1959 Harley-Davidson Sportster XLH

A Harley restoration is one man's cure for the blues

| November/December 2006

  • 1959 harley-davidson sportster xlh 1
    As one of only 947, Rick Schaefer's immaculately restored 1959 Harley-Davidson Sportster XLH is a rare bird.
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • 1959 harley-davidson sportster xlh 2
    As one of only 947 built in 1959, Rick Schaefer's immaculately restored 1959 Harley-Davidson Sportster XLH is a rare bird.
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • 1959 harley-davidson sportster xlh 3
    Rick Schaefer's immaculately restored 1959 Harley-Davidson Sportster XLH.
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • 1959 harley-davidson sportster xlh 4
    When Rick Schaefer bought the his 1959 Harley-Davidson Sportster XLH, it was suffering from the typical ravages of time, neglect and owner modifications.
  • 1959 harley-davidson sportster xlh 5
    Detail shots show just how far this 1959 Harley-Davidson Sportster XLH has come since Rick and “Harley” John Cunningham gave it a new lease on life. It’s about as perfect as you’ll find.
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • 1959 harley-davidson sportster xlh 6
    Rick Schaefer's immaculately restored 1959 Harley-Davidson Sportster XLH.
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • 1959 harley-davidson sportster xlh 7
    Rick Schaefer's immaculately restored 1959 Harley-Davidson Sportster XLH.
    Photo by Richard Backus
  • 1959 harley-davidson sportster xlh 8
    Rick Schaefer's immaculately restored 1959 Harley-Davidson Sportster XLH

  • 1959 harley-davidson sportster xlh 1
  • 1959 harley-davidson sportster xlh 2
  • 1959 harley-davidson sportster xlh 3
  • 1959 harley-davidson sportster xlh 4
  • 1959 harley-davidson sportster xlh 5
  • 1959 harley-davidson sportster xlh 6
  • 1959 harley-davidson sportster xlh 7
  • 1959 harley-davidson sportster xlh 8

1959 Harley-Davidson Sportster XLH
Years produced:
1957-current
Total production: 947 (1959)
Claimed power: 40hp @ 5,500rpm
Top speed: 115mph
Engine type: 883cc (53.9ci) overhead valve, air-cooled 45-degree V-twin
Weight (dry): 225kg (495lb)
Price then: $1,200
Price now: $6,600-$11,000
MPG: 40-50

“I was never into Harleys,” says Rick Schaefer. “But one day I saw a bike in a friend’s barn, and he asked me if I wanted it. I felt I needed a restoration project to keep busy, so I bought it.”

Rick didn’t know it at the time, but what he had bought was a 1959 Harley-Davidson Sportster XLH, one of 947 made. His need for the project was driven by personal loss: His brother had died of cancer, and then six months later his father died. “I went through the whole winter depressed,” Rick says. He soon found the cure to be a classic Harley restoration.

Taking stock in the Sportster XLH, Rick found a lot of the stock parts were missing. The seat tabs had been cut off the frame — minor damage for a classic Harley-Davidson motorcycle of this vintage, as many bikes that went through the chopper era of the Sixties and Seventies have frames that are altered beyond repair — but the engine was original, even if the forks were not. It was a better than the average barn find, and a classic American motorcycle well worth restoring. Even so, Rick knew restoring the bike would be a challenge, and he knew he’d need help.



There are a lot of people out there who work on classic Harley-Davidson motorcycles — frame men, magneto experts and sheet metal artists, wizards who can do wonders with even the saddest lump of rust. The trick is in finding them, because people who know what they are doing — like “Harley” John Cunningham — don’t advertise much. Most of them have all the work they can handle.

“I went to the local dealer for help. He didn’t know anything about old Sportsters, but directed me to Harley John Cunningham, a former Harley-Davidson dealer. I looked up Harley John and showed him the Sportster. ‘I’ll help you,’ he said.” The rest, as they say, is history.

John Fiorin
8/12/2011 12:14:12 PM

I just picked up a 199 XLCH basket case. Frame altered to fit the stroker plates under the cyclinder. Only the frame and motor look original. everything else is aftermarket junk. I would like to restore it since I have been looking for about 15 years for a '59 XLCH(the year I was born)I would like to find a primary cover and front end first. I know it's a long road, but I have to start somewhere. Any idea's on sourcing parts? Thanks


John Fiorin
8/12/2011 11:28:31 AM

"NEW 1959" XLCH Sporster barn find. Powder coated (BLAH) green. Stroker plates, no wheels, tank, front end! Need help now!


steve manry_2
9/27/2009 10:50:11 PM

I think i left out the 60 after my last name on my email address it is samanry60@yhoo.com




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