If you weren’t hot-rodding Flatheads in the Forties then you probably haven’t heard of the Honest Charley Speed Shop in Chattanooga, Tenn. Honest Charley was the world’s first mail-order speed shop. And since 2000, it's been hand-building a handful of these custom choppers in conjunction with Coker Tire, a supplier of vintage tires for vintage vehicles.
And for around $19,500 you can get an incredibly unique 750-pound machine. Each bike is built to look like it came straight out of the Forties. Surrounded by a custom steel-tube hardtail frame sits a vintage 1937-40 Ford Flathead V8.
These engines are stock original blocks rebuilt with new rings, bearings and timing gears. And that means each 136-cu.-in. (2200cc) mill makes just 60 hp. Honest Charley does modernize the motor by adding a Mallory Unilite ignition, a 2-barrel Holley 94 carb
and an electric fuel pump. It all sits behind a large radiator, electric fan and coolant reservoir that try to keep the notoriously hot-running Flathead from reaching full boil.
To this powerplant is bolted the stock (sort of) Ford 3-speed transmission. The case is shortened significantly by removing the tail section, and all the gears are removed. Honest Charley bolts a plate to the back. Inside, there’s an input shaft with two helical-cut spur gears that allow the engine's torque to make a 90° turn and pick up two motorcycle-style sprockets. This makes for 3.71:1 direct drive.
Essentially, the 3-speed becomes a 1-speed transmission that equates to about the third-gear ratio on a conventional bike. It’s engaged by the stock Ford clutch operated by the left handlebar lever. Oh yeah, there’s no neutral.
Sound like a bear to ride? Well, it is until you get used to it. Stoplights on level ground are easy. Just feather out the very heavy clutch, feed in a bunch of throttle and you’re off. Acceleration is leisurely until you hit 30 mph--then the gearing matches up with the engine revs and it torques away like a modified Harley. On the open road the bike is fun, comfortable and pulls hard until the engine runs out of revs--north of 90 mph. But it’s happiest around 60 mph when the engine is turning around 2700 rpm. And the noise that blurts from the straight pipes is pure music to a motorhead.
But with a hardtail ( no suspension) rear end and a low-slung chassis, the Honest Charley old-school Eight is no canyon carver. Especially with just a small drum brake on the back and a single Honda disc up front. However, ridden with a modicum of respect, there's enough lean angle and motor to have some fun on a twisty road.
Consider yourself warned, though--this isn’t a daily commuter. The gearing is just too tall. The 1-speed trans makes uphill starts an exercise in extreme finesse--or luck. And the heavy clutch and lack of neutral means your forearms will look like The Terminator's after a rush-hour commute. Plus, that same traffic on a sweltering summer day makes the Flathead’s coolant temperature come dangerously close to pegging the 250° gauge--even with the fan spinning madly.
But who cares? Old bikes have quirks. And the Honest Charley really is a vintage motorcycle--it just happens to be manufactured in 2003. And with that in mind this bike will keep you smiling every weekend you ride it. There are few bikes in any price range that have the Flathead’s magnitude of star power. To find out more, call 888-795-7077, or go to www.honestcharley.com or www.coker.com.