c.1939 Rikuo 1,200cc
Frame no. 607-28
Engine no. 39BVFD3151
Harley-Davidson's hugely successful v-twins were copied by rival manufacturers in both Europe and Japan, the example offered here being the work of the Japanese Sankyo factory. The first Harley-Davidson motorcycles had been imported into Japan by the Army around 1912, and after The Great War's end distribution was initially handled by the Nippon Jidosha company. Dissatisfied with Nippon Jidosha's sales results, Harley-Davidson concluded a deal with the pharmaceutical manufacturing company, Sankyo in 1924, resulting in the formation of the 'H-D Motorcycle Sales Company of Japan'. By 1929 though, the yen's value had plunged against that of the US dollar, making all imports from the United States prohibitively expensive. Harley's representative in Japan was Albert Rich, and he organised a deal whereby Sankyo purchased rights and the necessary tooling for the manufacture of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, with the proviso that none be exported.
Situated in Tokyo, Sankyo's Shinagawa works was almost certainly the first purpose-built motorcycle factory in Japan and thus, arguably, the birthplace of the Japanese industry. Harley-Davidson continued to export to Japan until the Shinagawa factory came on stream early in 1935. Known as the 'Rikuo' ('King of the Road') and built entirely of Japanese-made components, Sankyo's version was a copy of the 1,200cc Model VL sidevalve 'Big Twin' that had first been introduced in the USA in 1929. There was also a military version, the Sankyo Type 97, which was used for sidecar duty and featured a three-speeds-plus-reverse gearbox with shaft drive to the 'chair'. A 750cc variant was built for solo use. Production of the civilian Rikuo resumed after WW2, finally ceasing in the early 1960s.
This example of an early Japanese motorcycle rarely seen in the West was purchased in 2006 from a jointly owned private collection in Spain. The machine has been restored, repainted and re-trimmed by the vendor's father-in-law, Vicente Sevilla.