The Von Dutch XAVW- The Harley with a German Heart

The Von Dutch XAVW- The Harley with a German Heart - Bikes

A while back, I had the pleasure of visiting the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa; something I’ve been meaning to do for years. There were hundreds upon hundreds of historic motorcycles, ranging from some of the first motorbikes ever built, to ludicrous choppers, and breathtakingly fast land speed bikes. However, one bike in particular captured my attention. It looked all the world like an old Harley-Davidson, but for some reason, had a Volkswagen badge plastered on the tank. Now, I believed myself to be a fairly well-versed motorcycle enthusiast, yet I hadn’t really heard much on this bike. I’d heard of Von Dutch, but I never knew of this build.

For those of you that don’t know, Kenny Howard (better known as Von Dutch) was one of the greatest pinstripers ever to live; he is widely regarded as one of the fathers of the Kustom Kulture movement, and his automotive art is, in the opinions of many, unparalleled. He also happened to be a very proficient bike mechanic; and used his mechanical knowledge of motorcycles to create some of the most well-done custom cycles ever built.

Von Dutch working on pinstriping on the Barris Kustoms' 1950 Ford Woody.
Von Dutch working on pinstriping on the Barris Kustoms' 1950 Ford Woody.

The Von Dutch XAVW was no different. The original bike, the Harley-Davidson XA, is a rare enough bike in of itself; though the bike definitely had potential to compete with the BMW R71 and R75, only 1000 were ordered, due to the realisation that the motorbike had a very limited combat role. The XA was a shaft-drive bike, powered by a 740cc flat twin which produced 23 horsepower (17 kilowatts) at 4500 rpm. It was a rugged bike that could negotiate a variety of terrains, and work under adverse conditions; it had to be if it was to serve in combat.

At some point in the early to mid-1960s, Von Dutch acquired a 1941 XA, and set about work on a complete ground-up build. As the front suspension consisted of an obsolete leading link fork (only wartime bikes had telescopic forks), Von Dutch decided to replace the entire front end with that of a Moto Guzzi Falcone. The Moto Guzzi front suspension consisted of an inverted telescopic fork (also called an upside-down fork or USD), which was revolutionary at that time. Von Dutch kept the original Harley-Davidson rear plunger, but added the Moto Guzzi fender for consistancy.

The biggest change, however, was the engine swap. The 740cc boxer was removed in favour of a 1200cc air-cooled Volkswagen flat four. This engine, a Typ 122 likely from a Beetle or Karmann Ghia, produced 34 horsepower (25 kilowatts), a massive increase from the Harley engine. Von Dutch had to lengthen and widen the frame of the bike to accommodate the much larger engine, custom fabricate an engine to transmission adapter, and shorten the driveshaft. It seems the swap went off without a hitch, however, as the results are about as clean as if it had come this way straight from the factory.

The 1200cc Volkswagen Typ 122 sitting happily on the frame of the XA.
The 1200cc Volkswagen Typ 122 sitting happily on the frame of the XA.

Though Von Dutch kept the XA’s wheels, he still had a few more parts to swap out. The tank is from a Honda CB450, and the eighteen inch stainless steel exhaust appears to be from a Triumph TRW. The entire bike was then painted black, and given the Von Dutch treatment of pinstriping. Though the job isn’t as complex as some of his other designs, the cleanliness and attention to detail of the pinstriping is fantastic. He then added a Volkswagen badge, just in case if you couldn’t figure out that this XA wasn’t stock.

The build was completed in 1966, and sometime after that, Von Dutch sold his creation to fellow pinstriping legend Ed “Big Daddy” Ross. It then exchanged hands yet again, this time to custom cycle builder Randy Smith, who did some minor restoration work circa 1970. Sometime after this point, the bike was lost to history- at least, until 2012. It was then that Mike Wolfe of History Channel’s American Pickers got a call from a man in Tennessee saying that he had the bike. Wolfe immediately pounced, purchasing the bike for 21,000 USD. Though that may seem like an expensive price tag, this is the only one ever to exist, and is possibly the most intriguing of Von Dutch’s creations. This bike is priceless; Mike described it as “one of his holy grails.” It was left in its original state, and displayed at the National Motorcycle Museum.

The XAVW on display at the National Motorcycle Museum, next to a Triumph with a custom paint job by Von Dutch.
The XAVW on display at the National Motorcycle Museum, next to a Triumph with a custom paint job by Von Dutch.

Without a doubt, this may be one of the most interesting builds, with a very unique history. Though it’s not very flashy, and not crazy powerful, it still managed to catch my attention when I saw it in person, and I bet it’d do the same to you. Thanks for your time and kind attention; hope you enjoyed. Cheers!

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