Rum Runner: The Harley-Davidson V Series

Used to deliver booze during the Prohibition era, this Harley-Davidson V Series with sidecar rig is a well-worn survivor.

| September/October 2012

  • Model V Left Side Cover
    Bill Smith bought this Harley-Davidson Model V and sidecar in 1932 and started smuggling rum to earn a few extra dollars.

  • Model V Left Side Cover

1932 Harley-Davidson Model V
Claimed power:
28hp @ 4,000rpm
Top speed: 80mph, 60mph w/sidecar
Engine: 74.24ci (1,216cc) air-cooled flathead 45-degree V-twin, 87.3mm x 101.6mm bore and stroke, 4:1 compression ratio
Weight (dry): 529lb (240kg) solo/704lb (320kg) w/sidecar
Fuel capacity: 5.6gal (21.3ltr)

Used to deliver illicit booze during the Prohibition era, this Big Twin Harley sidecar rig is a well-worn survivor.

Back in the day, Harley-Davidson wasn’t shy about promoting its then-new V-Series 74ci Big Twin flathead. “Brilliant in design and engineering, brilliant in colors and chrome plating, brilliant in speed and performance — the new Big Twin is setting a new and faster pace in motorcycle history ... speed that fairly takes your breath away, lightning-like acceleration, amazing ease of handling and the riding comfort of an armchair!”

And then there was the sidecar: “The safest, the most convenient and easiest riding sidecar outfit on the market!” A Big Twin combination sounded just the job for transporting cargo quickly and discretely across the state of Pennsylvania — especially in the Prohibition era if your cargo was bottles of booze!

Thanks to the infamous Volstead Act, on Oct. 28, 1919, the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcoholic drinks in the U.S. were banned. But that didn’t stop people from getting their favorite tipple. Rum was smuggled from the Bahamas to Florida, while Canadian whiskey and English gin was loaded onto fast ships and brought in through the Northeast. Racketeers and gangsters flourished, and not only because there was easy money to be made, but because Prohibition wasn’t popular with everyone. While mobsters like Al Capone and Bugs Moran were the big players, an army of small-time bootleggers delivered bottles to small drinking dens and private houses around the country. And that’s how this Harley outfit became known as the Rum Runner. MC 

Find more information on the Harley-Davison V Series in 1934 Harley-Davidson VLD.

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