Harley Davidson Sportster Powered Ford Model T

Harley Davidson powered 1923 Ford Model T

The combinations are endless, take a motorcycle engine, drop it into a car and off you go, like this 1923 Model T with a Harley Davidson 1200 Sportster engine for power. I'm guessing it has more horsepower than the original engine by a fair margin plus the unmistakable V-twin sound.

The Model T uses the Sportser's original transmission plus an electric reverse. The owner rode the Sportster home and then took it apart for use as a donor. Foot pegs serve as clutch and brake pedals. Harley springs and shocks are used for the rear suspension.

Harley engines, is there anything they can't do? You can power trikes, the occasional Cushman scooter, you can even power airplanes and now a Model T. Maybe the Motor Company has a more flexible engine than some thought. Interesting!

More photos below:

Harley Davidson powered 1923 Ford Model T

Harley Davidson powered 1923 Ford Model T

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See also: Motorcycle powered cars



  1. Dirk says

    Good use for a Sportster mill. No doubt handles better than when in the Sportster chassis!

  2. woot says

    Nice job, but I would have used the VRod mill – since he was keeping the radiator shroud, it would still have been a pretty clean install.

  3. todd says

    Here’s the one case where the Harley Motor has more power than the original. Even though the T-motor has 83 ft-lbs of torque it can only make that amount at 900 rpm as stated, hence the low -20- horse power. If it could spin more RPM it would be more powerful.

    Gotta admire the originality though. I thought the guy I know who puts Kawasaki motors in Crosleys was unique. Now we have someone installing the most common motorcycle engine in the (second most) highest production vehicle around. I guess the only other choice was a Chevy 350.

  4. Ry says

    Have you ever been stuck behind a original stock model T ? The original may have more torque but with only 900 rpm and limited transmission gearing, the top speed is pretty low. I am positive that the sportster motor pushes this thing along quite well . Sweet all American retrofit!

  5. Shaine says

    But only 80hp? Good on gas, crowd catcher at shows… but only 80hp to puch that much tin? The original engine was good for moving this car around on the roads of the day – no Interstate, in fact, no pavement – dirt or wood slat roads. But now with 80hp the builder may have trouble over hills… maybe a slow moving sign on the back for driving the highways.

    That said, kudos to putting something other than a Chev 350.

  6. says

    With the weight of an original Model T being around 1200lbs, the power to weight ratio for this is pretty strong at about 15lbs:1hp. A modern Ford, say a 2 door Focus, has a listed curb weight of 2588 and a HP rating of 140. That works out to 18.27lbs:1hp. The T should do just fine with the XL motor, which is aluminum and lighter than the stock cast iron mill that it replaced as well.

  7. todd says

    The higher your torque is in RPM’s the lower you can gear for the same speed.

    The Sportster runs at 3800 RPM or roughly 4x’s the RPM of the T-motor. This means you can gear the Sporty motor 4x’s lower. That’s 58 ft-lbs times 4 (232 at the wheel) compared to the straight 83 that the T has. Roughly 2.8 times as much torque as the T. Great little car that it is.


  8. Loomis says

    I get your point. But I dissagree with your assertion that a torque peak higher in the RPM range is superior. In a true all out 1/4 mile drag race you are correct. But in the real world of horsing around up and down the main strip on a friday night doing rolling drags from one stop light to the next(let’s call it 1/12th mile rolling start drag races), low RPM torque rules.

    Also, comment 13 has a good point. Even though the sportster powered T will probably out accelerate the stock T, the stock T could most likely handle a steep hill without downshifting or slowing down better than the sportster powered version can. 83 pound feet at 900RPM is a very powerful lugging motor…practically a farm tractor compared to the sportster. If you are not aware, farm tractors are not phased by hills much.

    I wish I had a link, but I can’t find it right now. But I recently read about a hillclimbing race for offroad vehicles. The second place finisher was a custom hummer with a monster of a supercharged motor. The first place finisher was a 1920’s era ford model T with a 1930s vintage model T engine modifed with 1930’s vintage aftermarket engine and tranny upgrades that included an overhead valve conversion kit and aluminum heads if memory serves.

    I kid you not. The six figure state of the art custom built hummer got it’s ass handed to it by a two wheel drive ford model T with a 4cylinder engine with 80 year old modifications and a one barrel carburetor and skinny wagon wheel-like tires.

  9. todd says

    How much did that hummer weigh? Weight is a big problem on hill climbs.

    You have to understand what torque is and what it has to do with power. Going back to a bicycle analogy, a decent bicyclist can crank out 150 ft-lbs of torque. The only problem is that the bike has to be geared very high to get enough road speed since he can pedal all of, let’s say, 60 RPM (1.7hp).

    A motor that puts out 50 ft-lbs of torque at 6000 rpm has exactly the same amount of power as a motor that puts out 100 ft-lbs at 3000 rpm. We call the application of force (torque) over time (RPM) “horsepower”. Horsepower is a very good way to compare the amount of work done by two different power sources. Torque doesn’t tell you much if you don’t know how long it takes to do it.

    Now running around at 3800 is not exactly drag racing, in fact it is best practice for maximum fuel efficiency and engine longevity to keep your engine running at its peak torque output. That’s why there are governors on diesel trucks and generators.

    Don’t underestimate the value of RPM and lower gearing. Why do you think dirt bikes are so extremely fast?


  10. Nolan says

    Dont under-estimate the sportster engine, my 96 S1 Buell(sportster engine) puts down 95 hp at the wheel. The torque is 85 ft/lb flatlined from 2000 rpm to peak hp(at the wheel)

  11. todd says

    To use Nolan’s Buell as an example; if the motor was designed to hold together another 2000 RPM it would make 130 horsepower (from 6k to 8k RPM). You wouldn’t have to shift as often either. If you didn’t care about the extra top speed the 8000 RPM would give you, you could lower the gearing 30% for the same original top speed and shifting intervals. Get this, now you would have 30% more torque available at the rear wheel at any RPM.

    Do you see why people are in search of every last bit of RPMs?


  12. Loomis says

    the problem with most High RPM engines is they have crappy torque and horspower curves. Peak values are useless. It’s the area under the curve in the useable range that counts. Since people with peaky engines don’t drive around all day with the engines running way up there in the RPM range, I would suggest to you that those figures way up there in the RPM range are not very useful in the real world.

    I’ll stick to pushrods and plenty of grunt just off idle. There’s no replacement for displacement(in general). In your example of a 50lb-ft vs a 100lb-ft motor, I’ll take the low end grunt anyday. In fact, I’ll gladly sacrifice a little bit of peak power to keep impressive torqe curves(which I define as area under the curve of the most used RPM range).

    My harley superglide will accelerate uphill in top gear with a passenger from 1400RPM. A rice rocket can’t do that. I realize this is a silly thing to brag about from a sportbike enthusiast’s perspective. But it illustrates a very important weakness of high RPM motors and their poor real world utility, in my opinion.

  13. todd says

    I’ve shown before that “high RPM” (four cylinders?) engines actually have more torque at any given RPM than a two-valve twin of equal displacement. There’s a common misconception that multi cylinder engines have less torque than the somehow magic V-twin when the opposite is true. I guess it’s because so many people compare the largest 1500cc twins with the smallest 600cc fours.

    What is a “rice rocket”? Have you ever tried your uphill test on a “rice rocket”? It would probably surprise you. Besides, I don’t understand this fascination with running an engine as slow as possible in the highest gear possible. Don’t you realize even on a superglide if you shifted down a gear the bike would accelerate harder? That’s the benefit of lower gearing and higher RPM. Besides your motor will live longer if you stop lugging it down like that.

    The topic is about comparing a very old, low compression flat head economy car motor with a new high compression, (comparably) higher revving motor modified for more power. Too bad the person who built the car won’t step in and prove how much harder it now runs at all RPMs.


  14. Loomis says

    A rice rocket is a japanese crotch rocket. I think you are intentionally missunderstanding me. You know as well as I do that no one goes around accelerating up hill from 1400RPMs. You also know as well as I do that no japanese 4 cylinder crotch rocket can come close to accelerating from 1400RPM up a hill.

    Why would anyone limit a vtwin to 600cc? The whole point of a Vtwin is to pump up the displacement as high as can possibly be crammed into the frame in a practical way. This is why overhead cams and wet sumps are counterproductive in a Vtwin motor design. Those features waste valuable space that could otherwise be used for more displacement.

    Displacement limits are a silly invention of racers. There’s no reason to impose those rules on a street machine. Once you free yourself from that mentality, you can begin to understand the wisdom of eschewing the wasteful expense and complexity of multivalve heads and overhead cams in favor of more cubic inches.

    And yes. I’ve ridden a rice rocket. The motors suck below 6000RPM.

    The topic is about harley engines and how great they are…

    “Harley engines, is there anything they can’t do? You can power trikes, the occasional Cushman scooter, you can even power airplanes and now a Model T. Maybe the Motor Company has a more flexible engine than some thought. Interesting!”

  15. todd says

    I’m not suggesting a limit on engine capacity. I’m merely suggesting you are limiting “rice rockets” to 600cc inline 4’s. Any 600cc twin or four would not have much much power below 6000 rpm.

    Engine capacity has not proven to be the best source of power. A 1200 or 1400cc motor that is allowed to rev has proven to be at least three times as powerful as a 6000 RPM 1500cc motor and still have more torque at all RPMs while running for tens or hundreds of thousand miles. Some types of motors are just more efficient at making power and that’s why manuafacturers bother with all that complicated stuff up in the head.

    Don’t get me wrong. I ride a push-rod, air cooled twin myself, in fact I own two and a half of them. Out of the eight (and a half) bikes I own not one has more than two cylinders. BUT I don’t kid myself, none of them can even match the power and acceleration of the current crop of inline fours. I know, I’ve tried. However, I don’t ride motorcycles for their power.

    I like Harley engines for what they are; they’re simple, they sound good, plenty of aftermarket support, get decent gas mileage, and are versitile as you say. The Motor Company -though I don’t always like what they do or how they do it- is a very smart and successful brand.

    There’s just more powerful engines available, that’s all.


  16. todd says

    Good point Loomis. I wonder what is keeping the manufacturers from just going all out with a huge motor (except for Triumph – but why stop at 2300?) if power is the ultimate goal. I guess then without incrimental changes they wouldn’t have something more powerful to sell next year.


  17. Randy says

    This thread just begs to be added to!! Any of you rocket scientists ever crank open a simple, nicely tuned, meager stage one 1200 sportster??? Doesn’t sound like it at all to me…. Remember, in theory, bumble bees are not supposed to fly according to the slide rule guys… but of course they do.. Speaking from seat of the pants experience and having done the ton77 on my no longer owned GSXR750 replaced with an XL1200, I have something to compare your comments to…. The sporty pulls mid range and into easy lower tripple digits without hesitation nor complaint, uphill and at 5000 ft altitude even!!! It won’t walk the GSXR but I’ll bet smart money the sporty eng. T will make short work of the 900 rpm snail motor for common driving comparisons.. 30K+ on my original 03 eng. (gets the ton 10+ nearly every ride ), stage 1 with bub rinehart exhaust, no knocks, no problems no bowing down to the ‘bigger bike’..ha…and frequently leaving rookie rice rocket boys behind in the twisties.. Put away the calculators, set up your engine right and go ride it… The question now is will the highway patrol beat you less times with his night stick for catching you doing 120mph on your sporty vs. when catching you do 150+ on your rice burner??? So far I have been lucky to find out neither….

  18. Shane says

    The hotrod spirit is alive and well in this car! You put two great things together and it rocks! I wonder if a Sporty motor could work in a 1978 Chrysler Imp 21′ runabout? I may have to see! Keep on buidling what you love and drive it like you stole it!

  19. KC says

    My uncle is the current owner of this Harley T……you can send me your contact info and I’ll forward it to him….just dont want to throw out that info without his O.K.

    And for everyone’s info…..he says it tops out at about 80mph.

  20. FiFtySixer says

    Are there any lit cars out there right now that are made to accept a Sportster motor?

    If so can anyone direct me to them?

    Best regards,


  21. FiFtySixer says

    Does anyone make a kit car that accepts a Sportster motor?

    Please provide a linki or e’mail me directly

    Best regards,