1974 Harley-Davidson Sportster: "Then Came Bronson" Motorcycle

"Then Came Bronson" custom Sportster


| September/October 2010



bronson 1

Don “Donson” Collins’ 1974 Harley-Davidson Sportster faithfully recreates the bike used on the show Then Came Bronson, right down to the groovy “All Seeing Eye” on the tank.

Photos by Daniel Peirce

1969 Harley-Davidson XLH Sportster
The original Bronson Bikes were modified 1969 XLH Sportsters. They were not radical customs and used standard engine components, but had a number of visual changes including: 21-inch alloy front wheel with ribbed tire • “Peanut” gas tank from the XLCH model • Special handlebars • Bobbed and chromed front fender • Bobbed rear fender • Slim custom seat • Chrome chain guard, voltage regulator and oil tank • British aftermarket tail light • Earlier small air cleaner • Chrome Bates headlight • Schwinn bicycle sissy bar • Special Bronson Red paint • “All Seeing Eye” tank logos
Engine: 900cc OHV air-cooled 45-degree V-twin, 76.2mm x 96.8mm bore and stroke, 9:1 compression ratio, 50hp @ 6,300rpm
Top speed: 122mph (period test)
Carburetion: Single Model HD Tillotson
Transmission: 4-speed, right foot shift, chain final drive
Electrics: 12v, magneto and breaker points
Frame/wheelbase: Dual-downtube steel cradle/ 57in (1,448mm)
Suspension: Telescopic forks front, twin shock absorbers with adjustable preload rear
Brakes: 8in (203mm) SLS drum front, 8in (203mm) SLS drum rear
Tires: 3.5 x 19in front, 4 x 18in rear
Weight (wet): 452lbs (205kg)
Seat height: 30.5in (775mm)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 2.2gal (8.3ltr)/40-50mpg (est.)
Price then/now: $1,850 (est.)/$5,000-$11,000

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll never forget Then Came Bronson, a short-lived TV show chronicling the adventures of Jim Bronson, a disillusioned but likeable young newspaper reporter out on a voyage of personal discovery.

Propelling Bronson from one episode to the next was his Harley-Davidson Sportster, transporting him through a kaleidoscope of fascinating characters and situations that both challenged and strengthened his gentle spirit.

Taken at face value, the travails of a social dropout played by a largely unknown actor riding around on a not-especially-good custom sportster doing improbable things doesn’t seem like much of a storyline.

But American society was undergoing tumultuous change, fueled by angst of a raging war, race riots, political assassinations, hippies and corporate cultures sucking the life out of ourselves or our parents. Craziness was all around. The time was ripe for a hero.

Had the show aired a few years earlier, Bronson might have lived in the Old West. But this lonesome cowboy rode a motorcycle that caught the eye and spirit of a generation raised on Westerns but more interested in bikes. That was part of the appeal, although Then Came Bronson was not really about motorcycles, or even riding them. Rather it was about freedom, adventure, the call of the Long, Lonesome Highway and being true to one’s self.

frank spero
10/27/2011 10:22:45 AM

great show i have the cd set and remember seeing it on tv that was a beautiful sportster just like mine at the time except i had a solo seat and pillon pad also took off those heavey baloon mufflers and put on the staggered duals wha a difference i loved that bike had alot of great rides on her


richard backus
9/9/2010 8:50:37 AM

Good eye, Jeff. That was an error (now corrected) inadvertently inserted by our web editor. The bike used in the show was of course not a 1974. The tribute bike is a 1974, but the machine(s) used in the actual show were 1969 H-D XLH Sportsters. Thanks for catching that. Richard Backus Motorcycle Classics


jeff_3
9/8/2010 8:41:07 PM

page 4 is far to late to say ..they were actually 69's .. why a 74' is mention idk. i love my 1974 1000 ironhead / rightside shift


jeff_3
9/8/2010 8:15:41 PM

how could the show air 1969 to 1970 and have a 1974 bike in it. you do the math.


bill w.
8/15/2010 7:54:26 AM

I bought a brand new 1975 Sportster because of the TV show Then Came Bronson. Last year, in honor of the 40th Anniversary of the show, I rebuilt it into the famous Bronson Bike and joined other Bronson Bike owners in touring the country and reliving some of the best times of our lives, and that would be when we started riding motorcycles. My old motorcycle has now had the honor of being in featured in a large a motorcycle show, on exhibit at Sturgis in 2009 and on display at the Harley Davidson Museum's 1st Anniversary. It has been professionally photographed by a famous photographer and even won "Best in Show" at a large Motorcycle Swap Meet. Who would have thought...a year before it was just an old, dirty motorcycle that I've ridden on and off for 35 years, and I plan to ride it for another 35 years. A big thanks out to everyone and to Then Came Bronson. "Hang in there", Bill W.






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