My bud John Moorehead’s “Marshmallow Sunburst” ‘77 ironhead is like a David Mann dream come to life… and I’m pretty sure that was the intent. Everything about this bike screams 60’s chopper party life.
The mock up stages of John's 1977 build.
With three grand burning a hole in his pocket, John searches for the best old Harley
The Harley-Davidson build started in 2018 with John buying an ’83 Goldwing trike off of a buddy. He vacuumed out a number of dead mice, got it running good and sold it for a couple grand.
He headed to Facebook marketplace and started messaging everyone selling a Harley for 3k or less. Copying and pasting the same message, “I don’t mean to insult you, but would you take $1500? I’ll come get it tomorrow”.
It took a few weeks of that before he found this one in upstate New York. He’s pretty sure the guy was either headed to jail or getting divorced because he didn’t seem to care what John offered.
It was a bare frame and the motor was about 75% there, including a bunch of extra stock parts… definitely a blank canvas. He was hoping to score a big twin, but with such a small budget, an Ironhead seemed to be the only Harley in his price range.
Among other things, John is talented and resourceful. He knew he could flip his way into something he found more desirable.
The 'A-side' of the mock up.
A Year of Daily Work to Fully Restore an Ironhead Sportster
The entire length of the Ironhead Sportster rebuild project took about a year of daily work. And, when I say daily work, I mean waking up at 3:00am and working about 3 hours before going to his full time job.
He also took a 6 month break to build a rad Evo Sportster for a buddy…stay tuned for more on that. With the exception of the paint, seat, and the welds on the rake, he did everything himself out of a one car garage.
Personally, I’m glad he was able to upgrade to the bigger shop last summer. So much more room for him to work on vintage motorcycles and the shop hangs on Saturday mornings kinda rule.
Riding down the highway with John... You can see how long that front end really is!
Adding Metal for Molding and Shaping the Overall Profile
John explains that the biggest change he made was raking the neck to accommodate the 25 over front end. The bike was hardtailed when he bought it, but he had his hands on every square inch of the frame, as far as removing old tabs and adding new ones.
Adding metal for molding and just shaping the overall profile is what he wanted. John said “Adding metal for molding and just shaping the overall profile that I wanted. The entire bike is “changed” so it’s hard to really point out the biggest change. The only parts that are still in use from when I got it is the frame and engine.”
He goes on to say “I think the frame molding really adds to the impact. From a distance you can’t even tell. Once you get a little closer, you see that there is molding and shaping everywhere.”
Skinny and yet classy.
Learning and Customizing at the Same Time
Although this isn’t the first bike he’s taken apart and put back together, this would be his second full ground-up Ironhead custom motorcycle project. Half the Ironhead Sportster build was his first time doing everything. Then, by the end, he wound up going back and fixing a number of things he learned from doing the other bike in between.
John checking the kicker arm.
'Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends'
A good portion of the little help he received was from a local Lancaster County legend named Jebby. He owns the iconic Jebby Shack in Ephrata, PA. John would take him parts to trade or he would wheel and deal his way into motorcycle parts he wanted. Jebby let him take parts home to try or save John cool things that came into the shop. At one point he believes he had three of Jebby’s oil tanks, all of which he forgot about.
Our bud Bubba Boley was a huge, huge part of this custom Harley Ironhead Sportster project. John would run ideas by Bubba, most of which he would say are dumb or leaving John to prove him wrong. Bubba also taught him how to mold the frame and how to have things properly prepped for paint.
Alex Anderson is another one that helped him through a bunch of late nights choppin’ and was a really good second set of eyes to confirm John’s work was working.
John mentioned that his bud Randy Gordy was a huge help with TIG-welding the neck for him, which really got the ball rolling. Many other buds were really supportive and helped make completing this Ironhead Sportster rebuild project a reality.
A classic David Mann painting on the back of the battery box to give that authentic 70's vibe.
Inspiration for this Harley Ironhead Sportster rebuild
Of course, inspirations for the build would be the 60’s, 70’s and ‘80’s. John explains, “The culture and lifestyle of choppers as a whole. The guys that did it all with very little means or knowledge. Getting creative with what you have. There’s something about riding with a bunch of other hand built bikes that may or may not break down at any moment. Even when they do break, that just adds to the adventure.
More often than not, when someone pulls over to help you on the side of the road you make a friend for life. I’ve always wished I was around back in the day to witness some of the stuff we read about in old Easyriders. I think any trip or show we have nowadays is just an attempt to get back to that.”
Tiny headlights backed up by a bigger headlight at the bottom.
Plans for his finished 1977 Ironhead Project
Although John started this on his own, his break to work on his bud’s evo build put this project on hold for a bit. Just about the time he finished that one, he was selected to be a part of Old Bike Barn’s Greasy Dozen Builder Collective.
For those of you living under a rock, the Greasy Dozen is a group of builders selected by Old Bike Barn to finish their incomplete projects and award them with industry gift cards along the way to finish the build.
In any other year, the builders bring their bikes to Ohio. For obvious reasons, that didn’t happen this year so the builders were showcased on a Facebook Live show. John attributes a lot of this build to his motivation from the Greasy Dozen Collective.
John and his 1977 Ironhead chopper
For now John’s plan is to hang onto it for another season at least. He was so excited to have something to bring to the shows he’s always considered the “best of the best”, then they all got cancelled the month he finished the thing. Part of John would love to sell it to finance another project but he’s trying to be patient and hang onto it for now.
Words and photos by: Dan Venditto
Just a real piece of art work on two wheels
Highlights of the Custom Harley-Davidson Restoration
- Owner / builder: John Moorehead
- Year/Make/Model: 1977/HD/SportsterXLT
- Fabrication: Long John Chopper Co
- Build Time: 1 Year
Look at that clean ass motor!
- Year/Type/Size: 1977/1000cc
- Carburetor: S&S Super E
- Exhaust: Homemade
The frame molding is just killer.
- Year/Type:1977 / Santee Weld-on Hardtail
- Rake/Stretch:44 Degree Rake/ No Up or Out
If it ain't long it's wrong....
- Type / Brand: 25 over Springer / Wheel Specialties
Laced up 21" wheel and Avon Speed Master Tire.
- Front Size: 21" laced wheel with Avon Speedmaster tire
- Rear Size: 18" laced wheel with Shinko Tire
The subtle hidden stuff on this paint job is superb.
- Paint by: Zach Boley
- Plating/Polishing: If it didn't come chrome I polished it no matter what material it was.
- Powder Coating: N/A
Hey its the ZigZag man!
- Front Fender: nope
- Rear Fender: Wassell style from a swap meet
- Gas Tank: Dual capped alien from a swap meet
- Handlebars: 70s 7/8" Pull backs kinda
- Grips: Translucent Brown 7/8"
- Mirrors: $7 mirror from a bicycle shop
- Hand Controls: British style clutch lever/ Ebay 1/4 turn 7/8 throttle
- Foot Controls: Homemade/ spoon pegs
- Headlight: Dual re-pop guide dh-49s up top then a lowbrow shell with a HD yellow fog lens below.
- Taillight: Lucas style
- Turn Signals: nada
- License Mount: Lucas style
- Seat: Homemade seat pan/ Wes from Counterbalance Cycle Upholstery.
Photos of Ground-up Ironhead Custom Vintage Motorcycle Project
Long and super chopper, just the way we like it.
Using all the 1000CC's
Really neat how the rear axle plates look and the molding.
Primary side looking sexy!
It's the little details that really make this bike shine.
Everyone needs a little extra light!
Some wild handlebars!
I wonder what that screen is for?
Oil bag is just super classy.
One of the coolest 2 into 1 exhaust systems!
Coat rack or octopus?
Some killer seat detailed stitching.
King and Queen!
Every day I'm choppin...