Harley-Davidson FXSTC restoration
He was given six months to live but, after a successful double-lung transplant, Stewart Howard vowed to finish the job and build his ultimate custom Harley…
Why I started customising my ’93 Harley Softail Custom (FXSTC) from the rear end is a mystery, but the tail-light was first to go. You can understand the repaint – the limited-release 90th Anniversary pink edition didn’t ring everyone’s bells. Then things got serious.
Upswept fishtails came along about the time I got out the oxy set and made a retro sissy bar from 5/8in round. I made it work equally well as a bare bar or with a backpad or with luggage. Then a lowering kit was fitted with a weird numberplate (in Latin).
The engine didn’t miss out either. Handmade breather connections, in stainless steel, were fed into a Holden-style air filter sourced from a discount auto shop. And while fiddling with the electrics, the front indicators found a new home.
The standard foot controls made me feel like I was sitting in an obstetrics chair, so they were junked. A bit of lathe work and a whole lot of hacksawing and welding resulted in handmade controls positioned in a traditional ’60s setting.
I zinc-plated the parts then finished them off with ‘gold’ passivation to match the pinstriping and the aged discolouration of the exhaust pipes.
And that was when things hit a wall – a medical wall.
WHEN THE WIND CHANGED
Specialists told me I was at the closing stages of terminal lung disease. With an estimated six months to live, many critical things had to be done including writing a will and sorting financials.
I barely managed to mothball the bike before my imminent funeral. Doing so, I figured, would make the Harley’s re-commissioning easier for its next owner.
Fast forward. While lying in hospital recovering from a double-lung transplant, I promised myself that if the doctors ever disconnected me from tubes, wires, pumps and cables, I’d treat the Harley to a new front end. It seemed logical. I had had some new parts fitted – actually, in technical terms, they were second-hand parts – so it seemed fair that my Harley should be spoiled, too.
Upon returning home to tropical Cairns, I set about transforming the front end of the bike. It took four months to complete the conversion from telescopics to extended springers. By way of comparison, surgeons only took eight hours to replace my lungs. The new forks cost about $4000, while my new lungs rang up a bill of about $150,000.
FORK IN THE ROAD
I regained strength during the Harley project, strength that had been lost as a result of major surgery. Besides, working on the Harley was better than going to a gym every day. The forks came off, a bit of machining, then back on. The forks came off, a bit of filing, then back on.
This process continued until a perfect fit was achieved. Then it was time to sort out a floating mudguard. Again, it took time to get the thing sitting in the right position while tracking the rise and fall of the wheel. A bit of welding, some serious polishing and, finally, chrome plating.
My next challenge was sorting out the speedo drive. On the original telescopic set-up the disc brake and speedo drive were located on the left-hand side of the bike. However, the springers had been fabricated to have the brake fitted on the right-hand side. Turning over the wheel was simple enough, only requiring the reversal of the tyre in order to maintain correct rotation. But the speedo indent had disappeared together with the disc rotor. Had I fitted the drive to the relocated disc, the speedo would have run backwards.
“Honest, officer, I couldn’t have been speeding. My speedo was showing minus 130km/h!” Yeah, right. Not a good idea. So it was back to the lathe for a solution. A stainless steel drive ring was machined and fitted to the left side of the wheel. Hand finishing an indent in the ring allowed the standard speedo drive tongue to settle in nice and close.
By the time this round of mods had been completed, I’d regained sufficient strength to ride the bike.
THE ROAD AHEAD
So, what’s it like on the road?
The springers give a firmer ride. They’re less compliant over gradual undulations, only working on identifiable bumps. Also, the bike doesn’t nose-dive when braking. The suspension acts completely independently of braking forces. One of the fun aspects of the new forks is watching the upper springs bob up and down right in front of me. But then, I’m easily amused.
The bike isn’t finished yet. The back end hasn’t received much attention for almost 20 years and could do with a little work. Perhaps new mudguard struts and fitting a flat guard in order to lower the seating position. That would probably require a new saddle, which means a different fuel tank.
It’s a bit like maintaining Sydney Harbour Bridge. By the time you get to the end, it’s time to start at the beginning again.