The Harley-Davidson XR1000

Was it a Sportster for the track or an XR750 for the street?

| November/December 2010

1983 Harley-Davidson XR1000
998cc air-cooled OHV 45-degree V-twin
Top speed: 112mph in 1/2 mile (period test)
Transmission: 4-speed, chain final drive
Weight (wet): 500lb (227kg) (approx.)
MPG: 46mpg (period test)
Price then/now: $6,995/$5,000-$12,000

Back in the early 1980s, Harley-Davidson executives were still a bit nervous about the viability of the company. After all, they were trying to sell old-fashioned pushrod, two-valve, air-cooled V-twin machines in an era of multis with double overhead camshafts, 4-valve heads and liquid cooling.

Shortly after Harley bought itself back from AMF in 1981, the decision was made to junk the revolutionary Nova prototype AMF had been developing, which had a V-four engine incorporating all those contemporary innovations. However, something decidedly kick-ass was needed to convince the faithful that this 80-year-old company still had what it takes to whoop the upstarts, and it had to be done on the cheap. What to do?

Harley’s answer was to get to work on an engine that was first sold to the public in 1952 as the 45-degree, 45ci, unit-construction K-model. That K was a 750cc flathead, later upped to the 883 KH, and then revamped to the overhead XL for 1957, with an 883cc XLR version for the racing crowd.

Racing creation

A change in the AMA's racing rules led Harley to build the iron-barreled XR750, a de-stroked XLR, which debuted in 1969. Though it wasn’t very successful, it was the beginning of a legend, as it was followed by the alloy XR750 in 1972, which did become a tremendously successful racer.

In the Seventies, some of the Juneau Avenue gang thought that a street-going version of the XR750 should be built, but that turned out to be a non-starter, as neither the engine nor the chassis had any hope of being turned into something with lights and a kickstand. The idea never really went away, however, and after the Harley buy-back in 1981, Willie G. Davidson pushed the idea that a Sportster-based bike with an XR-based engine could be turned into a pretty ferocious piece of machinery.

12/5/2010 1:41:01 PM

Harley had dual discs in 1979, as I bought a XR1000 brand new for $3700, and it had dual discs!

12/2/2010 3:32:30 PM

Author failed to mention perhaps the single most intriguing point about the XR1000: it was the only over-square engine Harley sold to the public during the 20th century; it wasn't until the VRod was intro'd. in 2001 that another Harley had an over-square bore vs. stroke [& of course, the VRod is a water-cooled 4v/cyl design, not even in the same league as the old v-twin, as any of "the faithful" will tell you... ;-) ] Still wish I'd picked up the NOS XR1k I saw on the floor at Oceanside H-D back in the mid-90s that was still sitting around unsold, but I didn't have the money & it wasn't until some time later after I'd done my homework that I learned why it was worth the original MSRP of $7.5k for a 10 year old bike when you could buy a new XL1200 for just a little more, & not have the obvious "rt. knee hung way out there" problem... All water long since passed under the bridge, 15 years later...

Loyal A. Wiens
12/2/2010 1:41:51 PM

Harley had dual disc front brakes before 1983. My 1980 FXS-80 came new from the dealer with dual discs in the front.

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