Hell-Raiser: 1956 Harley-Davidson KHK

Any K-model Harley is rare, but the Harley-Davidson KHK is the rarest of the rare, with just 1,163 built in two years.


1956 Harley-Davidson KHK
Engine: 54.2ci (883cc) air-cooled sidevalve 45-degree V-twin, 2.75in x 4.56in (70mm x 116mm) bore and stroke, 8:1 compression ratio, 52hp @ 5,500rpm (claimed)
Top speed: 105mph (est.)
Carburetion: Single Linkert M-53A1
Transmission: 4-speed, chain final drive
Electrics: 6v, coil and breaker points ignition
Frame/wheelbase: Dual downtube cradle frame/56.5in (1,435mm)
Suspension: Telescopic fork front, dual shocks w/adjustable preload rear
Brakes: 8in (203.2mm) SLS drum front and rear
Tires: 3.5 x 18in front and rear
Weight (dry): 440lb (200kg)
Seat height: 32in (813mm)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 4.5gal (17ltr)/40-45mpg (est.)
Price then/now: $1,003/$6,000-$18,000

Harley-Davidson’s KHK 883cc V-twin is very much a child of the 1950s – but not the 1950s of Grade A milk, manicured lawns and Doris Day.

We might like to think of the era as squeaky clean, but there was another side to the 1950s and it included illegal drag racing, Chicago blues clubs, rock ’n’ rollers like Eddie Cochran and the young Elvis Presley, and the street gangs immortalized in West Side Story. The KHK was a good match for the rebels and misfits of the conformist 1950s. Loud and fast, and just the sort of thing the Leader of the Pack would want to ride.


Elvis actually bought a KH, the lower horsepower version of the KHK, in 1956, and was photographed riding it for the cover of The Enthusiast, Harley-Davidson’s in-house magazine for its riders. Elvis had just had his first major hit, Heartbreak Hotel, and later that year, he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, the camera only showing him from the waist up, since the Whole Elvis was too sexy for TV. Just like the KHK.

8/16/2020 2:22:11 PM

The story of Elvis and the KH along with other 50's Harley's has a much more interesting story than people know. After WW2 an ex Marine ran the service department at Memphis HD, in the early 50's a poor high school kid would push a worn out old 2 stroke Harley up to the service department there and beg the mechanics to help him get it running, it was always breaking down and the ex Marine that ran the service department felt bad for this impoverished kid so they'd help him out and fix it for free. One day in the service department a song came on the radio and one of the mechanics told the service manager "You're never gonna believe who's singing that song on the radio, it's that kid named Elvis that kept pushing that junk 2 stroke up here to have us fix it." The ex Marine service manager was Jerry Branch, yes that Jerry Branch, who would later move to California and start the legendary Branch Flowmetrics, after Elvis became famous and before Branch moved to California while he still ran the service department at Memphis HD Elvis had remembered what Jerry had done for him when he was just a poor kid and would pay him to deliver new Harley's to his home and instruct him on riding them including the very KR in these pictures, he'd also pay him to deliver the Harley's he'd buy for members of the "Memphis Mafia" and have Jerry give them riding lessons. It's said that without the money Elvis paid him to do this he'd never have had the cash to move to California and start Branch Flowmetrics.

2/14/2019 2:14:41 PM

Hi I had an Ariel Square 4 997 cc 60.8 cubic inches 42bhp @ 5800 rpm with 435 lbs dry weight ( Mine I believe was listed at 420 lb.) which meant 1 hp for every 10 lbs . It would from a dead start hit 54 mph in 1st gear and under 100 ft Googled yours and specs are different Model: Harley-Davidson Model KHK Year: 1956 Displacement: 833.00 ccm (50.83 cubic inches) Engine type: V2, four-stroke Engine details: Flathead 45 degree engine. Mirror polished ports and cylinder heads. Power: 38.00 HP (27.7 kW)) 52hp @ 5,500rpm (claimed) a difference of 14HP.

2/14/2019 7:06:45 AM

One horsepower per cubic inch from a flathead? For the street? Wow, that exceeds anything I had heard of.

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