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One for the Road: Obsessed

By Shadow

Much as I was tempted to ride my 1982 FXRS, Foxy Lady, to Sturgis, I left only three days after I acquired her. So, I adhered to the adage, “Discretion is the better part of valor,” and left her with my friend and fellow AMCA Colonial Chapter member Rob Nussbaum at Retrocycle. Rob promised that he’d have his tech Ryan go over the bike to identify any problem areas and insure its overall roadworthiness.

My fuel gauge didn’t work, so parts maven Jay found a NOS fuel sending unit which Ryan installed in my absence. After I got back from Sturgis, I showed up at the shop with the factory service manual, parts catalog, and owner’s manual that I’d ordered, and Rob and I got to work.

I’d been keeping a running list of improvements that 1982–1984 FXRS owners recommended, but we’d decided to stick to the basics and do just what was necessary. I’d decided that for now, I’d like to keep her as original as possible, although I figured I’d address the worn front motor mount before vibrations became excessive. It’s amazing how much easier it is to work on bikes from this era; there are no fancy covers or electronic gizmos to contend with.

Within the space of two visits to Retrocycle, we swapped the Sportster bars currently on the FXRS with the original buckhorns that came with the bike. We relocated the rear turn signals so I could use the throw-over bags I picked up cheap at a swap meet. I asked Ryan to help me figure out why the gas gauge display still wouldn’t budge from 1/8 full. From suggestions by members of the FXR and Shovelhead forums, I had ideas on what we could try. Fortunately, the easiest, quickest fix seems to have done the trick. When the tank is full, the gauge now displays just above ¾, which I’m told is probably the best result I’ll get. After all, it’s the first Harley that ever had a fuel gauge.

We pulled the struts and installed the original sissy bar and backrest that also came with the bike. We installed front turn signals so that the rear turn signals would work (they’re all on the same circuit). That’s when I learned turn signals on older bikes don’t stay on when you hit the switch! I have to hold my thumb on the switch for the entire time I want the signal to flash. And they’re single filament so they don’t act as running lights, either. I’ve already gone back to using hand signals.

Our first public outing, my Foxy Lady and me, was the annual AMCA Bear Mountain Chapter’s swap meet. I was stunned at the amount of attention she received. I figured, not having the sought-after motif of the FLs from the Flathead through Panhead eras, that she was a sleeper and would just slide under the radar. Well, it seems that most antique aficionados can recognize unusual bikes quickly, especially if they’ve been fairly unmolested over the years.

Near the end of the day, a guy drove by on his way out, looked at the FXRS, and said, “Hey! That’s my bike!” I asked if he had one just like it, and he said, “No, that’s really my bike! I sold it to the guy you bought it from!”

That was an exciting moment. In the few months that I’d owned her, I’d started becoming obsessed with finding out more about her provenance, and here was the guy who’d purchased her from the original owner. We must have spent an hour together, me peppering him, rapid-fire, with every question I could think of, and he patiently answering to the best of his recollection.

Next weekend was the Indian Larry Grease Monkey Block Party, so I rode her to Brooklyn and this time, I didn’t have to park blocks away. I wheeled her right in front of the shop where she took her place with the other bikes in the ride-in show. Again, she garnered a boatload of interest, and later in the day, to my great surprise, she was awarded Best Vintage.

To me, she’s a special bike-the first FXR Harley made, the last years of the Shovelhead (the Shovels were only available in an FXR frame for 2 ½ years), and significantly, the fender-badged commemorative model for 1982 which was the first model year after those 13 Harley-Davidson executives bought back the company from AMF. The judges recognized all that history, and acknowledged the fact that she was mostly stock and in great condition for a 35-year-old machine. I still feel a little sheepish about winning that prize; after all, I didn’t build her. But it was she that won the trophy, not me.

My obsession with her history deepened, and I began my search for Harley-Davidson literature from that era. Retrocycle had a few catalogs from the early ’80s and I ordered the rest online. These weren’t the inch-thick, nearly thousand-page Parts & Accessories catalogs, rather, 20- to 40-page Fashions & Accessories for Motorcyclists catalogs that came out every spring and fall.

Then I got a message from my friend, fellow moto journalist Steve Lita, asking for my mailing address. A few weeks later, I received in the mail two H-D Enthusiast magazines, and the sales brochure for the 1982 FX line! The Summer 1982 Enthusiast centerfold ad stated, “Introducing the revolutionary FXRS. Maybe this time nothing will get lost in the translation.” And the entire ad was printed in both English and Japanese. Fascinating. This was the year before the tariff was placed on all imported Japanese motorcycles, curtailing the threat to our American-made Harley-Davidson brand. The Winter 1982 Enthusiast included a riding review of the FXRS, of which I eagerly devoured every word. Turns out that Steve had picked them up at an estate auction; the owner must have worked at a Harley dealership because tons of literature was found on the property.

Next in my hunt is tracking down the long-retired dealer that first sold the bike, as well as the original owner. Anyone know a guy named Rudy from Rockville Centre, Long Island, New York, that’s been tooling around on a black-and-red 1982 FXRS for the past 35 years?

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