1936 Harley-Davidson EL Auction by Mecum [The First Knucklehead]

Launched in the depths of the Great Depression, the Harley-Davidson knucklehead engine revolutionized The Motor Company’s big V-twins. The flathead design that launched the brand 33 years earlier took a back seat to the pushrod-actuated overhead-valve architecture of the knucklehead—a refined version powers modern-day Harley-Davidson motorcycles 86 years later.

The 61ci motor—just under a liter—pumped out 40 horsepower and allowed the pilot of the 1936 Harley-Davidson EL to flirt with a triple-digit top speed. The single-cam motor was matched to a four-speed transmission with a tank-mounted shifter and foot clutch. A Linkert carburetor fed the knucklehead’s combustion chambers, with a coil and points ignition system providing spark.

1936 Harley-Davidson EL Auction: For Sale

The 1936 Harley-Davidson EL used a double-downtube frame with truss-reinforced castings. A hardtail design, a springer fork with oval downtubes suspended the front end. To offer the rider some relief from rough roads, the seat post was sprung. A wheelbase of nearly 60 inches provided stability for the EL, which had a curb weight of approximately 600 pounds.

Between the knucklehead’s power and the sophisticated chassis, the EL was considered a premium touring motorcycle. Crash bars, 18-inch wheels (now shod with Coker Classic Diamond Tread 4.50-inch wide rubber), and a lighted tank-mounted speedometer added to the EL’s allure.

1936 Harley-Davidson EL Auction: First Knucklehead Engine

This example will be auctioned at Mecum Auctions’ The Daytime Auction Monterey 2022 event at the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa on Del Monte Golf Course. The auction begins on August 18, with this 1936 EL going under the hammer on Saturday, August 20, alongside four other Harley-Davidsons—1910 belt-drive single, 1908 strap tank, 1920 Dewey Sims board track racer, and a sidecar-equipped 1925 JD.

HP Cycles’ Dino Paul in Berwick, Maine, performed the restoration of the 1936 Harley-Davidson EL. Original parts include the dash, speedometer, gas cap, toolbox, small brace front fender, fluid lines, and the impossibly rare open rocker heads for the knucklehead engine. NOS parts were also used in the restoration, which features a Dusk Gray and Royal Buff paint job.

Photography by Zachary Cliff, courtesy of Mecum

1936 Harley-Davidson EL Auction Photo Gallery