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Discussion Starter #1
I am trying to find information on the 1979 XLH 1000 sportster. I am trying to find out about the pros and cons of the bike and rider reviews. Any help would be appreciated.
 

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I absolutely love old Harley's, and my daily driver is a 1979 Shovelhead FLH-80. But the Sportster is a whole different animal. I've had a couple of Ironheads and an Evolution Sporty over the years- my very first bike was a 1969 Ironhead.

Pros- They are available cheap. A nice 1000cc Ironhead Sportster can be purchased for as little as $2500-3000, and an absolutely perfect one for $4000-5000. Parts are easy to find. The number of accessories available for them is staggering. There are plenty of aftermarket performance parts on the market. They are the perfect start for a low-budget bobber or chopper. There is no cheaper way to become a Harley owner than an Ironhead Sportster. Sportsters can be a blast to ride, at least for short rides, as they are quicker and have more lean angle than the big twins.

Cons- Ironhead Sportsters were not the best bikes, maybe a 6 on a scale of 1-10, even when new. 1979s were below average because AMF had pushed hard to increase production at the cost of quality. They are not comfortable for long trips. The 4-speed transmissions are clunky, and you will have to rebuild the top end of the motor about every 25,000-35,000 miles. It'll shake your teeth out. As a nearly 30-year old bike, it will most likely not be real reliable. Performance and reliability are well below the Evolution Sportsters.

Overall, if you are looking for something to tinker with, and you can get it cheap, it can be a fun bike to ride and wrench on. If you are looking for reliable transportation or something to ride long distance, it is probably not a good choice- get a 5-speed Evolution Sportster.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thanks for the information. The reason I asked is because I might be trading my nova for one that seems to be in good condition. Anything else you could give me on that specific model year of the XHL 1000 sportster would be nice. Here are some pictures:




 

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It looks to be in pretty good shape. There are an awfull lot of non-original parts on there: tank, rear fender, front fender, seat, sissy bar, pipes, gas caps, exhaust, speedo, tach, indicator lights, oil cooler, air cleaner, and some non-original wiring. But it looks clean, and the paint looks good. The aftermarket tank will help extend the range of the bike, and those aftermarket forward pegs will help on the highway. I like the looks of this one. Does it leak much oil? Don't let him tell you that it doesn't- They ALL do- they were designed in the pre-EPA days to NOT be oil tight, both the releave crank case pressure and to drip oil onto the drive chain to keep it lubed up. How does it run?

There was not much to differentiate the 1979s from another year- they were your basic 1000cc 4-speed Ironhead Sporty. There were no really huge changes for that year, other than the rear brake master cylinder being relocated and the kick start becoming an option rather than standard. They were available in 9 colors. AMF/ Harley built 6,525 XLH Sportsters that year, and another 5,123 XLS Sportsters, plus 151 XLCH Sportsters and 9 XLCRs.
If you do a Google search for "Ironhead Sportters" you'll find a few websites and owners clubs.

If you get it, you might want to consider tossing the carb in the trash and putting on a modern CV carb, for quicker starts, faster warm up, and increase reliability.
 

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I didn't say they were weak- it is very, very hard to blow one up. But the top ends wear out in 25K-30K or so, depending on how you treat the bike and what type of driving you do. They start smoking and blowing oil, and you will loose compression- valve guide seals (if equipped with them, as Ironheads can do without if the guides have good tolerances) go first, which will then accelerate wear on the guides themselves and then the valves. This sucks oil into the combustion chamber, causing oil burning. In addition to a nice trail of smoke, you will get crud building up on the valves and pistons, and the motor will knock and ping like all get out under load from the lost compression and overheating. This in turn will destroy the pistons and/ or burn the valves if you push it. You will also get oil weeping from the rocker boxes with time, as the gaskets just aren't that great of a design.
So every 30K miles or so, or every few year no matter how few miles are on it, you need to pull the rocker boxes off and replace the valve guides and/ or seals, and the top end gaskets. A good visual inspection will determine if the valve stems are scored or worn, or if you can just clean them up. The valve seats also become suspect, so they need to be inspected also.

Why do they wear out like this? That's just the nature of the beast. The Evolution motor was designed in the 80s to last 100,000 miles. The Twin Cam was designed in the late 90s for more like 150-200,000 miles. But the Ironhead motor dates to 1957, with a switch to an alternator from a generator in the late 60s and a bump from 900ccs to 1000ccs in 1972. Back in the 50s when it was designed 25,000 miles was a LOT for a motorcycle. So what was considered normal back then seems like an awful short life span now. It's like cars- in the 1970s 100,000 miles was considered to be tremendously high mileage for a car. Now, the warranty lasts that long, and it is not unusual to see 200-250,000 miles on a car.
So if you like to tinker and won't ride it a whole lot, an Ironhead is a good choice. But if you ride 2000+ miles a month, an Ironhead is probably a poor choice.
 

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If you like fiddlin' buy it! A great bike to learn the ropes with. The '79 had a different frame. This one has the cast wheels and good disc brakes. I love my '73. I'll bring a pic to post of mine tomorrow. Ride and enjoy. But be ready to do something after each ride. All of the 'ironheads' are operating on 1957 designs. I ride pretty hard so 25,000 miles on a set of pistons and rings is pretty good. The valve seats on mine were burned up from unleaded gas when I got it. But the parts for a new top end with me doing the work are as follows: Pistons,wiseco .040 over 10:1 comp. $76, Bore job with ceramic coating on piston tops $50, Heads rebuilt by Bethel Machine (new seats, valves, guides, and springs) $203, complete james gasket set $27. If you like the garage buy it. You will get intimate with its workings if you keep it.
 

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If it's worth $3,000, your Nova must be a piece of....well, a work in process! :mrgreen: What year Nova and what condition. Most 60's and EARLY 70's Novas here go for twice that if in decent condition.
 

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DrBob clearly has far more experience with Ironheads than me, but they’re still my sentimental favorite... that one looks like it’s had a lot of TLC at one time, brake upgrades and the like... but Ironheads are generally great bikes as long as you’re entertained by occasional shade-tree mechanicing... rode an earlier 900 Ironhead CH (with KH flywheels) for a few years off and on... leaked, rattled and snorted, but never left me stranded anywhere... except for the fact I’m trying to pare down my toy inventory, I’d probably have one now... some scoots just have more character than others, and unlike some HD riders, I’ve always thought the XL series had a lot to recommend it – in many ways better than equivalent year big-twins...
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Well to update this thread I bought a nighthawk 700s instead and sold the nova. The nova was in alright shape, but since it is a 4 door it is not really desired.
 

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PhotoJoe said:
If it's worth $3,000, your Nova must be a piece of....well, a work in process! :mrgreen: What year Nova and what condition. Most 60's and EARLY 70's Novas here go for twice that if in decent condition.

I can buy a pristine 1973 2 door nova with a 350 in it tomorrow for $5000. Guy that I know back home in WV is selling his. He's cherished and cared for that car better than anybody I've ever known.

If I had the $5K lying around, it'd be in my garage.
 

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Btw, brother had a 1978 XLH 1000 with the shift on the right and rear brake on the right. He paid ~$3000 for it...and sold it 2 or 3 years later for ~$3000.

I rode it once on a visit...had to be the hardest bike to kickstart I've ever been around. Thing would break your leg if you did it wrong. :)
 

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1979 xls cam gears

hello, i need to know how to set the cam gears in my 1979 xls sportster. upon pulling the cover off to change the leaking gasket, one of the gears fell out. knowing that timing must be exact, I stopped right there until i could get more info. after talking to a mechanic, I placed the engine at top dead center and should be ready to put the gears in but i am worried the i will do it wrong and bend the valves. so any good advice that some one could tell me, i will listen.
 

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The '79 Sportster is the MOST spastic model year Sportster anyone can own. A parts nightmare! There are parts on that bike that are only found on that year and that year alone. It actually becomes a point of pride to '79 owners. '79s are the FAME bikes (Fits All Models Except '79).
 

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hello, i need to know how to set the cam gears in my 1979 xls sportster. upon pulling the cover off to change the leaking gasket, one of the gears fell out. knowing that timing must be exact, I stopped right there until i could get more info. after talking to a mechanic, I placed the engine at top dead center and should be ready to put the gears in but i am worried the i will do it wrong and bend the valves. so any good advice that some one could tell me, i will listen.
Get the factory service manual. All your cams should have index marks on them and the manual will spell out the proper sequence and procedure step by step. I have an '83 and it was pretty straight forward, but knowing what I know about '79s I won't take a leap of faith and say your bike is set up the same way as mine. Get the book first!

pitzz
 

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79 "Bastard Sportster"

Hi, I am new to the site and new to Harleys in general although I've always been an admirer. I am not new to classic bikes and the joys and nightmares that come with ownership. I currently have a "78" Triumph Bonneville 750. I am thinking about buying a "79" Sportster but from what I've read this is called the "Bastard Sportster". I don't have any $$ to buy a newer model thanks to "Bonnie". I like the old stuff anyway and don't really do alot of miles each year. So I think I might buy the "Bastard" since it's from the same era as the Triumph. I sat on a 89 1200 "sporty" and the thing seemed really small. What is the frame difference on the "79"? Any help or feed back is much appreciated.
Thanks, DHHD
 

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I guess I forgot to mention that I have only seen pics of the bike bike and haven't driven the two hours yet to sit on it or ride it.
 
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