Panhead Vs. Shovelhead: Core Difference Overview

Many Harley Davidson consumers want to sell their old motorcycles. Thus, they try to enlist their motorcycles on different websites, including Panhead and Shovelhead models. Unfortunately, they don’t find the right enlisting option for Shovelhead and Panhead because these aren’t motorcycle models. 

Instead, Panhead and Shovelhead are two of the engine models Harley used for their motorcycles. You must know the core differences between Panhead vs. Shovelhead engines. It will help you know which Harley motorcycle has the engine and its maintenance requirements. 

Harley Davidson used the Panhead engines from 1948 to 1965. From 1966, Harley replaced the Panhead engine with the Shovelhead engine and continued it till 1984. The rocker of the Panhead engine had a resemblance to the cooking pan. On the contrary, the Shovelhead engine’s rocker resembled the coal shovel used in coalfields previously. 

Apart from the difference in their timeline and physical appearance, these engines differed in torque capacity, power, combustion engine, etc. So, let’s dive into finding the real differences between these two iconic Harley engines. 

Panhead Vs. Shovelhead

The Comparison Between Panhead Vs Shovelhead Engine

The Comparison Between Panhead Vs Shovelhead Engine

Over the years, Harley has overhauled their engine many times. They upgraded the engine to provide the right torque and power to their larger, more powerful motorcycles. Following their engine replacement strategy, they have introduced Panhead and Shovelhead engines. 

If you are a Harley freak, you would love to see the differences and similarities between these two engines. 

Background And Timeline:

Harley Davidson started their journey in 1903. Soon they become the leading motorcycle manufacturer worldwide. And to keep its superiority over the others, Harley has continuously updated their motorbike designs. Similarly, they have updated the engine to keep up with the updated motorcycle and satisfy their consumers. 

Following the trend, Harley introduced the Panhead engines in 1948. It replaced the Knucklehead engines that Harley used from 1936 to 1947. The engine was quite successful and well received by the consumers. 

Next, in 1965, Harley once again replaced the Panhead engine with the Shovelhead engine. It continued to rule Harley bikes till 1984. 

The Difference In Their Appearance

The Difference In Their Appearance

The shape of the Panhead and Shovelhead engine is self-explanatory. Firstly, the rocker head of the Panhead engine looks similar to a cooking pan. Secondly, when you look at the rocker head of the Shovelhead engine, it looks like an old coal shovel. 

Therefore, you may easily identify these two engines simply by looking at their shape. It will be crucial for newbies because they often face difficulty identifying the engine types. 

Engine Design:

Technically, both Panhead and Shovelhead engines are identical. These two are V-twin engines. Also, they have a four-valve and twin-cylinder design. Thus, these engines are made with a similar design. There’s nothing you can differentiate between these two engines. 

Displacement Capacity:

The displacement capacity is essential for motorcycle engines. An engine can generate more power with a higher displacement rate. So, we should look at the displacement rate of the Shovelhead and Panhead engines. 

For Panhead, there’re two different variations. These two variations have different displacement capacities. These are:

  1. Panhead E and EL are two of the smaller engines. These two engines have 61 cubic inches of displacement capacity. 
  2. Panhead engines’ F and FL series are slightly larger than the E and EL series. Their displacement capacity was 74 cubic inches. 

As the information shows, Panhead has two different series. The F and FL series were larger, so they had more energy. 

On the contrary, Harley Shovelhead engines were larger than both versions of the Panhead engines. 

  1. The larger Shovelhead engine has 80 cubic inches of displacement capacity. It is understandable because Harley introduced the engine to accommodate the bigger motorcycle models. 
  2. The smaller version of the Shovelhead engine has 74 cubic inches of displacement rating. It is slightly bigger than the F and FL version of the Panhead engine. It was introduced for the Harley low-rider FXS models in 1977 motor show. 

As you see, Harley had made the Shovelhead engine considerably bigger than Panhead engines. They did it purposefully to help their bigger and more powerful engine get more torque. It is also crucial to boost motorcycles’ speed and riding performance. 

Power And Torque Capacity:

The engine’s primary purpose is to generate power and supply energy to the motorcycle. So, you must know the power and torque capacity of the engines. As you can guess, Shovelhead engines with a higher displacement rate have more horsepower. 

Shovelhead Engines:

Over the year, Shovelhead engines had different horsepower ratings. It varied from 60HP to 66HP during its entire timeline. 

  • From 1966 to 1969, Shovelhead engines had 66HP capacity with 5600RPM. These engines were GLH versions. 
  • The engine capacity decreased to 62HP from 1970, and it continued till 1978. It has a 5400RPM rating at that time. 
  • Harley further reduced the power of their Shovelhead engines to 60HP. The engines from 1978 to 1980 had 60HP. However, consumers didn’t like the continuous decrease in engine power. 
  • In 1981, Harley again increased the engine capacity to 65HP. They continued it till 1984 for all the Shovelhead engines until the Evolution engine took over. 

As the discussion shows, Harley had continuously reduced and increased the power of Shovelhead engines. It didn’t go through a steady rise in the capacity rating. 

Panhead Engines:

Panhead engines were one of the most popular Harley engines ever made. However, it has less power than its predecessor, the Shovelhead engine. It is understandable because the Panhead engine had to deal with smaller Harley engines. 

There were two different models of Panhead engines. These two variations of Harley Panhead had 50HP to 55HP capacity. So, it was slightly underpowered than the Shovelhead engines. 

Bore And Stroke Design:

The engine’s bore and stroke design and size also control its capacity. Furthermore, it is referred to as engine size. So, let’s see the difference in the size of Shovelhead and Panhead engines. 

The larger 80-inch Shovelhead engine featured 3.489 inches of the bore diameter. Also, it has 4.250 inches of stroke size. On the contrary, Panhead engines had a similar bore and stroke designs. Its bore and stroke were 3.4 inches and 3.9 inches, respectively. 

Carburetor Design:

Next up, the carburetor design is also a key difference between Panhead vs. shovelhead engines. Harley used a Linkert carburetor for their Panhead engine. On the contrary, Harley used the famous Bendix– Keihin carburetor for Shovelhead engines. 

Both carburetors worked brilliantly to ensure that these engines delivered their best performance. 

Location Of The Oil Feed:

The oil feed location is an important consideration for the engine. It controls how the oil will flow to the engine. For Panhead, the oil feed was inside the crankcase of the engine. For Shovelhead engines, Harley moved the oil feed right outside the crankcase. 

Starting System:

One of the biggest overhauls in the engine design for Harley was seen in Panhead and Shovelhead. The difference was most prominent in their starting mechanism. Until the Panhead engines, Harley Davidson motorcycles used the conventional kick-starter mechanism. It needed physical strength to kick start the engine. 

As Harley changed the Panhead engine and shifted to the Shovelhead engine, it also got rid of the kick-starter mechanism. Harley has introduced their electric start for Shovelhead engines. It improved the engine efficiency and riding smoothness. 

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Shovelhead And Panhead Engines 

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Shovelhead And Panhead Engines 

We have gone through the key comparison of these two iconic Harley Davidson engines. So, it’s time to see their advantages and disadvantages. It will help you decide which Davidson engine delivers better performance and reliability. 

Pros Of Panhead:

  • Panhead reduced the upkeep time than its previous versions 
  • It has improved oil control and efficiency 
  • The noise level reduced considerably and became tolerable 
  • It reduced the oil leaking problem  of the earlier engines 

Cons Of Panhead:

  • The Panhead engines are pricier than other Harley engines 
  • Its kick-starter mechanism was inaccurate and required strength 

Pros Of Shovelhead:

  • Shovelhead engines are relatively cheaper 
  • The engine has increased horsepower 
  • Harley introduced kick-starter with Shovelheads 
  • Better performance at a higher combustion rate 
  • Improved air cooling facility with shallow chambers 

Cons Of Shovelhead:

  • Many consumers complained that shovelhead engines wore out faster 

Table of Comparison:

Comparing Point  Panhead  Shovelhead 
Timeline  1948-1964 1965-1984 
Main Feature  Improved oil efficiency  Better power and energy 
Starting mechanism  Kick-start  Electric-start 
Engine size  61cc and 74 cc 75cc and 80cc 
Engine type  V-twin, twin-cylinder, and 4-valve engine  V-twin, twin-cylinder, and 4-valve engine
Horsepower (HP)  50HP to 55HP  60HP to 65HP 
Pricy  Pricier  Less expensive 

Panhead Vs Shovelhead Engine: Which Is Better?

Panhead Vs Shovelhead Engine: Which Is Better

It’s time to provide our verdict on Panhead vs. Shovelhead engine discussion. In reality, both engines perform brilliantly. Also, we must understand that these two engines are complete from two generations. Yet, both engines were capable of holding their performance and reliability greatly. 

Panhead came with reduced noise and oil leaks. So, it helped the Harley motorcycles to deliver better oil efficiency. Also, decreased noise meant riders would enjoy better smoothness. On the contrary, with its electric start, Shovelhead was a revolution in the motorcycle industry. It featured 10% more power than its previous version of Panhead. Yet, it was cheaper, and that’s what makes it a better choice than Harley Panheads. 

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