10 things we forgot about the Harley-Davidson mattress topper
It was in the late 1950s. Harley-Davidson had just released their Topper. It was advertised as being “upstairs under the Christmas tree”. The teenagers were told to “start giving hints” to their parents to buy them one. Now it’s one of the Harleys that everyone forgets about. It was their dip in the scooter market. Think back to when Harley-Davidson was reviewing electric bikes and scooters in case electric motorcycles failed. Well, in the 1950s, the Harley-Davidson Topper “topped them all”, according to advertisements of the time.
Earlier in the 50s we had seen the DKW Hobby, but now the Harley-Davidson Topper was about to burst onto the scene. It was advertised as a fun ride, but its convenience was also applauded. It had the storage space, but it also had those options, like the sidecar. Throughout the 60s it had a few updates, including an increase in horsepower. But it retained its separate identity. Let’s take a look at the Harley-Davidson Topper.
ten The Harley-Davidson Topper and the 1950s
Post-war motorcycle sales were on the rise. The European bikes led the pack. Just need to check out classic British motorcycles from that era. As the 1960s approached, the Japanese motorcycle industry saw an opportunity, with their production booming at the time. The American market was considered a gold mine. The competition was fierce.
Harley-Davidson, as the surviving American manufacturer, felt the pinch and struggled, but they were still well and truly in the game. We saw the Sportster come out in the late 50s. But a potential market was about to open up. It was going to be big. The youth market was in sight. It is no coincidence that much of the advertising for the Harley-Davidson Topper was aimed at young people.
9 Harley-Davidson enters the scooter market
Harley-Davidson was going to enter the scooter market. It was a first for the company. The Topper was not only marketed to the younger generation, but also to young families.
During the 1960s, Harley-Davidson not only produced scooters, but also golf carts, which are a little-known story of rarity, and even entered the boat market, with the Tomahawk boat, seeing the potential fiberglass. This same interest in fiberglass is found in the production of the Topper. Fiberglass was used for the Topper’s main body and engine cover, while steel was used for the front fender and front body.
8 The Harley-Davidson Topper has a distinctive look
The Harley-Davidson Topper has a clean yet elegant design, with its useful angles. Its youthful feel was targeted at its market. It was a scooter for its time.
Its two-tone color style was appealing to its market. Color choices included, but were not limited to, black with birch white, pomegranate green and white, and pepper red and white.
seven Topper, Sidecar and other options
It was not uncommon to see someone get into the sidecar as the Topper sped down the street. The sidecar was advertised as being “practical” for transporting provisions or fishing equipment.
You can also invest in other options for your Topper, including different types of mirrors, a windshield or even a luggage rack. There was additional storage space under the seat.
6 The Topper and its engine
The Harley-Davidson Topper was powered by a 165cc single-cylinder two-stroke engine. The Topper engine was used in Harley-Davidson golf carts of the same era.
Similar to a lawn mower setup, the Topper used a “pull cord” to get it started. In 1961 the Topper went from 6 horsepower to 9 horsepower.
5 Riding the Topper Harley-Davidson
It could reach speeds of 46 to 60 mph, perfect if you want to cruise to the pier and cast a line or grab a snack at the local store. A title for the Topper read “Gone Fishin,” promoting it as a fun ride. The Topper was also touted as the ideal vehicle for a surfer.
Naturally, parking was no problem when it came to the Topper. But the Harley-Davidson Topper wasn’t all it was advertised to be. The 1958 Topper was one of those old Harleys that always broke down.
4 The Harley-Davidson Topper Has Its Challenges
The Topper Harley-Davidson was not free of problems. The continuously variable transmission, “Scootaway Drive”, was a problem. Road grime in the transmission took its toll and the belt slipped as a result. Thus, a new transmission was introduced in 1961.
The Harley-Davidson Topper also had no cooling fan, which sometimes led to overheating. Despite its problems, it remained attractive to its target market.
3 The other characteristics of the Topper
We cannot forget the other features of the Topper. For example, compared to other scooters, the Topper had larger wheels.
To brake, a hand lever was moved to the left. This was one of the features of the 1963 model, along with its updated parking brake.
2 The end of the mattress topper
Like all good things, the Topper ended in 1965. Sales plummeted. Harley-Davidson evolved with the market. The dominance of the Japanese motorcycle industry was felt.
But even though the Topper is coming to an end, it still captivates us. With only around 3,000 sold over a five-year period, it puts the Harley-Davidson Topper on a collector’s radar.
As for getting your hands on a Harley-Davidson Topper, one in good condition is valued at around $4,000, but at auction it can fetch more.
The Topper is definitely something different than what one thinks when one imagines a Harley-Davidson. It may have its issues, like overheating, but it certainly has its charm and appeal.
Source: Trueshaft, Martin, “A Topper of a Scooter” (July 2006). Taken from Walneck’s Classic Cycle Trader. pages 144-146.