Classic Motorcycle Build

1976 Sportster Project

Text and Pictures by Mark Trotta

When purchased, this 1976 Sportster XLH had a disassembled motor and the main wiring harness had been cut in half - but the price was right!

1976 Sportster project

This bike is a "Liberty Edition" model, which was offered in honor of America's bicentennial. In addition to special graphics on the gas tank, Liberty Edition models featured alloy spoke wheels (19" front and 18" rear). Unfortunately, the tank was too badly rusted inside to re-use.

Harley Sportster Production for 1976 was: 5,238 XLCH models and 12,884 XLH models. It is unknown how many were Liberty Editions.


The Purchase

The previous owner stated that he attempted to fix a starting issue, which led to removing the starter motor, then the solenoid, pinion shaft and gear, and housing. One problem led to another, and he ended up buying a used Evo Sportster to ride, while the '76 just sat in his garage for several years.

After buying the bike and getting 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 using whatever pieces I had, and spend as little as possible. I also wanted to remove unnecessary clutter, and hopefully shed a little weight.

The electrical system on this Sportster needed complete rewiring. Most of the electrical on the bike had been removed, including the starter, solenoid, relay, and voltage regulator.

Ironhead Sportster Project

No, not a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, a 1,000cc jigsaw puzzle!

During the rewiring, I replaced the original Sportster buckhorn bars with drag bars. And since 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.

1976 Sportster Project

Left-Side Shift

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.

1976 Ironhead Sportster Project

Starting in 1977, Sportster engine cases were modified and all models thereafter would be left-side shift.


I have three different service manuals for Ironhead Sportsters.

Harley-Davidson Sportster factory manual

I've found mistakes and misprints in two of them, so I've learned the art of "defensive reading".


There are really only two reasons to remove a primary chain on a 1976 Sportster:

Ironhead Sportster Motorcycle left engine case

You either need to get to your transmission, or you're replacing the starter Bendix gear.

Ironhead Sportster with clutch assembly reinstalled
Remove and Install Primary Chain
Remove and Install Ironhead Clutch
Remove and Install Harley Bendix Gear
Ironhead Engine Build



Rebuilding the front brake caliper was followed by rebuilding the master cylinder.

1976 Sportster project

Bleeding the front brake caliper.

Sportster caliper rebuild


Carburetor Swap

When purchased, the bike came with two 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, but there was still an off-idle bog. No matter how slow I rolled it, it would not help.

Super B carburetor

Only after re-jetting the Super B several times, the bike run smoother and faster.

Read: Best Carburetor For Ironhead Sportster


Over the course of two years, I got this old Sportster back on the road. My original projection was one year...

1976 XLH Harley Sportster

After a few months of riding, the leaking fork seals were replaced.

Read: Replace Fork Seals


Related Articles:

How To Polish Motorcycle Forks
Prep Motorcycle Gas Tank
Install Mikuni Carb on Sportster
Ironhead Generator to Alternator Swap
Basic Motorcycle Wiring
1974-1977 Sportster Caliper Rebuild
Sportster Hitachi starter

Read: Electric Start Ironheads