Harley Panhead Vs Shovelhead: The Epic Battle!

Harley Davidson has some of the most iconic motorbike engine collections of all time. Other than being efficient, their motor engines are the epitome of aristocracy in the world of motorcycles. No matter it’s Sportster, Touring or Softail, their engines are what kept these motorcycles alive.

This company has gone through quite an evolution of engines throughout the century. Among them, the Panhead and Shovelhead motorcycles had their own reign from 1948 to 1984. In this post, we’re going to focus on Harley Panhead Vs Shovelhead in detail.

Harley Davidson introduced Panhead engines in 1948 & Shovelhead in 1965. Both of them has quite similar structure and features, still, they’re different in many aspects. Both having two cylinders, four valves V twins, these two has a vast difference in other features.

Being an update to its predecessor, the Shovelhead obviously has some extra features than the Panhead. Different design surely resulted in a different performance outcome.


Some of you might have already guessed how their shapes of design are by their names. The Panhead has a tad similarity in design with its previous version which was the Knucklehead. Although, the key difference between these two was the material. The company changed the iron cylinders of the Knucklehead to aluminum alloy in Panhead. This change effectively reduced weight and promoted better engine heat conduction. The shape is kind of like some inverted cake tins here and there earning its name Panhead.

On the other hand, the Shovelhead has an improvised top end on the Panhead crankcase. Interestingly, this engine has a shape like coal shovel, making sense to its name Shovelhead. Other than that, their designs have some resemblance being the immediate successor of the Panhead engine.


The most important difference between these two is their specifications. The Panhead engines have as usual two cylinders as its previous one, the Knucklehead engine. The two-valves per cylinder design with pushrod incited V-twin engine speaks for it. Although the major difference they had was lied in their engine powers and different cubic inch displacements.

Harley Panhead: Same As Knucklehead?

The Panhead engine comes in two models with two different cubic inch displacements. They are— 61 cubic inches (1000 cc) and 74 cubic inches (1200 cc). On the other hand, the Knucklehead engine came in two variations, 60 cubic inches (990 cc engine)  and 74 cubic inches (1200 cc).

With this configuration, the knucklehead engines are able to produce 40 to 45 horsepower energy where the Panhead can produce from 50 horsepower to all the way to 55 horsepower energy.

The Shovelhead engine, surprisingly, the Harley Davidson gave a whopping energy boost of 10 horsepower in their new one. Two exclusive models of this updated engine have 74 cubic inches and 81 cubic inches displacements that means 1200 cc and 1340 cc respectively. This displacement feature boosted up their energy capacity up to  60 or 65 horsepower.

Other than the displacement configuration, the other specifications are pretty much the same as its predecessor, that was the Panhead which we mentioned earlier. The V-twin pushrod aligned at 45 degrees and two cylinders with four stroke motor, the Shovelhead indeed kept a trace of similarity with its earlier version.

Shovelhead Engines: A Success Or A Drawback?

Despite being an updated version, the Shovelhead, however, lagged behind on an important criterion, the mileage. Most of the users got a decent 35-40 mpg (mile per gallon) mileage on the Panhead engine where the Shovelhead only got 24-25 mpg mileage most of the time.

This problem may have appeared due to their oil pooling problem, where the Shovelhead engine pulls the oil into the crankcase rather than pumping it. As a result, the engine tends to get overheated and affects the performance and obviously the mileage.

There were some strong allegations of the Shovelhead losing much more oil than even its predecessors which lowered the mileage. Another reason for this overheating could be its design, the Shovelhead engine only had 10 fins to cool off the engine.

This problem came quite out of the blue that eventually damaged the top end. As a consequence, there were reports of the Shovelhead engine lasting only 500 to 5000 miles. So it required a top end modification to get a long life. Other than that, the Shovelhead engine is definitely quite superior to the Panhead engine, dominating the marketing for more than 20 years before its successor the Evolution Engine arrived.

The Panhead and the Shovelhead engines held out their fame and performance by getting introduced to numerous Harley Davidson Motorbikes for a half a century. These two engines are still in use with third party modification that made both of them better than ever.

That’s everything you should know about the Harley Panhead vs Shovelhead engines. If you have a motorcycle with Panhead or Shovelhead engine, consider yourself lucky. Keep wandering!