When the 1979 Sportster came out very early in '78, I like many tradition Harley fans hated it. It's new frame may have done things better, but it was a lousy platform for a custom. The first thing that struck many was the triangle section under the seat making it now look like every other (mostly from Japan), motorcycle . The seat was too flat across it's top, and then there was those pipes! Sure almost everyone replaced pipes on a new Harley, but this one proved difficult due to the location of the rear brake reservoir. Soon custom catalogs advertising pipes had the now famous disclaimer, fits all years except '79.
Perhaps ugly ages more gracefully with time... or maybe it's just the slick studio photography? Later, I sort of liked this look. Even the weird pipes kind of grew on me. This two page center spread ad is from the May 1978 Street Chopper.
The brake reservoir location, pipes, and this style of battery/oil tank cover only lasted a year. It seemed like each following year, Harley would slightly modify the Sportster to try and make it once again more appealing to the traditional Harley buyer.
The once unpopular 1977-'78 XLCR. Harley recycles everything. If I'm not mistaken, the fiberglass front fender is the same one that was advertised in the parts and accessories catalogs many years before this model was offered.
As time passed and XLCR's became collectible (nobody liked them at first either), I thought these later Ironheads would be good raw material for XLCR type bikes. One big plus, you could do them up anyway you wanted without messing up a collectors item. (My personal idea/concept was always to be more like a XR750 with no fairing and traditional spoke wheels). I wasn't the only one. A few years ago at El Camino, I saw XLCR clones made from '79 and later XL's.
This bike (from last week's Long Beach Swap), prompted this post and is fairly close to my vision of what a cool street tracker would look like. It turned out to built by the guy that does the CR clones and was done up from some of his parts wheeling and dealing. It would be really cool to use a pre-cone motor with magneto in one of these frames for an even more authentic look.
Maybe Harley is smarter than we think. It's history seems to be littered with models that were not first liked or didn't sell well, that later become very sought out. 1971 Boat tails and 1983 XR's come to mind.
The story of the first FXR's is pretty similar, and I didn't like them at first too.