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HARLEY-DAVIDSON Sprint 350 1968



  • Harley-Davidson


  • Sprint 350


  • 1968

Being innocent young things at Shepster Towers, living off of cold-showers and sound-thrashings, we always felt that big twins were synonymous with the illustrious Harley Davidson. A quick google search showed that we were wrong, and introduced us to a whole new world. And got us banned from internet cafes.

Twin engine brutal motorcycles though are all Harley. But in the early 1960’s America were busy fending off threats from abroad: politically, dastard communists were stirring up trouble; the Cuban Missile Crisis was on the doorstep; and the Beatles were about to rule the planet. All things American needed protection. The new hot-motorcycles on the market were the single-cylinder speedsters, causing Japanese bikes to flood into the mighty US of A. Whilst Harley could have developed their own little racers, having built a successful 165cc, it was far easier to buy a 50% stake in an already successful Italian company, Aermacchi.

Living up to stereotypes, the Italians designed beguiling machines. The Aermacchi 175cc Chimera was blushingly handsome. Futuristically styled, it used the fairing to channel air into the cylinder for cooling, which we imagine worked fantastically well when pootling along, and catastrophic when idling. It was outstandingly pretty though. To paraphrase Noel Coward reviewing the 1962 classic Lawrence of Arabia, any prettier and the hero would have been called Florence. The 250cc was of a slightly different breed, but with a low-centre of gravity thanks to the horizontal engine, it had plenty of zip, claiming a top-speed of over 90mph and 25 horses. According to the advertisement, it was a self-styled ‘flashy performer, packed with power, style and spirit!’ Harley Davison named their new little bike The Wisconsin. Briefly. Then quite rightly changed it to The Sprint.

The 250cc sold well and raced well, most significantly when Glenn Roader, an AMA Hall of Famer, rode his Sprint-powered streamliner to a record speed of 177.225 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1965. The Japanese kept coming though, and pushed Harley to develop the 350cc to keep up, which performed admirably in the 68-70 race seasons, making four of the top-ten places in the Isle of Man Junior TT. Yet the motorcycle was outclassed in a 1970 Cycle magazine street-fight pitted against the Honyasakis 350’s. Whilst America had just landed two men on the moon, technologically they were producing slower motorcycles than the competition, with no turn signals, a kick-start rather than electric, a four-speed gearbox and suspension made of cheese. Harley gave up the ghost, or spirit, if you will, and returned to native pastures, producing tub-thumping big twins.



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