1976 HARLEY DAVIDSON IRONHEAD SPORTSTER REBUILD
“Good things come to those who wait”, or in this case believe that someone is out there that will share dreams and inspire one another to become the best version of themselves possible and in this case it’s better than hoped. Two years ago I met my wife Connie, after a year of being together I knew it was time to marry this woman! Encouraging me to live my dreams and believing that it’s possible to accomplish them are two of her many great qualities. One of my many dreams was to be able to have a shop of my own. I knew welding and fabrication would play a huge part in whatever it was going to be, simply because you can take the ironworker out of the field but you can never take the ironworker out of the man. Always having a love for hot rods and motorcycles, I mentioned to my wife that the shop should be a bike shop and we should be chopping and building motorcycles. Back to having the right person in your life, Connie (my wife) told me to do it, that now is the time to start and she encouraged me to walk away from a stressful superintendent job. With this plan in mind we set out and Black Iron Customs was born. Connie is never afraid to jump in with both feet, if the idea is doable, being the more reasonable one of this couple she has kept us grounded and headed in the right direction. I have thrown many off the wall ideas her way and she always keeps us moving toward building motorcycles and focusing on our shop.
Once reality of finances hit (stuff like paying the mortgage, bills and supporting our four children) it left little to invest in this dream but we remained hopeful and continued on with our goals. Meanwhile, we subscribed to The Horse for research and entertainment purposes, we love getting our new issue each month and often rush to see who gets to open it first. With little to invest reality set in, it was going to take much longer than we hoped it to with tooling up for ground up customs. So with that in mind we shifted our focus toward basket cases and restoring some old iron for our first build or so. Initially, to keep a build budget low we set out to find a Yamaha or Honda, not our first choice, however we wanted to begin our dream and this would make it perhaps possible. After many hours spent on Craigslist we found this 76 Ironhead Sportster and much to our surprise for less than most of the import basket cases that were out there at that moment in time.
Getting the Ironhead home in a downpour of rain was an interesting adventure to say the least. Once home the sporty sat for a bit of time before we could get to doing anything with it. After plenty of research and sorting through the parts we devised our plan and what we wanted to do with the bike. Immediately, we ordered a hardtail section and it installed great, a few added touches of our own and the frame transformed to a low and mean chopper stance with four inches of stretch. At this point our build process took another pause as the kids got out of school for the summer and we did our family vacation, it seems like eternity would pass before I could get back to the build. When we got back from vacation our July issue of the Horse had hit the mailbox and Connie beat me to getting it opened up (once again, damn it). She came running to me with excitement as she read the “You Shoot the Cover Contest” page. With our build a long ways off still I could feel her excitement yet thought, “Holy crap we have a long way to go and a very short window to get there”. She claimed, “WE WILL DO THIS!” So we shifted gears once again to plan our build around getting this little chopper done and entering it into the contest. Once again with no finances to allocate to the build we hit a wall and yet remained focused on getting ourselves entered into the contest somehow. With work being slow with our other business I was almost ready to give up the idea of making the contest deadline when Connie said to me, “Just build it we will make it happen somehow!” So it began in the last week of August but pressure adds to the excitement around here and better late than never.
So back to the build, supposedly the engine in this bike had recently been rebuilt and since you never know I tore down the top end while waiting for additional parts to come in. Luckily, what I had been told turned out true and the cylinders were clean as a whistle, punched out to .040 over and everything else was looking good as well. I had ordered a new gasket set just in case the ironhead needed it, replaced them put it all back together and the engine was handled. Connie wanted to have her hands in the building of our dream machines so as the cylinder, heads, rocker boxes and every piece that needed to cleaned up got ready she took care of and painted making the old parts look new again. As the sparks flew and days passed by I built our sissy bar (Connie’s choice and design) from some bar stock and a cut out made by my father on his plasma table. After building the sissy bar and bolting it to the frame I laid out and cut the fender.
Getting the seat hardware mounted, battery box built, mounting bracket for the coil, gas tank bracket built as well as mounted and oil tank installed took some time however, we stayed the course of our makeshift schedule and had Connie priming tins and painting the frame by Friday September 18th. While watching paint dry we nervously anticipated the arrival of the remaining parts and the outcome of our work as the sands of time continued to drop and our drop dead completion date drew near. Never painting more than my ornamental iron projects or the walls Connie applied the House of Kolor black base over the epoxy primer and finished the color coat with a Brandywine candy top coat followed by a high gloss clear. I may be biased but I think she did a great job and I cannot wait to see her next paint job (of course this means having to build more bikes)! With Connie’s freshly painted tins done the pressure was now back on me to get the shit assembled. We finished off the build with an S&S super e carb and a two into one exhaust (since time would not allow for building our own exhaust on this project). The handle bars were an issue for us as we had originally wanted a drag style bar but when it came down to selecting a set of bars the 8” chumps won the internal struggle (so many choices and such little time). With a hopeful budget (we blew anyhow) we decided to keep it fairly simple and basic on items such as grips, foot pegs, wheels, tires, electrical, plumbing and seat.
During this build we learned a lot about what goes into a bike build, life and our relationship even. Once again, with the right person or people together anything is possible. We met a lot of helpful folks, found some great places to order parts and further verified our dream to build bikes is not out of reach. Working at something you love is not even like working at a job despite the countless hours spent at it. Going out into the garage cranking the tunes and making sparks as I call it is the best day at work even imaginable! Having my wife Connie bring color to the pieces I make further cements that this is where I am meant to be, doing what we are passionate about! Working together with her as my partner is awesome, she is not afraid to jump in and get her hands dirty nor is she afraid to get dolled up and pose on our first bike. Even at the young age of forty, (once again me being biased as her husband) she rocked our little photo shoot as our model and I couldn’t tell if it was her or the Ironhead who was truly the “Naughty Little Sinner”. With so much depth to her character I am truly a lucky man! I have to thank my amazing wife for believing in me and sharing my dream and making it hers as well.
Without her this would all still be thoughts rattling around in my head as I head to some jobsite somewhere. I would like to thank our four kids for being patient as we have spent so much of our time focusing on this build and our plans to make Black Iron Customs a success. Our plans for the future include a 79 Ironhead sitting in the shed to be built as a Café racer perhaps, ground up customs, fabrication services and hopefully a shop with a paint booth for Connie, oh and a Panhead chopper for my personal bike! In the meanwhile we will keep making a mess in the garage and pissing off our neighbors!
I would also like to mention that finding parts for the Ironhead was challenging however, with the help from Lowbrow, TC Bros, Twisted Choppers and local folks her in Greeley Colorado, like Pope Enterprises, it was very doable, thank you all! Just little foot note, we never thought of the “You Shoot the Cover Contest” as a chance to do better. We love The Horse Magazine and hope to become regularly featured in it as our shop grows!
Please visit us at http://www.blackironcustoms.com (Coming soon!!!)
Bike Owner: Matt Fenton
Photographer: Connie Lynn Fenton
Model: Connie Lynn Fenton
Bike Builder: Matt Fenton of Black Iron Customs LLC
Painter: Connie Lynn Fenton