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Harley-Davidson Sportster Number Zero: The great escape

By Ernie Copper

GREENVILLE, PA.–When Dick Stanley bought his ’73 Sportster from Gary’s Harley-Davidson in Conneaut Lake, he had no reason to believe it was any more special or unique than the next Sportster. Neither did Marc Duell when he bought it from Stanley in 1975.

Following 28 years of light use, Duell decided the Sporty would make a great 21st birthday surprise for his son, Michael. After careful consideration Duell decided to have it completely restored by R.W. Rainer in nearby Transfer, Pennsylvania. Rainer made sure it was a nut-and-bolt restoration, taking the bike apart entirely except for the cases. While he was stripping it, Rainer noticed something unique about Duell’s Sportster: The serial number had an awful lot of zeros! He asked Duell to have it checked and Marc put a call in to Harley-Davidson Customer Care, leaving a message inquiring about his bike’s unique serial number on a Friday afternoon. By Monday, he received a call back from H-D Vehicle Identification Specialist Peter Simet.

The first Harley-Davidson motorcycle ever assembled at the York, PA, plant was this Sportster

The first Harley-Davidson motorcycle ever assembled at the York, PA, plant was this Sportster

Duell missed Simet’s call and called him back, eager to learn of his bike’s past. “Where did you get this bike?” was Simet’s first question for Duell. As the two continued their conversation, Duell learned that his Sportster was indeed Sportster number 0000 (the actual VIN is 4A60000H3), the first motorcycle assembled in the York, Pennsylvania, plant after production was moved from Milwaukee. The Motor Company had displayed the bike for a time in the lobby of the York facility, but lost track of it after that. Duell has official documentation for all of this and isn’t really surprised that the bike “escaped” from the York Plant. It was, after all, the AMF days.

After being assembled on February 2, 1973, the bike seems to have left the York plant for Gary’s H-D with nobody being the wiser to its significance in Harley-Davidson’s history until Duell discovered its story by accident. The restoration was completed by Rainer, with impeccable paint by Chet’s Custom Paint of Greenville, Pennsylvania. The bike wears Sunburst Blue paint, just like it did on the day it was born. There are a few extra bright bits here and there now, and all in all, the Sportster is better than new.

Needless to say, Michael’s going to have to wait a few years to get his hands on this special Sportster, but that’s OK. It’s living a truly pampered life now. The bike is kept indoors in climate-controlled storage and, when it’s transported, it’s done in an enclosed trailer. But that doesn’t mean it never runs. Duell admits to starting it up on occasion and even continues to have the bike inspected, a Pennsylvania requirement for bikes with normal registration. The vanity plate reads “1ST 73” and that satisfaction is the main reason Duell hasn’t registered the 1000cc XLCH as an antique.

Marc Duell and his wife Nita with the "1ST 73" Sportster

Marc Duell and his wife Nita with the “1ST 73” Sportster

Like most of us, Marc’s life has had it share of ups and downs, and when he looks back from where he is now, he can see several times it could have gotten away from him. Today, the bike has been registered in seven states, two of them more than once, but has only had two owners. Marc did his share of travelling over the years, and going where the work was led to the extensive pedigree for the bike including registrations in Texas, Indiana and California, as well as its native Pennsylvania.

Marc and his wife Nita know just how special the bike is, and so do others. They were recently invited to display it at the 40th Anniversary Open House at the York plant where it was born. According to Marc, the 40-year-old Sportster received great reviews from the Harley faithful. It may be the only privately-owned “zero” serial numbered bike in existence, and he likens his discovery of the bike’s lineage to discovering that an old painting in his attic was a Rembrandt. The bike had 13,040 original miles on it when I photographed it, and I don’t think the miles will roll up too fast in the future.

The Duells are happy to share the bike with others, but limit requests to display the bike to charities and special occasions. Even though the Duells live less than 30 miles from my home, I only learned of the bike when it was displayed this past summer at a local fundraising event for distracted driving awareness.

Duell still has the original owner’s manual and, yes, the ol’ Sporty still “marks its territory.” Both are points of pride for its owner.

Here’s hoping the “1ST 73” looks just as good when it’s another 40 years down the road.

Marc's son Michael (r) will take over ownership of the ’73 Sportster when he turns 21

Marc’s son Michael (r) will take over ownership of the ’73 Sportster when he turns 21

 

4 comments

  1. Good looking bike! A classic Harley-Davidson.

    [Reply]

  2. Hi, I’m the events coordinator for the NY State 2014 Hog Rally, Would love to have this bike on display for the rally July 10th -12th In Middletown NY (Orange County NY) Can you tell me how to reach the owner of the bike?
    Thank you
    Keith Hallock

    [Reply]

    Thunder Press Reply:

    We’ll pass along your contact info and request to the author, Keith. Stay tuned…
    -JG

    [Reply]

    Marc Duell Reply:

    Keith,

    Sorry I am so long getting back with you. Only recently did I become aware of your interest in our MC.

    Please feel free to contact me by email at: marc_duell1@verizon.net or my cellular phone at: (724) 456-0805

    Marc Duell

    [Reply]

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