, he rides a stock-looking Triumph 6T Thunderbird 650).   Before I went down this year, I looked for a pair of spark plugs to bring him. I couldn't find the Champions originally specified for his iron-head BSA, so I picked up the equivalent NGKs.   In Cuba, my friend showed me his bike. It turned out to be an extremely tidy custom with raked frame, stepped seat, the works. The "pre-unit" engine and transmission were original, but everything else looked to be hand-fabricated, adapted from donors bikes (there's a lot of Honda in it) or bought on the aftermarket.   Hardly the old rattler I had imagined.   He still seemed quite pleased with the spark plugs. Brando on the Matchless: 1953.