Deciphering Harley-Davidson Model Codes: 100 Year’s Worth of Fun!

Harley-Davidson applies a letter to help designate the main components, and even accessories, that a certain model is outfitted with. By reading the basic knowledge below, we hope to help you be comfortable in identifying types of Harley-Davidson motorcycles simply by knowing what the model code is. Perhaps our tongue-in-cheek subtitle clues you in to our thoughts on the sometimes straight-forward, sometimes convoluted world of Harley-Davidson naming conventions. The key to deciphering these model abbreviations is understanding the sequence of the letters. Also, this guide can be used for identifying early models up to current day designations. It covers the vast majority of models, though there are some gaps for special outfitting of limited model motorcycles. Our goal was to offer up a solid, overall view of Harley-Davidson model codes over the years, without getting too granular and confusing to the layman. Towards the end you will find some examples, as well as a quick reference guide for the most common late-model Harley Davidson model abbreviations and full names. Enjoy!

The First Two Letters

This is quite straight-forward, with the first letter representing which engine is in the particular model in question. The models below cover many years, from 1918 to modern day Harley-Davidsons.

Engine CodeEngine Type
ELBig Twin, overhead valve, 61 cubic inch Knucklehead
FLBig Twin, 74, 80, 88, 107 etc cubic inch engine. The 74 cubic inch engines were from 1941 to 1982. Depending on the year FL the engine could be a Knucklehead, Panhead, Shovelhead, Evo, Twin Cam, Milwaukee-Eight etc.
FXBig Twin, 73 cubic inch and larger engines. Includes Superglide and Dyna series, as well as others. Tend to be 'sport model' bikes, often narrow and performance oriented.
GServi-Car (three wheeler) produced from 1937 to 1973. GE is electric start, produced from 1963 to 1973.
JF Head (IOE, or Intake over Exhaust). Depending on the model they could have been equipped with a variety of engines, including 61 or 74 cubic inch engine (like the JD).
KFlathead, side-valve 45 and 55 cubic inch engine that was the precursor to the Sportster. K models were produced from 1952 through 1956, with the Sportster being released in 1957. K racing bikes were made after 1956, however, including the KR, KRTT etc.
UBig Twin, flathead, side-valve 74 and 80 cubic inch
VRevolution engine, also known as the V-Rod engine. This dual-overhead cam, liquid cooled Harley-Davidson engine varies greatly versus other powerplants prior to it’s 2002 release.
VL Flathead, side-valve 74 cubic inch Big Twin engine. Starting in 1930.
WLFlathead, side-valve 45 cubic inch engine. The L refers to low-compression. WL is a civilian model, WLA refers to the military model produced for World War II (see Additional Letter Designations and list of vintage models below)
XLSportster. The Sportster’s precursor was the K-model in 1952, which became the Sportster, or XL, starting in 1957. Sportster model designation always starts with XL, except for the few XR models (see Sportster model list below). The X designation was also used for the 1918 to 1922 opposed twin cylinder Sport and the experimental 1944 XA military opposed twin cylinder.
1978 Harley-Davidson XLCR Sportster Cafe Racer - production 1977-1979

The Third Letter

The third letter (and sometimes also the fourth, as with Softail, see below) of the model designation will inform you of which style frame is to be found on that particular Harley-Davidson model. However, in the case of Sportsters, the engine displacement is often following the XL designation. The number 883 refers to 883cc, while 1200 refers to a 1200cc displacement engine, for instance, XL1200C (Sportster 1200cc Custom).

Frame CodeFrame Type
DDyna frame, which features a rubber-mounted engine
STSoftail frame, originating in 1984, with hidden rear suspension and a ‘hardtail’ look.
TTouring frame
1948 FL Panhead • Photo by: David Carlo

Additional Letters: Specific Models and Additional Features

After the first three to four letters, as some models use two letters for the frame designation, you can find a wide array of letter designations for specific models, or for additional features found on different model motorcycles. Some of these are as follows:

Specific Models/Features CodeSpecific Models/Features Type
BBelt Drive for initial 1980’s models, Black Paint for the Bad Boy in 1995-96.
CVarious meanings including Classic, Competition (as in XLCH), Custom
DGDisc Glide
EElectric start
FFat Boy model
HVarious meanings including Hand shift, High Performance and Heavy Duty
IFuel Injection
LLow or Low Rider
LRCan denote Low Rider
NNostalgia, Iron (as in XL883N, Sportster 883 Iron), Deluxe
PPolice model
RRoad King, Rubber Mount (FXR)
S (without following T)Sports version
SCSpringer Custom
VSeventy-Two ( as in XL1200V, Sportster 1200 Seventy-Two)
WGWide Glide front end
2000 FXDS-CONV Dyna Convertible

Examples of Deciphered Model Designations

Bringing this full circle, let’s look at some different Harley model designations and decipher them, just for fun! Don’t worry, kids, there will not be a written test on this material.


XL = Sportster

883 = 883cc engine displacement

C = Custom

Therefore, the XL883C is a Sportster 883 Custom


FX = Big Twin sport model

D = Dyna frame

L = Low Rider

Therefore, the FXDL is a Dyna Low Rider! The FXD is easy as it means ‘Dyna’, and anything to follow that will spell out some specific features or model that it is.


FL = Big Twin

ST = Softtail frame

N = Deluxe

Therefore, the FXSTN is a Softail Deluxe. A Harley Big Twin with a wide front tire, Softail frame and the N designation meaning it is a Deluxe.


FL = Big Twin

H = Highway frame

R = Road King

C = Classic

I = Fuel Injected

Whew! You can see how these model names can get quite long, but with a little practice you can be rattling off model names ad nauseam.

Harley-Davidson Model Designation Quick Reference Guide

Below we have compiled a quick reference of Harley-Davidson model abbreviations and the full model names that you can pronounce (usually!) in plain English. This list is a compilation of late-model motorcycles, though much of it applies to models from a very large swath of the last century. If you are searching for a particular one, simply hit CTRL-F and use the ‘Find’ function to jump right to the model you are looking for. You can also use this list to check your skill at deciphering H-D model abbreviations on-the-fly!

1938 EL Knucklehead

Vintage Models 1960's and Earlier

Model CodeModel Name
Flathead, 45 cubic inch, produced 1929-1931. Harley's first flathead v-twin as well as first 45 cubic inch engine.
EKnucklehead, overhead valve, 61 cubic inch V-Twin, 6.5:1 compression
ELKnucklehead, overhead valve, 61 cubic inch V-Twin, 7:1 compression, introduced in 1936
ESKnucklehead, overhead valve, 61 cubic inch V-Twin, 6.5:1 compression, sidecar use
FLThe FL, introduced in 1941 featuring a 74 cubic inch Knucklehead engine, the FL designation is used to current day. On Panhead models, FL was standard compression and FLH was high compression. By the time Shovelheads came around they were all high compression.
G / GA / GD / GEServi-Car three-wheeled motorcycle powered by a 45 cubic inch flathead engine. 1932-73. Second letter can denote style of rear box, or in case of the 'GE' it denotes Servi-Car with electric start, produced 1963-1973.
JJ Model, F head (intake over exhaust, or IOE), 61 cubic inch V-twin introduced in 1915
JDJD, F head (intake over exhaust, or IOE), 74 cubic inch V-Twin introduced in 1922
KK Model, precursor to the Sportster, a 750cc (45 cubic inch) flathead, was introduced in 1952
KHThe KH was introduced in 1954 featuring a larger 883cc engine
KHKThe KHK featured the 883cc engine plus high-lift cams and polished ports
KKThe KK model, introduced 1953, features a K model 750cc engine with hotter cams and factory porting
KRThe KR replaced the flathead WR Harley factory flat track race bike and was produced from 1952 until 1969.
KRTTThe KRTT is the faired version of the KR for use in road racing.
RLFlathead, 45 cubic inch, produced1932-1936
UFlathead, 74 cubic inch Big Twin, 5:1 compression
UHFlathead, 80 cubic inch Big Twin, 5.2:1 compression
ULFlathead, 74 cubic inch Big Twin, 5.5:1 compression
ULHFlathead, 80 cubic inch Big Twin, 5.7:1 compression
VLFlathead, 74 cubic inch Big Twin replaced the JD in 1930
VLHFlathead, 80 cubic inch Big Twin, 1936 only
WLFlathead, 45 cubic inch V-twin, civilian model
WLAFlathead, 45 cubic inch V-twin, U.S. Army model 1940-45, 1949-52
WLCFlathead, 45 cubic inch V-twin, Canadian Army model 1941-1944
WLDRFlathead, 45 cubic inch V-twin race motorcycle, discontinued at outbreak of WWII
WRHarley production racing motorcycle, built to compete in AMA sanctioned events.
XAThe XA was built for use in Africa in WWII, with opposed cylinders and a shaft drive.

Touring Models

Model CodeModel Name 
FLHRRoad King 
FLHRCIRoad King Classic 
FLHRSIRoad King Custom 
FLHSElectra Glide Sport 
FLHTElectra Glide Standard 
FLHTCElectra Glide Classic 
FLHTCUUltra Classic Electra Glide 
FLHTCULUltra Classic Electra Glide Low 
FLHXStreet Glide 
FLHXSECVO Street Glide 
FLHTCUSECVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide 
FLHTKElectra Glide Ultra Limited 
FLHTKLElectra Glide Ultra Limited Low 
FLHXStreet Glide 
FLHXSStreet Glide Special 
FLHXXXStreet Glide Trike 
FLTCRubber Mounted Dresser Classic 
FLTCURubber Mounted Dresser Classic Ultra 
FLTRRoad Glide 
FLTRSECVO Screamin' Eagle Road Glide 
FLTRXRoad Glide Custom 
FLTRXSRoad Glide Special 

Softtail Models

Model CodeModel Name 
FLSTCHeritage Softail Classic 
FLSTNSoftail Deluxe 
FLSTSCSpringer Softail Classic 
FLSTSECVO Softail Convertible 
FLSTSBCross Bones 
FXSTBNight Train 
FXSTCSoftail Custom 
FXSTDSoftail Deuce 
FXSTSSpringer Softail 
FXSTSSECVO Softail Springer Screamin' Eagle 
FXCWSoftail Rocker 
FXCWCSoftail Rocker Custom 
FXSSoftail Blackline 
FXSBSoftail Breakout 
FXSBSESoftail CVO Breakout 

FX / Dyna Models

Model CodeModel Name
FXSuperglide, Kick Start
FXBSturgis Belt (80, 81, 82)
FXDDyna Super Glide
FXDBStreet Bob (Sturgis 1991)
FXDCDyna Super Glide Custom
FXDGDyna Glide / Sturgis
FXDS-CONDyna Convertible
FXDWGDyna Wide Glide
FXDXDyna Super Glide Sport
FXDXT Super Glide T-Sport
FXDLLow Rider
FXESuperglide, Electric start
FXLRFX Lower Rider / Evolution
FXRSuperglide II / Rubber Mount
FXRSLow Glide / Low Rider
FXRS-CONVFXR Sport Convertible
FXRTSport Glide
FXRSDG1984 Disc Glide / all Chrome package / rare
FXRPPolice or Pursuit - Defender
FXSLow Rider / Shovelhead
FXSBLow Rider Belt / Breakout with Milwaukee-Eight engine

Sportster Models

Model CodeModel Name
XL Sportster 
XLH883 Sportster Hugger 
XL883Sportster 883
XL883CSportster 883 Custom 
XL883L Sportster 883 Low
XL883NSportster 883 Iron
XL1200Sportster 1200
XL1200CSportster 1200 Custom
XL1200LSportster 1200 Low 
XL1200NSportster 1200 Nightster 
XL1200RSportster 1200 Roadster 
XL1200SSportster 1200 Sport 
XL1200VSportster Seventy-Two 
XL50Sportster 50th Anniversary Ed.
XLASportster built for U.S. Army and Military Policy, 1957-1965. 
XLCHSportster, Ironhead 'Competition Hot' performance model 
XLCRSportster Cafe Racer, 1977-79 
XLSSportster Roadster 
XR-750Sportster, 750cc alloy-head racing model 
XR1000Sportster, 1000cc with XR heads and engine components 
XR1200Sportster, 1200cc with XR heads and engine components 

V-Rod Models

Model CodeModel Name
VRSCAWV-Rod (240mm rear tire)
VRSCBV-Rod Black Finish
VRSCDNight Rod
VRSCDXNight Rod Special 
VRSCFV-Rod Muscle
VRSCRStreet Rod 

Other Models

Model CodeModel Name
XG500Street XG500
XG750Street XG750
FLRTFreewheeler Trike 
FLHTCUTGTri Glide Ultra Classic 
FLHXXXStreet Glide Trike 
1948 WR Flathead • Photo by: David Carlo

21 thoughts on “Deciphering Harley-Davidson Model Codes: 100 Year’s Worth of Fun!”

  • I do not see the 883R in the XL section (2002 & 2003 pre-rubber mount motor, 2 into 1 exhaust/ trap door transmission) discontinued in 2004 , brought back in 2005 as 1200R (dual exhaust/rubber mount/split cases to access transmission) . Ours is a 2003 bought new with 3 areas of 100th Anniversary insignia and a now obsolete Screaming Eagle muffler which cost $450 back then , this bike did not have the special anniversary color scheme it is racing orange ........ kind of like the odd model / color of Hot Wheel that was not real popular . She's cold blooded but fires right up ! My Wife's first bike !

  • I liked this article. I believe that Harley's nomenclature, when the letter i is at the end, it means fuel injected.

  • what about decoding vin#s, in case over the the years the bike has been altered or modified?

  • What about a flathead starting with N and ending in cal?

  • You forgot about my baby, the FXDLS Low Rider S

    • I own a 1981 FLT rubber mounted 5 speed fixed fairing dual head lights. This bike had a oil bath rear chain. I know they made them in 80 and in 82 they had the FLTC. They had the oil in the primary drip
      Drip down from the top of the chain adjuster. I have the rear wheel and brake off going to sale it and the saddle bags and I have a fairing. The rubber tubes are goods no leaks. I didn't have to change my chain for 34,000 miles. It is a 3wheeler now.

  • Where is the xlh1200 ?

  • Dont see fxef I guessing the last f means fatbob

  • What about the 1980 roadster. 1000 sportster motor with a different frame. I believe it was an XLR?

  • There is also a XLX1000

  • Enjoyed the article. My 53 Pan is an FLE. Seems to get overlooked a lot.

  • Very Good !

  • Michel Senerchia April 27, 2018 at 12:10 am

    I am looking for a technical manual for a Harley Davidson Knuelhead EL 1938.

    Someone could give me information

    beste Regards


  • What about a 1957 XLR ?

  • Hmm it appears like your blog ate my first comment (it
    was super long) so I guess I'll just sum it up what I had
    written and say, I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog
    writer but I'm still new to everything. Do you have any recommendations for beginner blog writers?
    I'd genuinely appreciate it.

  • Good article. I have an engine number that isn’t covered by any of the documentation I’ve read. It’s 39WLDD2182. I’ve had people speculate that the DD is for Dept of Defense and us a prototype WLA which didn’t stat prod till 40. Any ideas on confirming history?

  • Barry Mackintosh July 18, 2019 at 11:46 pm

    Hi engine number on my Harley is 39 W1 1047, it is a V twin.
    what year is this ?
    what size engine?

  • There is also an F model in Knuckles and Pans.

  • KENNETH WHEADON December 2, 2019 at 4:14 pm

    On the EL models, there was a Panhead EL model from 1948 to 1952
    I have a 1948 EL Panhead
    EL = 61 ci
    FL = 74 cc

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