Harley Panhead vs. Shovelhead: What Makes Them Different?

The Harley-Davidson brand is synonymous with motorcycle engines, which are the most recognized in history. They are the pinnacle of nobility in the world of motorcycles, both in appearance and power. A motorcycle’s engine is no different from one powered by a Touring bike, Softail motorcycle, or Sportster motorcycle.

Despite similar engines, the Shovelhead and Panhead Harley-Davidsons were distinguished by the fit of the Shovelhead top end onto the Panhead crankcase. The Panhead and Shovelhead were produced by Harley from 1948 to 1965 and 1966 to 1984, respectively. Panheads were named for their inverted baking pan-style covers, and Shovelheads for their striking coal shovel-style covers.

In the more than 100 years since its founding, the company has expanded tremendously. While you’re at it, remember that Panhead and Shovelhead are two different kinds of Harley-Davidson engines. Want to learn more about Harley Panhead Vs. Shovelhead? Here, we will provide you with clear and crisp answers about Harley Panhead and shovelhead.

Harley Panhead Vs. Shovelhead: In short Comparison

During the period of 1948 to 1984, Panhead and Shovelhead motorcycles dominated. I don’t mean bike models! However, it can be particularly difficult for a new rider to tell these motorcycle engines apart.

Harley PanheadHarley Shovelhead
Year of Production:- 1948 to 19651966 to 1985
Power:- 50hp – 55hp55hp – 60hp
Engine size:- First, 61 cubic inches; later, 74 cubic inchesAt first, 74 cubic inches; later, 80 cubic inches
Engine Size:- 1000cc – 1200cc1200cc – 1340cc
Head shape:- Pan-likeOld coal shovel-like
Reduce oil leaksIncrease horsepower
Inside the engine’s crankcaseOutside the engine’s crankcase
Gears:- 44– 5
Carb:- Linkert           Bendix– Keihin
A bit priceyIt’s reliable, Quite cheap

Harley Panhead Vs. Shovelhead: Comparison In Details

It was groundbreaking how the Shovelhead and Panhead differed. There is no doubt that shovelheads are more efficient than their predecessors, although this cannot account for all factors when comparing the two motorcycles.

A performance improvement in the motorcycle market was driven by innovative design, but other factors like size and weight played a role as well.


In 1948, Harley-Davidson developed the Panhead engine, while in 1965, the Shovelhead engine was introduced. Form and function may seem similar, but they are different in several ways. They both have a two-cylinder, four-valve design. Between them, among other things, they’re diametrically opposed.

The Shovelhead is a small improvement on the Panhead but has quite more utility overall due to its design. There are obviously a number of ways that the variety of prototypes can affect efficiency.


A 61- and 74-cubic-inch displacement is offered on the new Panhead engine. Moreover, the cylinder for its successor had an iron construction and was quite bulky. Panhead is quite good because it has aluminum alloy cylinders. Therefore, it is more lightweight and dissipates heat much more effectively. The aluminum head is vital to improving the engine’s cooling.

Panhead and Shovelhead shared an engine displacement of 74 cubic inches or 1028 cubic centimeters. Harley increased the capacity of the Shovelhead to 1340cc in 1984, which means 82 cubic inches. Until then, it was powered by an EVO engine. The EVO engine replaced the Panhead engine with more power and better efficiency. A Shovelhead system was first installed on the 1966 Electra Glide.


Moreover, Panheads are designed to prevent oil leaks and provide good oil control. The top of the engine still leaks oil, however. Various metallic coatings are smeared on the interior surface of the engine. There is also a poppet valve in each cylinder. This allows the cylinder head’s intake port and exhaust port to open and close.

Additionally, the oil feeding system moved from the inner parts of the crankcase to the outer parts of the engine. As a Shovelhead, its combustion slot was lower than that of a Panhead in its first year of production. As a consequence, it had an extremely large intake valve drop and an extremely large exhaust valve drop. Among the handy features of this engine are its well-made pistons and valves.


These Panhead engines were powered by 61 cubic inch engines with 8.77 horsepower. 3.3 inches and 3.5 inches were the bore and stroke of the EL and E Panhead engines. 6.5 to 1 is the compression ratio for the E engine and 7 to 1 for the EL engine, according to the specifications.

A shovelhead with a maximum horsepower of 66 at 5,600 rpm was the original 80-inch model. Between 1970 and 1984, the maximum horsepower dropped to 62, peaking at 5400 rpm. The horsepower dropped to 60 for models from 1978 to 1980, then jumped up to 65 for 1981 until 1984.


With the Panhead engine, which was introduced in 1948, the rocker covers were reshaped to resemble an upturned saucepan, a characteristic that distinguished it from its predecessor. Pothead is a commonly used term for “Panhead.” Otherwise, the exterior remains largely unchanged from the previous version.

Since 1966, this engine has been called a Shovelhead due to its rocker cover, which looks like a shovel. Although its Japanese counterparts used high-tech, reliable engines, Harley-Davidson used old mechanical components, despite having stronger engines and using more modern components.


“Pot Head” is slang for “Panhead.” Despite these changes, the exterior was virtually untouched from the previous version. A hydraulic system was also used to reduce engine timing noise, and these alloy cylinder heads were meant to disperse heat from the engine more efficiently. Even so, the concept was still 15 to 20 years behind its counterparts in terms of development.

In addition, the Shovelhead was designed for heavy-duty motorcycles because of its power. It also has an electric starter and rear suspension. Therefore, it achieved a power increase of 10% over the Panhead. The shallow chambers allow for better cooling and a higher combustion rate. In addition, steel cylinder heads with aluminum alloy barrels were included as well.


It became apparent that the stroke of the Big Twin, which is approximately four inches, was expanding significantly with time. Hydrodynamic drum brakes were also introduced in 1958, for great reason: Panheads weighed double the weight of their imported British competitors while producing similar peak power. While they were never going to win a race, the H-D Twins were powerful enough to get through the mountains in high gear, even if they didn’t win the race.

Four-stroke engines with twin cylinders and air cooling were shovelheads. V-shaped engines were arranged in front and back. A 45-degree angle was formed between the cylinders and the crankshaft. In addition to the bottom half being the same, there were two sizes of Shovelheads: 75 cubic inches and 80 cubic inches.

Harley Panhead Vs. Shovelhead: Which One Is Best?

I think the Panhead is the most attractive H-D engine ever built from a nostalgia perspective. Thanks to the Captain America bike in the ‘Easyrider’ movie, it’s probably the most recognizable motorcycle in the world.

Shovelhead was basically an upgraded version of Panhead. Panhead had an increased power of 10%. A Panhead engine’s lower part was retained in the early Shovelheads, but it was fitted with new cylinder heads. 

Some of the most popular Harley models were created by the Shovelhead. As a result, the factory achieved some of its greatest technological achievements.


Harley Panhead: Same As Knucklehead?

Two different Panhead engines are available with different displacement cubic inches. They measure 61 cubic inches (1 000 cc) and 74 cubic inches (1 200 cc). Knucklehead engines, however, came in two sizes, a 60 cubic inch engine (990 cc engine) and a 74 cubic inch engine (1200 cc).

How Successful Are Shovelhead Engines?

The Shovelhead did not meet an important criterion, however, despite being an updated model. On average, Panhead engine users achieved 35-40 mpg (miles per gallon), while Shovelhead users only achieved 24-25 mpg (miles per gallon).

How long does a Shovelhead last?

A number of Harley technicians even claimed that without top-end modification, the engine would typically last between 500 to 5,000 miles.

What does a Harley Panhead look like?

The easiest way to identify when the cylinder heads look like cake pans have been placed over them.

Final Thought

Harley Davidson’s engine department has seen significant growth throughout the last century. For riders in all parts of America, the Harley Panhead Vs. Shovelhead was the machine of choice. One key difference is the need to use different types of oil for each – a reason why some people tend to prefer one design over the other. Despite their similarities, there are a few key differences.

In both engines, cylinders and valves are opposed on one crankcase or positioned on either end. Although Panheads were designed as OHV units (overhead valves), shovels designed were SOHC (underhead valves).You can take one based on your personal preference.

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