Panhead Vs Shovelhead – Research & Explained!

Panhead Vs Shovelhead

If you have been around Harley bike riders, you must have heard them talk on Panhead and Shovelhead. This makes you keep asking too many questions what the hell do they mean, right? Most fans know that they are part of a Harley motorcycle, which is true. But, tracking them down, turns out to be a problem.

Meanwhile, you should know that the two are the names of Harley’s engines. And, not bike models! However, new riders can find it quite hard to tell these motorcycle engines apart. This happens especially when we have the Flathead and Knucklehead engines around.

Luckily, our article on Harley Panhead vs Shovelhead is here to give you clear and crisp answers. The main feature that differs between them is the heads that act as valve covers. This is to say, each engine has a special shape and spurs behind each engine name.

Panhead and Shovelhead Harley Davidson Engines – Similarities

Before looking at their differences, first, let us have a look at the way are the same. Firstly, both Panhead and Shovelhead are overhead valve engines for Harley Davidson motorcycles.

Besides, they are nicknames based on their looks on the engine heads. Also, they have two engine cylinders with two valves in each of them. And, they help to fill and empty the combustion chambers. However, these engines’ structure serves a certain role. Finally, based on their years of invention, these engines tend to be quite older.

Panhead Vs Shovelhead reliability- Which is Better?

The battle of Panhead Vs Shovelhead is relatively half of the fight. However, maintenance is the key to the engine’s longevity and reliability. But when it comes to Panhead Vs Shovelhead, I found the Shovelhead as a better engine.
Later, you will find both of the engine’s reviews. It will help you to cover more on Panhead. For now, let’s talk about which aspect Harley Shovelhead engine is better.

First, a Shovel sounds better than a Panhead engine if you’re thinking sounds. Also, the Shovelhead was just a Panhead with more features. For example, it had a 10% increase in power over the Panhead. But the most talking drawback of the Shovelhead is the terrible gearing. It is mainly on popping gaskets. Yet, you can solve it by dropping 1 or 2 teeth from the rear sprocket. You may also use an oil cooler & a 5-speed gearbox for getting better performance. So, Shovelhead or Panhead? You can rely on Shovelhead.

Harley Panhead vs Shovelhead Engines – Head-to-Head Comparison Table

Panhead Engine

Shovelhead Engine

Year of Production
 1948 to 1965  1966 to 1985
Engine size
 First 61 cubic inches; later 74 cubic inches  At first 74 cubic inches; later 80 cubic inches
Head shape
 Pan-like  Old coal shovel-like
 Reduce oil leaks  Increase horsepower
Oil feeds location
 Inside the engine’s crankcase  Outside the engine’s crankcase

Panhead Harley Engine review

What is Panhead? The Panhead is an overhead-valve Harley-Davidson motorcycle engine. In 1948, Harley Davidson replaced the V-Twin and Knucklehead with the Panhead. So, what is Harley Davidson Knucklehead? The knucklehead is a retronym Harley motorcycle engine that resembles four knuckles on the right side of the head. So, why is it called a Panhead? Simply a Panhead resembles a pan on the top of the head of the engine.


The main reason for this move was that Knucklehead engines were prone to oil leaks.


To solve this problem, external oil feeds had to get shifted to the interior of the engine’s case. As a result, the new engine has displacements of 61 and 74 cubic inches. Additionally, its successor’s engine cylinder had iron construction which was quite bulky. Therefore, Panhead has aluminium alloy cylinders which make it quite great. In other words, it has a lightweight and drives away engine heat much better. Aluminium heads play a vital role in increasing the cooling of the engine.

The valve covers of these engines look like small cake pans hence the name Panhead. Besides, this engine is the easiest to locate on your Harley motorcycle. The reason is that the pan-like covers sit inverted on top of the engine surface. Most importantly, the Panhead design gives great oil control and prevents oil leaks. However, these engines still leak oil from the top end.

Moreover, Panhead is a two-cylinder engine. The interior surface has a thin metallic liner or a surface polish smeared on the engine hunk. Also, each cylinder has two poppet valves. As a result, they help to open and close the intake and exhaust ports in the cylinder head. Hydraulic lifters were also included in the engine to lower the noise while in service. To add to that, the time for repairs is reduced.


  • It lowers the upkeep time
  • Boasts a high oil control
  • This engine gives tolerable noise


  • A bit pricey
  • It still leaks oil

Shovelhead Harley Engine review

First, what is a shovelhead? Shovelhead is a motorcycle engine, more specifically a Harley-Davidson engine. The Panhead engine got replaced by the Shovelhead Harley Engine from 1966 to 1985.

So, why is it called a shovelhead? Because the rocker’s heads resembled an old coal shovel that had been turned upside down, giving it a shovel-like appearance. Simply, Shovelhead resembles a shovel.


Harley got rid of the kick-starter and got the electric starter. Its looks like the curls of a shovel, thus the name. However, it is the hardest engine to find on a Harley bike. This is to say, it looks more like an old coal shovel turned over upside down. But not the shape of an old shovel.

Shovelhead had a similar engine displacement of a 74-cubic inch or 1028cc as Panhead. In 1984, Harley increased the Shovelhead to an 82-cubic inch or engine capacity of 1340cc. This was before it got changed to Evo engine. This engine came as a better and improved version of the Panhead. The 1966 Electra Glide was the first Panhead bike to change power system to Shovelhead.

Furthermore, the oil feeds moved from the inner parts of the crankcase to the outer part of the engine. In its first year of production, the Shovelhead had a lower combustion slot found in Panheads. Besides that, it had a huge valve drop for both the intake and exhaust. The well-made valves and pistons are some of the handy features this engine started with.

Additionally, the Shovelhead came to give more power ideal for heavy-duty motorcycles. Along with it, there is a rear suspension and an electric start. As a result, it ended up with 10% more power than the Panhead. Its shallow chambers aid in cooling and worked better at higher combustion rates. Besides, new aluminium alloy cylinder heads with iron cylinder barrels were also included.


  • Gives a better-quality operation
  • It is reliable
  • Quite cheap


  • It may get worn out

Final verdict – Which one is the Best?

Does cruising on an old Harley bike sound great to you? If yes, then you may have to choose either the Panhead or Shovelhead Harley engines. Also, if your bike has older engine types like Knucklehead, you will not hesitate to change them.

Panheads are ideal for reducing oil leaks as well as the sound made by Knuckleheads. On the contrary, Shovelhead engines come with better horsepower. As a result, it is the best choice for heavy-duty motorbikes. With all that said, choose a Harley engine that will suit your desired wants with ease.

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