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History of the Sportster

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  • History of the Sportster

    The Sportster Home Page


    contributions by: docjimbob, Tim Schumacher, Tom Riccio, & Kev Maher and Bruce's Harley Page (check for History on all HD models).


    The Sportster XL was introduced as "a modern, up-to-date power plant."
    55cid 7.5:1 Compression, hemi-spherical style heads, 90 degree valve angle, 4 cams
    Production Information:
    XL (1983), $1,103


    XLH introduced with higher compression and larger valves
    Camshaft gears became integrated with the camshafts, eliminating the need for a woodruff key.
    Drive gearshaft was enlarged .125 in.
    Drive gear and second gear support shaft was enlarged .125 in and had 8 splines (instead of 6).
    Choke control lever moved from left side to the air cleaner.
    Heavier clutch cover and new gasket.
    New oil resistant clutch hub seal and gearshaft o-ring.
    Two brush generator.
    Optional turn signals and 1 in over suspension.
    The XLC & XLCH (Competition/California Hot)
    Larger ports and valves
    High domed pistons
    Light ended tappets
    Magneto ignition
    Production Information:
    XL (579), $1,155
    XLH (711)
    XLCH (239)


    New dual exhaust on XLH with twin mufflers.
    Nacelle headlamp on XLH
    5 in headlamp with eyebrow on XLCH
    Trip-o-meter on XLCH
    Nylon chain tensioner
    Single switch ignition on left fork
    Valanced front fender
    End relieved connecting rod bearings
    14.5 sec mile (90 mph)
    Production Information:
    XL (42), $1,175
    XLH (947), $1,200
    XLCH (1059), $1,285


    New shock absorbers.
    Production Information:
    Sportsters (2,765)
    XLH $1,225
    XLCH $1,310


    Creased edge on fuel tank.
    Production Information:
    Sportsters (2014)
    XLH $1,250
    XLCH $1,335


    Aluminum upper triple tree.
    XLR appeared for TT racing.
    Production Information:
    Sportsters (1998)
    XLH $1,250
    XLCH $1,335


    Both XLH & XLCH got 1.323:1 3rd gear ratios (were 1.381)
    Final ratio 5.56:1 on the H
    Final ratio 5.85:1 on the CH
    XLCH got "shorty duals"
    XLCH got an ignition key and improved magneto/coil
    14.3 sec mile (92 mph)
    Production Information:
    XLH (432), $1,270
    XLCH (1,001), $1,355


    Chrome panel for XLCH lower fork bracket.
    New graphic for the XLH (oil tank).
    Full width aluminum brake drum in the front.
    Aluminum tappet guides.
    Production Information:
    XLH (810), $1,295
    XLCH (1950), $1,360


    XLH and XLCH received a 12 volt electrical system.
    XLH got automatic spark advance.
    Racing-type ball end levers.
    High fidelity horn.
    New shocks
    3.7 gal fuel tank
    Production Information:
    XLH (955)
    XLCH (2815)


    P Cams, race developed intake ports, jumbo valves -> 60 hp
    Tillotson diaphragm carb
    "Ham-can" air cleaner
    Carb heat insulator
    Hexagonal tank badge.
    Production Information:
    XLH (900) $1,415
    XLCH (3,900) $1,411
    XLRTT (25)


    Electric start option.
    New shocks
    Production Information:
    XLH (2,000) $1,650
    XLCH (2,500) $1,600


    New forks (damping and travel) and the fork boots were canned.
    Kick start was dropped from the XLH.
    Restyled primary cover.
    Peanut tank was an option on the XLH
    Production Information:
    XLH (1,975) $1,650
    XLCH (4,900) $1,600


    First use of the exhaust crossover pipe (increases hp by 5 to 58 hp) with stacked duals
    New head castings.
    Safety bead wheel rims.
    Production Information:
    XLH (2,700) $1,765
    XLCH (5,100) $1,698


    XLH got the headlamp eyebrow of the XLCH
    Optional boat tail (again in 71)
    Magneto ignition on the XLCH replaced with XLH's points/coil.
    First year for XR-750
    Production Information:
    XLH (3,033)
    XLCH (5,527)


    Wet clutch with single spring.
    Points and condenser moved behind plate on timing case cover.
    Production Information:
    XLH (3,950)
    XLCH (6,825)


    The 61 cid (called a 1000cc) XL replaced the 900.
    Rated for 61 hp, 9:1 CR, 110+mph, 13.38 sec mile (97.7 mph), and 43 mpg.
    Bendix/Zenith carb.
    Wet clutch.
    New oil pump.
    Oil tank placed near chain
    Seat is thinner w/less padding.
    Production Information:
    XLH (7,500) $2,120
    XLCH (10,650)


    First AMF production Harley
    Mandatory turn signals.
    New 35mm Kayaba forks, single disc front brakes.
    Production Information:
    XLH (9,875)
    XLCH (10,825)


    Throttle used return springs.
    Production Information:
    XLH (13,295)
    XLCH (10,535)
    XR (100)


    Left hand side gear shifting, right hand side rear brake (Fed mandated)
    New 35mm Showa forks.
    Production Information:
    XLH (13,515)
    XLCH (5,895)


    Production Information:
    XLH (12,844)
    XLCH (5,238)


    New cases to accommodate the left side shifting.
    Frame designed for removal of oil pump with engine in frame.
    XLT (touring) became available
    included thicker seat
    3.5 gallon tank
    touring handle bars
    saddlebags from FLH
    geared higher
    XLCR was introduced at Daytona (available again in 78).
    cast aluminum wheels
    fiberglass tail section w/solo seat
    wrinkle black engine paint
    bikini fairing
    black siamese exhaust
    dual disc front brakes
    low bars
    black paint scheme [on everything]
    4 gallon gas tank
    68 horses, 9:1 compression, 110 mph
    Production Information:
    XLH (12,742)
    XLCH (4,074)
    XLT (1,099)
    XLCR (1,923) $3,623


    Cast wheels option
    Front dual disc brakes
    Electronic ignition
    Battery and oil tank moved inboard
    HD 75th anniversary model XLH
    Midnight black w/gold trim
    anniversary graphics
    gold aluminum wheels
    Production Information:
    XLH (11,271)
    XLH Anniv model (2,323) $3,127
    XLCH (2,758) $3,370
    XLT (6)


    All models got the XLCR frame and exhaust (Siamese).
    XLT was dropped from the product line.
    Kick starter was dropped.
    Disc brakes front and rear.
    Hugger model available for the first time.
    Last year for XLCH
    New model XLS appeared:
    Extended forks
    16" rear wheel
    siamese exhaust
    drag bars on 3.5" risers
    sissy bar w/leather pouch
    highway pegs
    2 piece seat
    chromed rear sprocket
    Production Information:
    XLH (6,525)
    XLCH (141)
    XLS -(5,123)
    XLCR (9) (?leftover '78's?)

    A 16 in wheel replaced the XLH 18 in.
    Production Information:
    XLH (11,841) $5,867
    XLS (2,926)

    Buy back from AMF
    wire or cast wheels options, 16" or 18" rear wheel options
    buckhorn handlebars
    shorty dual exhaust
    3.3 gallon, 2.2 gallon tank optional.
    shorter front forks
    3.3 gallon optional.
    Production Information:
    XLH (8,442)
    XLS (1,660)

    Lighter frame
    oil tank repositioned
    Thicker head gasket w/lower 8:1 compression
    Larger rear disc
    XLS repositioned the battery
    Production Information:
    XLH (5,015)
    XLS (1,261)

    high bars
    vacuum advance (VOES?)
    3.3 gallon tank option
    new seat
    less restrictive exhaust.
    New model XLX-61: (built to sell for $3,995)
    solo seat
    peanut tank
    staggered dual exhaust
    speedo only
    9 spoke wheels
    vacuum advance (VOES?)
    satin finish cases. {only year}
    six coil springs in clutch
    156 watt generator
    loose output roller tranny
    output shaft oil seal secured by a bolt on cover
    3 generator drive gears
    10" dual front disc brakes.
    New model - XR-1000, based on XLX chassis
    aluminum SR style heads w/intake ports on right, exhaust on left
    polished and bored by Jerry Branch
    helicoil inserts where rocker boxes bolt to head,
    9:1, XR pistons
    light aluminum pushrods
    eccentric rocker shafts adjust valve lash
    iron cylinders (shortened half an inch to make room for the 'Branch' heads)- w/through bolts
    vacuum advance-V-fire III breaker less ignition
    twin 36mm Dell'Orto carbs
    satin textured cases
    9 spoke cast wheels
    oiled felt air filter
    The XR-1000 had 71HP @ 5,600 rpm, 125 mph, 490 lbs
    2.5 gallon tank, 2.5 quart oil capacity $6,995.
    Production Information:
    XLX-61 (4,892) $3,995
    XLH (2,230)
    XLS (1,616)
    XR-1000 (1,018) $6,995


    Diaphragm spring clutch (mid year)
    Generator replaced by the alternator. (mid year)
    XLH used the Peanut tank again.
    XR, improved brakes, orange/black HD racing color option
    XLH/X/S Single (larger) front disc.
    Production Information:
    XLX-61 (4,284)
    XLH (4,442)
    XLS (1,135)
    XR-1000 (759)


    Production trimmed in anticipation of the Evo XL.
    Production Information:
    XLX-61 (1,824)
    XLH (4,074)
    XLS (616)

    First year of the Evo Sportster
    came in 883 and 1100cc flavors
    XLX frame
    Aluminum heads and cylinders
    hydraulic lifters
    34mm fixed-venturi Keihin carb
    powder coat frame paint
    cast aluminum wheels
    solo seat
    low bars
    speedo only
    turn signals double as running lights
    30" seat height
    Upgrade package=special paint and trim.
    Production Information:
    XLH 883 (8,026) $3,995
    XLH 883 (2,322) (upgrade)
    XLH 1,100 (3,077) $5,199
    XLH 1,100 (954) 'Liberty'

    Sportsters 30th Anniversary
    first year for the Evo Hugger:
    The fork tubes were shortened 2"
    revised shock angle
    a softer seat at 26.75", (1.75" lower than standard)
    Production Information:
    XLH 883 (4,990)
    XLH 883 (2,106) 'Hugger'
    XLH 883 (2,260) (upgrade)
    XLH 1,100 (4,018)
    XLH 1,100 (600) 'Anniversary'


    new 39mm Fork Tubes replaced the older 35mm unit
    new 40mm constant velocity Keihin slide carb
    first year for the 1200 (replacing the 1100)
    Production Information:
    XLH 883 (5,387)
    XLH 883 (4,501) 'Hugger'
    XLH 883 (1,893) 'Sportster Deluxe'
    XLH 1,200 (4,752)
    **Note: The technical info I provide is suggestive. I am not a perfeshunel.

    "No two motorcycles should be the same. Your bike should be based on your creativity, and whatever's going on in your life at that time..." Jesse James

    HERD Member #10

  • #2

    kickstand repositioned father rearward
    price increase jumped from $3995 to $3999 for the base model 883
    Production Information:
    XLH 883 (6,142)
    XLH 883 (4,467) 'Hugger'
    XLH 883 (1,812) 'Sportster Deluxe'
    XLH 1,200 (4,546)


    new paper air filter and paint options
    40mm Keihin carb - constant velocity w/accelerator pump
    Production Information:
    XLH 883 (5,227) $4,250
    XLH 883 (4,040) 'Hugger'
    XLH 883 (1,298) 'Sportster Deluxe'
    XLH 1,200 (4,598)


    5 speed tranny replaced the 4 speed
    belt drive replaced chain on 883 deluxe and 1200 models
    hydraulic lifters were replaced with automotive type units
    oil pump given internal cast feed lines
    breather system moved from the crankcase to the heads (umbrella valves)
    alternator moved from behind clutch to the crankshaft
    primary cover redesigned
    new foot peg mounts
    old Dunlop k-291 tires replaced with K402's
    Self canceling signals
    right side timing hole
    tappet blocks, rear motor mount, oil filter integrated with case
    one piece push rod tubes
    Production Information:
    XLH 883 (4,922) $4,359
    XLH 883 (3,487) 'Hugger'
    XLH 883 (3,034) 'Sportster Deluxe'
    XLH 1,200 (6,282) $6,245


    Hugger model made even lower
    standardized hand controls
    Production Information:
    XLH 883 $4,499
    XLH 883 'Hugger' $5,075
    XLH 883 'Sportster Deluxe' $5,559
    XLH 1,200 $6,400


    belt drive now on all Sportster models
    Production Information:
    XLH 883 $4,775
    XLH 883 'Hugger' $5,420
    XLH 883 'Sportster Deluxe' $5,820
    XLH 1,200 $6,800


    Oil tank revised (visually identified by relocated oil drain line which now runs to the frame instead of nipple on underside of battery tray)
    Derby cover revised from small cover over center of clutch to large 4-bolt cover (with this came a new quick-release clutch cable)
    Revised rear struts with chromed steel covers.
    New electrical system (wiring harness/weatherproof electrical connectors, new electrical component tray under the seat)
    883s got an aluminum lower triple clamp which was previously stock on only the 1200’s


    New Larger standard gas tank (3.25 gal) on 1200 models
    Vacuum operated petcock added to Sportster line
    Ignition switch moved to steering column (because of petcock)
    Switched to electric speedo
    Production Information:
    XLH 883 $4,995
    XLH 883 'Hugger' $5,700
    XLH 883 'Sportster Deluxe' $6,120
    XLH 1,200 $7,200


    Switchgear revised, more rounded style
    First year for 1200 Custom and Sport models
    Production Information:
    XLH 883 $5,095
    XLH 883 'Hugger' $5,760
    XLH 1,200 $7,360
    XLH 1,200 '1200C Custom' $7,910
    XLH 1,200 '1200S Sport' $8,360

    New Larger standard gas tank (3.25 gal) on 883 models


    Revised ignition system (single fire)
    1200S gets dual-plug heads (along with hotter cams)


    First year of the 883C


    First year for sealed wheel bearings
    First year for 4-piston calipers
    Pressed together flywheel assembly (supposed to be stronger and hold it's trueness better)


    First year for the 883R
    Introduction of the bullet-style turn signals across the line


    Final year for solid mount models
    New style mirrors.
    Special Harley-Davidson 100th Anniversary paint/badges


    Engine is rubber mounted
    Trap door transmission eliminated (cases must now be split to access transmission).
    Oil tank is mounted further under the seat
    Seat height is lowered by an inch
    Rear tire width increased to 150 mm
    Custom models get 4.5 gallon gas tanks
    New air cleaner cover
    Brake calipers, master cylinder, switch housings and handgrips replaced, now exclusive to Sportster models.


    Swing arm & rear wheel re-designed to accommodate 1" rear axle.
    **Note: The technical info I provide is suggestive. I am not a perfeshunel.

    "No two motorcycles should be the same. Your bike should be based on your creativity, and whatever's going on in your life at that time..." Jesse James

    HERD Member #10


    • #3
      an awesome read Dave, thank you
      Ride in Peace Wndchsr


      • #4
        Stops 2 years shy of a sixpack, tho... mine's an '07,

        Official Herd Dumbass
        (Ask anybody)

        Crocified '07 XL1200C
        Herd #34


        • #5
          That's a good read, and nice reference. Thanks
          Regards Sonny
          2007 FLHX Street Glide HERD #35
          Route 66 "The Mother Road" Thank You Cyrus Avery!


          • #6
            With age comes wisdom, yeah right!
            RIP Rick.....Ride On Forever In Our Hearts My Brother!


            • #7
              I enjoy riding a bigger bike, but the sportster has been my favorite bike of all time, first bike I ever owned, still own one now, I believe with a Sportster and a Fat Boy, I got it made in the shade.:riding
              Herd Member (KAOS lost his number)