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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.

| March/April 2019


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.

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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