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Shovelhead Years to Avoid Like The Plague (Here’s Why)

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When it comes to classic motorcycles, few names resonate as strongly as Harley Shovelhead. These beloved bikes are hailed for their endurance, unique shape, and quintessential rumbling sound. However, not all Shovelhead years are created equal.

Understanding the “Shovelhead years to avoid” is not simply just a cautionary tale; it is a survival guide for every classic bike enthusiast. It’s not about disparaging these iconic motorcycles, but about shedding light on the production years where the Shovelhead was not at its peak, saving you from undue disappointment.

As seasoned aficionados in the world of Harley Shovelhead years, we’ve mapped the highs and lows, the triumphs and pitfalls. Join us on a thrilling ride through history, as we zero-in on those Shovelhead years that might just save you some heartache and a hefty repair bill. Together, we’ll ensure your ride is as smooth as the first Shovelhead that ever glided off the production line. So what’re you waiting for?

Related: Harley Death Wobble Model Years, Causes, Signs and More

Most Dreaded Shovelhead Years to Avoid Like The Plague

The Shovelhead engine, manufactured from 1966 to 1984, has models that have given riders a hard time due to recurrent issues. The primary culprits are the 1967, 1978, and 1983 models. These models suffered from a myriad of problems, including oiling, electrical, and starter issues. The following sections will delve into the specifics of these problematic years.

Here's a picture of a customer 1973 Harley Davidson Shovelhead from Bold Idea Custom Cycles.
But it looks so good, how can we avoid such a beaty? 1973 Harley Davidson Shovelhead Built by Bold Idea Custom Cycles

1967 Harley Shovelhead

The 1967 Shovelhead model was particularly problematic due to issues with its clutch and shifting mechanisms. Riders reported difficulty transitioning between gears and instances where the clutch would slip or fail to engage properly.

1967 Specific Problems

The most significant issues with the 1967 model were related to the clutch disengagement and shifting mechanisms. Riders reported instances where the clutch would not disengage properly, causing abrupt and jarring gear transitions. This not only made for an uncomfortable ride but also posed safety risks.

1978 Harley Shovelhead

The 1978 model, despite featuring a larger, more powerful engine than its predecessor, was plagued with several issues. These included problems with the clutch, oil refilling, and points and firing.

More specifically, the valve lifters are prone to making noise or failing entirely as seen in this video:

Video titled “Shovelhead Engine – Noisy Lifter Troubleshooting and Adjustments”

1978 Specific Problems

The 1978 model’s clutch was a significant source of trouble. Riders reported that the clutch would not disengage smoothly, leading to rough gear shifts and even stalling. Another issue was the oil refill process. Filling the oil tank was a test of patience due to a design flaw that caused an overflow if the oil wasn’t filled slowly and cautiously. Additionally, riders reported points and firing issues, which decreased the engine’s efficiency and performance.

1983 Harley Shovelhead

One of the major problems with the 1983 Shovelhead model was its starter. The starter was notoriously unreliable, and riders often found themselves stranded due to a non-responsive starter. Additionally, the 1983 model also suffered from oiling and electrical issues.

1983 Specific Problems

The starter’s unreliability was a significant concern with the 1983 model. The starter components were not up to the mark in terms of quality, leading to accelerated wear and tear and frequent starter failures. Additionally, the model was prone to oiling troubles. Riders reported oil leaks, particularly around the cylinder bases and the rocker boxes, and inefficient oil circulation, which could lead to overheating and potential engine damage. Here’s an example of this Shovelhead starting issue, and also how it gets resolved:

Video titled “Shovelhead starting issue solved.”

What Were The Main Harley Shovelhead Years?

While the Shovelhead engine had a production run from 1966-1984, some years stood out for their reliability and performance. The following sections cover the best years for Shovelhead, from the early models to the final production years.

What’s The Best Year Shovelhead?

While it’s challenging to pinpoint a single best year, the 1970 model stands out for its improved design and performance. This model year saw improvements in the electrical system, handling, and engine power, making it a favorite among Shovelhead enthusiasts.

Read next:
> Shovelhead vs Panhead: A Harley Davidson Engine Showdown
> Shovelhead vs Panhead vs Knucklehead (Trip Through Time)

1982 Harley Davidson Shovelhead

The 1982 model is a top contender for the best year Shovelhead. Despite its issues, many riders appreciate this model for its blend of vintage aesthetics and improved functionality. Owning a model from the last years of an iconic series has its unique charm.

What about The Other Best Years for The Harley Davidson Shovelhead?

Other noteworthy years for Shovelhead include 1966, 1968-1969, and 1981-1984. These years saw significant improvements in design, performance, and reliability. If you’re looking for a Shovelhead that combines vintage appeal with modern functionality, these models are worth considering.

Related: Are Harley Davidsons Reliable? Yes and No (Here’s Why)

1966 Harley Davidson Shovelhead

The 1966 model introduced a top-end design update, increasing power and setting the pace for a generation of motorcycles. This model is sought after by collectors and purists who appreciate the origins of iconic designs.

1968-1969 Harley Shovelhead

The 1968-1969 models captured the raw essence of the Shovelhead. These early models may lack the refinements of later models but offer a rugged charm that’s hard to resist.

Here's a picture of a baby blue and cream white 1969 Harley Shovelhead.
Can you see why this 1969 Shovelhead is highly desirable? I can.

1981-1984 Harley Shovelhead

The 1981-1984 models saw significant updates to the Shovelhead’s design. With enhancements to the frame and other components, these models offer a smoother ride compared to their predecessors.

What Were The Generator Shovelhead Years?

The generator Shovelhead years refer to the models produced from 1966 to 1969. These early Shovelhead models were equipped with a generator charging system, hence the name. Despite their age, these models are treasured by enthusiasts for their vintage appeal and mechanical simplicity.

How About Cone Shovelhead Years?

The cone Shovelhead years refer to the models produced from 1970 to 1984. These models saw the introduction of the alternator in a cone (the area behind the cylinders), which replaced the generator. The cone Shovelhead models are appreciated for their refined design and improved reliability compared to their predecessors.

Related: Do Harleys Have Alternators? Yes and No (Here’s Why)

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, while the Shovelhead models have their share of problems, they are still a favorite among Harley enthusiasts for their unique design and classic appeal. Knowing which years to avoid can help you make an informed purchase decision and ensure that you get a reliable and long-lasting ride.

What Were The Common Problems Found In Shovelheads?

The Shovelhead models were known for various problems, including oil leaks, weak valve guides leading to premature wear, overheating due to poor oil circulation, and electrical issues. Over time, design improvements addressed some of these concerns.

How Is Shovelhead Reliability?

While Shovelheads can be reliable with proper maintenance and updates, they do have a reputation for needing regular care and attention due to their age. Understanding their inherent quirks and needs is key to maintaining a reliable Shovelhead.

How Long Were The Shovelheads In Production?

Harley-Davidson produced the Shovelhead engine from 1966 to 1984. Its unique design and classic styling made it a popular choice among enthusiasts, and it remains a beloved engine in the motorcycling community.