Flipping an Older Harley Davidson Sportster 883

Over the years, I’ve shared a lot of restoration ideas for you guys and the latest scheme was the Cushman Truckster. That didn’t work out, but it sure sounded like fun.

Unfortunately, I suffer from scanning the online classified like Craigslist for stuff like old cars and bikes to play with and, from time to time, there are still deals to be had. Over the last year, I talked about getting new folks into the sport by resurrecting older Japanese bikes, cutting down beaters into Café racers and Bobbers, and, in general, frittering away what little money I have on projects that will barely recoup.

But this time, I scored fast and I scored deep.

The ad simply said “Harley Sporster” – the misspelling is correct – they couldn’t spell “Sportster.” Attached to it was a grainy photo of an older H-D Sportster with the 883 motor and those magical words I love to read… “Ran when parked.”

Flipping an Older Harley Davidson Sportster 883

I called the guy and he was home and home wasn’t but about 30 miles from mine, so I fired up the diesel, tossed in some tie down straps, and grabbed some of my “chi-don-no” money (as in, “She don’t know I have any”) and was out the door.

The guy was, surprisingly, younger than me and in good health and had just outgrown the bike. Wife, kids, busy job climbing the corporate ladder. He’d parked the bike in 2013 and was the second owner of the 1993 Turquoise blue Harley and he’d always had the maintenance done at the dealership. Even better? He had all the maintenance records since the bike was purchased new in the Spring of 1993!

The problems, as I could see, were the usual – dry rotted tires and fuel lines, the fuel in the tank and the carb was turning to varnish, and the battery was deader than easy credit. The seat was in decent shape and the bags on it needed some attention. The motor turned over, the spark plugs looked good, and the oil in the crankcase was still clean, just old. He wanted $1800.

Now, normally, I’d put up a fight and try to haggle a little bit, but the entire time I was talking to the guy, I kept thinking that I had everything this bike needed sitting in my shop. Tires, fuel line, even a kit for the carb. Out of pocket was going to be a battery and, since it was a 1993, probably building some jumpers for the crummy wiring used in those models.

I told him I was going to buy it, but only had $1,000 on me – could he hold it overnight, I’d cash a check in the morning and pick it up the next afternoon?

The next day, I paid the man, loaded it up, he signed the title, and I had a project bike worth playing with. When I got home, the Old Lady peered out the door, rolled her eyes, and shook her head. Most of that evening was spent in the garage or the driveway, pressure washing the bike, pulling off pieces that needed to be replaced, and rummaging around through my inventory of stuff to see what I needed.

Last Saturday I fired the motor for the first time and tuned the old S&S Super E I’d rebuilt and even though all the chrome wasn’t polished out, I took it down the road. The used tires I’d tossed on were worn, but it accelerated like it should, the brakes stopped it like it should, and, for a 24-year-old bike with 15,000 miles on the clock and a tiny bit of blowby in the rings, it ran awfully smooth.

My total cost, outside of the time I’d spent in the garage? $1,956 US. There’s one problem, though, and I’ll tell you about that next time…

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