1976 Sportster Project
Text and Pictures by Mark Trotta
When purchased, this 1976 Sportster XLH had a disassembled motor, a wiring harness cut in half, and the entire starter assembly was removed (motor, solenoid, pinion shaft and gear, and housing). Apparently, the previous owner started to fix the starter, then one problem led to another, and the bike sat abandoned for many years.
1976 Sportster Production: 5,238 XLCH models, 12,884 XLH models
This Sportster had a numbers-matching frame and motor, and original alloy spoke wheels (19" front and 18" rear). Like most non-running bikes, the price was right. I could have parted the bike out and made more than my money back, but as I have learned from past projects, there is no better feeling than bringing a dead motorcycle back to life.
After buying the bike and bringing it home, I went through all the parts boxes, and wrote out a project planning guide. This included a rough outline of what needed to be done, best order of assembly, time frame, and approximate cost. The plan was to get the bike together, remove unnecessary clutter, and shed unnecessary weight.
No, not a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, a 1,000cc jigsaw puzzle! I've tackled basket case projects before, and this one was a challenge.
The electrical system on this Sportster needed complete rewiring. Everything electrical on the bike was rewired and/or removed, including the starter, solenoid, voltage regulator, circuit breakers, etc.
Read: Remove and Reinstall Harley Bendix Gear
Read: Electric Start Ironheads
I replaced the original Sportster buckhorn bars with drag bars. Because I was not going to re-use the bulky hand controls which came on the bike, wires for the start and stop buttons and turn-signal switches were no longer needed. They were tagged and removed. All wiring went inside the handlebars.
Read: 1974-1977 Sportster Caliper Rebuild
Read: Ironhead Engine Build
There were two years of Sportsters that had a crossover shaft to make them left-side shift (1975-1976). I've read that some people had issues with this set-up, but I had no problems at all shifting or braking my bike.
Read: Ironhead Sportster Transmission
Starting in 1977, Sportster engine cases were modified and all models thereafter would be left-side shift.
Sportster Primary Chain
There are really only two reasons to remove a primary chain on a 1976 Sportster. You either need to get to your transmission, or you're replacing the starter Bendix gear.
Read: Remove and Install Primary Chain
Read: Remove and Install Ironhead Clutch
This Sportster project came with two different carburetors; the original 38mm Bendix and an S&S Super B. The B had come off a Harley Shovelhead, and the previous owner had de-jetted it down three sizes to run on the Sporty.
After the bike was assembled and running, the Super B carb revealed an off-idle bog. No matter how slow I rolled it, it would not help. Only after re-jetting the Super B several times, the bike run smoother and faster.
Read: Replace Fork Seals
I have three different service manuals for this bike. I've caught mistakes and misprints in two of them, so I reference back and forth from each. Use your common sense and patience will guide you.
Over the course of two years (my original projection was one year) I was able to reassemble the motor, re-wire the complete electrical system, and rebuild the front disc brake, and get this old Ironhead back on the road.