Harley Panhead Vs Shovelhead: Which One is Better?

It is really rare to find people who are involved in biking but do not know the world-famous motorcycle company Harley-Davidson. From its inception, the company has mesmerized everyone with its power, design, monster engine, etc. 

People around the world use Harley-Davidson’s Softail, Touring, and Sportster bikes for a variety of reasons. The Panhead and Shovelhead motorcycles supplied by Harley-Davidson were great. 

The two models were market heroes for a long time from 1948 to 1985. Due to its huge popularity, people want to know the difference between Panhead and Shovelhead. That is why we are organizing this article.

Harley Panhead Vs Shovelhead infographic

Harley-Davidson Panhead 

Harley-Davidson began production of Panhead engines in 1948. It lasted until about 1965. It replaces the Knucklehead engines. The time when this engine was started was post-war. 

The reason behind the name of the engine is that its valve covers look a lot like a small cake pan. This design was made to improve the oil control of the bike. Although it failed and even now this type of engine complains of oil leaking from the top end.

Harley-Davidson Shovelhead 

After Panhead, Harley-Davidson began production of the Shovelhead engine in 1966, and it lasted until 1985. The naming story of this engine is that its valve cover is like a shovel. Although it looks more like a coal shovel overturned. 

The main purpose of the Shovelhead engine was to make the relatively heavy bikes more powerful. The company wanted to employ rear suspension and electric start on these types of heavy-duty bikes. 

Shovelhead engines have gone through several updates. Its shallow chambers provided the engine with faster cooling, as well as better performance with higher compression ratios.

Model & Manner

Harley-Davidson is known for its innovations. An excellent example of modern innovation was the engines of the Panhead and Shovelhead V-twin designs. They have given two cylinders in each engine. Each cylinder has 4 valves and a total of 8 valves. 

Although the models and production times of the two engines are different, there are some similarities. For example, both the Panhead and Shovelhead engines use a V-twin configuration. Although the combustion chambers of the Panhead engine are placed side by side. 

On the other hand, the combustion chambers of the Shovelhead are placed at an angle facing each other to provide more torque. Additionally, its heads were mainly for off-road heavy bikes. Shovelhead carried more power and strength than its competitors.

Type of Engine

Harley-Davidson has included a 61 and 74 cubic inch displacement in their Panhead engine. Following in the footsteps of its successors, this engine had an iron body and quite a heavy look. 

Since the role of the head is a lot to cool the engine. So with this in mind, Panhead’s cylinder was made of aluminum alloy. So the cylinder was much lighter than the body and was dissipating the heat generated significantly. 

The Shovelhead and Panhead engines shared a 74 cubic inch engine displacement. Out of the ordinary, Harley-Davidson increased the capacity of their Shovelhead engine to 1340cc. That means an engine displacement of 82 cubic inches has occurred here. 

Until 1948, this model was powered by an EVO-type engine. In addition to the Shovelhead, the EVO engine has the best role in the Panhead engine in terms of efficiency and power generation. Note that in 1966 the Electra Glide Harley-Davidson bike first used a shovelhead engine.


Harley’s Panhead engine had 8.77 horsepower. It had a 61 cubic inch engine to serve power. The compression ratio of the E engine was 6.5 to 1 whereas in the case of the EL engine it was 7 to 1. The bore and stroke of both Panhead engines were 3.3 inches and 3.5 inches.

Meanwhile, the Shovelhead engine had a maximum of 66 horsepower. It had a speed of 5,600 rpm and was an 80 cubic inch engine. However, in 1984, the power of the Shovelhead was reduced to 62. Then its speed comes to 5400 rpm. 

Horsepower in models between 1978 and 1980 is further reduced to 60. However, from 1981 to 1984, the company again increased the power of Shovelhead to 65.


A notable feature of Panhead engines is that they are built to withstand oil leaks to provide better oil control. Although the purpose was not successful, the oil leaked later. The inner surface of the Panhead has a variety of metallic coating cuts. 

Each cylinder has a poppet valve to open and close the head intake port and the exhaust port. In addition to these, the engine’s oil feeding system has moved from the inside of the crankcase to the outside of the engine.

On the other hand, the year the Shovelhead engine was first produced, its combustion slot was lower than that of the Panhead. This caused the engine to have a very large exhaust valve drop and a very large intake valve drop. 

Another notable feature of the Shovelhead engine is its well-built pistons and valves. This makes the Shovelhead engine more efficient and durable.


At one point, people realized that the stroke of the Big Twin, which was about 4 inches, began to spread periodically. Around 1958, the world saw the use of hydrodynamic drum brakes. 

To maintain this trend, Panhead engines aim to produce the same maximum power. As a result, they weigh almost twice as much as other engines on the market. 

In the case of the Shovelhead, there were twin cylinders and a four-stroke engine with air cooling. The bikes in this model had V-shaped engines mounted on both the front and rear. 

The lower half of the Shovelhead engine was kept the same, with two variants- one 75 cubic inches and the other 80 cubic inches. Both types of engines were equipped with a 45-degree angle between the crankshaft and the cylinder.


A significant change in the Panhead engines was the pothead. Moreover, the rest of the external form was almost completely untouched. The company had installed a hydraulic system to reduce the noise of these machines. 

Besides, cylinder heads built with alloy were skilled at spreading heat from the engine. Despite all this, the Panhead engines, considering the development aspect, were about 15-18 years behind their competitors.

On the contrary, the main purpose behind the creation of the Shovelhead engine was to strengthen the heavy-duty motorcycles. It has grown 10% more electricity than the Panhead because it was added to the rear suspension and electrical starter.

Its shallow chambers have shown skills to ensure a higher combustion rate and a better cooling system. In addition, it was also made with aluminum alloy barrels and steel cylinder heads.

Which One Is Best- Panhead or Shovelhead?

Who’s better – Harley Panhead or Harley Shovelhead? Let’s take a look at a head-to-head table before making a final decision.

Facts Harley PanheadHarley Shovelhead
Production Year1948-19651966-1985
Strength 50-55 horsepower55-60 horsepower
Engine Size61-74 cubic inches74-80 cubic inches
Engine cc1000-1200 cc1200-1340 cc
Shape of HeadLittle cake panOverturned coal shovel
Carb Linkert Bendix- Keihin
Gear 44-5
Price Comparatively higherReliable 

From the table above, we can see that the Shovelhead engines provide more power than the Panhead. Shovelhead engines make heavier bikes more powerful. But we can’t forget the Panhead engines because they were so popular.

Final Words

Harley-Davidson named its engines after the size of the valve head. That’s how we got the Panhead and Shovelhead engines. Both the engines gained a good reputation in the market at that time.

The Panhead engines were initially perfect but later failed to achieve the main objective i.e. oil leakage and oil control. However, Shovelhead retained its reputation from the beginning. These engines added extra life to the heavy-duty bikes.

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William Baldwin

This Is William Baldwin, The Founder & Managing Editor of this website. Me and my team share automotive tips, tricks, and news

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Talha Atta

Talha Atta, a Mechanical Engineer and experienced technical content writer and editor at Autoglobes.com with a passion for the automotive industry.