Sportster History - Sub-01A

VIN Changes for Sportsters

  • The only legal VIN number for Harley’s produced from 1970 and up is on the frame. It doesn’t matter if the engine case number matches your registration papers or not, if the frame VIN doesn’t match the registration, it's not legal. It also should be noted that any alteration to the VIN is illegal. This goes for re-stamping frames or adding the original VIN to a replacement frame. If you replace the frame, you need to have a new VIN assigned to your Harley. 1)
  • A VIN isn't cut and dried as some guys perpetuate it to be. There are circumstances when a VIN number can be legally re-applied to a later motor by the owner if he is fixing his bike legally. Once he gets signed off by the authorities, he is under no obligation to retain the original VIN stampings. So, when he sells that bike with the later motor with the home stamped early serials he has obeyed the law, and the bike is legal. Back in the day, it was very common to see KH bikes with new XL factory motors carrying the orig KH numbers. 2)
  • In April of 1981, the MoCo issued a service bulletin acknowledging that the “6” and “9” characters used in the stamping of engine and crankcase numbers could be interchanged. If that turned out to be the case on factory stamped numbers, this would still be a legitimate and acceptable number. Also included with this bulletin is a chart showing legitimate characters used for VINs by the MoCo. 3)
  • Early or Late 1984 Models cannot be deciphered from the VIN. You need to depend on the parts that are on it for that. For instance, look at the lower front of the engine. E84 has a generator, an unmistakable, easy to identify component. L84 should have an oil filter in the same location. 4)
  • Preserving your VIN while painting / powder coating frame. Leave a small area with the numbers bare and mask the numbers before painting the frame. Pulled the tape off when done and apply a clear coat over the frame and the small bare area with the numbers. Not too noticeable and you will be able to see the frame numbers. 5)

Charts of VIN Changes Over the Years for Sportsters

1957-1969Example: (57XL 12345) indicates a 1957 XL model and is stamped on Left Engine Case Between the Cylinders 6)
Year Model
First 2 Digits
Sportster Model
Next 2 Digits (up to 4)
XL - Standard Sportster
XLH - Sportster with High Compression
XLC - Competition Sportster
XLCH - Competition Sportster w/ High Compression
XLRTT - Specialty Racing
Sequential Serial Number
Remaining Digits
VIN Reads
1970-1978Example: (4A13675H0) indicates a 1970 XLCH and is stamped on the right side engine case and on the frame
with the addition of a label on the steering head showing the VIN and date of manufacture. 7)
Model Code

First 2 Digits
3A - XLH
2G - XLT
1C - XR-750
4D - XLA
4E - XLS
Serial Number
Next 5 digits
10,000 and up
Second to Last Digit
H = Harley Davidson
Model Season
Last Digit
0 - 1970
1 - 1971
2 - 1972
3 - 1973
4 - 1974
5 - 1975
6 - 1976
7 - 1977
8 - 1978
VIN Reads
1979-1980Example: (3A 11790 H9) indicates a 1979 XLH (XL)8) appearing on the engine right case and the right side of the
steering head on the frame 9)
Sportster Model
First 2 Digits
3A - XLH
4E - XLS
Serial Number
Next 5 Digits
10,000 and up
2nd to Last Digit
H - (1979 Harley Davidson)
J - (1980 Harley Davidson)
Model Season
Last Digit
9 - (1979)
0 - (1980)
VIN Reads
1981-1985Example: (1HD1CAH16BY112016) designates a 1981 XLH 1000 appearing on the steering head and the right front frame downtube. The abbreviated VIN appears on engine right crankcase (CAHB 112016) 10)

Motorcycle Origin

Manufacturer/ Make

Motorcycle Displacement

Model Designation

Engine Size

Introduction Date / Special Models

VIN Check Digit

Model Year

Assembly Plant

Serial Number
010000 and up
Made in USA Harley Davidson 1 = 901 cc & up CA = XLH 1000
CB = XLS 1000
CC = XLX 1000
CD = XR 1000
H = 1000
1 = Regular Intro
2 = Mid Year Intro
3 = Special E1984 Intro
Can be
0 - 9 or X
B = 1981
C = 1982
D = 1983
E = 1984
F = 1985
VIN Reads
VIN Reads
CAH B 112016

History of Sportster VIN Changes

  • Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) have changed over the years for the sake of theft deterrent and inventory. Modern VINs have Government mandated information as well as an individual (one only) number that pertains to one certain bike. Policy, parts and service have been issued by the MoCo based on these numbers as well. For instance, an upgraded part may be substituted for all future use at the local dealership by communication from the MoCo as in, “Use this new part number instead of the original part for all future models beginning with engine serial number 45678”. There are likely many other uses and reasons for the distinction changes in the VIN also. Below is a list of changes in the VIN and how to decipher them.


  • In 1957, the VIN was simply stamped, starting with the first four digits, into the left side crankcase with the year and bike model followed by a series of 4 or 5 numbers that established the individual serial number for each bike. The bike models are abbreviated with the denotation for a standard Sportster being (XL). In theory, the MoCo should know everything that was installed on each individual bike as it left the factory right down to the paint color. But records are scarce the farther you go back it seems.


  • From 1962–1969, VIN numbering was the same as before with an added twist. Models with 4 digit production (serial) numbers have an even-numbered first digit for even years and odd numbered first digit for odd years. Models containing a 5 digit production number will have the first two digits even for even years and odd for odd years. 11)
    • If the VIN does not follow this even or odd numbering sequence, you can almost guarantee that the VIN has been altered. It is extremely common to find mismatched engines in these early bikes with different VIN numbers than the title paperwork. 12)
  • The first VIN of a new pre - '62 model year was always, for instance 66XLCH1001 (if the first model stamped of that year were to be a Sportster..and a XLCH). All 69 and earlier model year vins all have a minimum of 4 sequence numbers. These #'s were stamped sequentially regardless of model. For example it is possible to see 66XLCH4996, and then see 66FLH4997. Although the engines were made in batches, so in this theoretical instance the XL would have been the last of a batch, and the FL engine being the first of a batch. 13)
  • The first VIN of a '62-'69 model, all else the same would be something like this:
    • For the first 1962 XLCH - 62XLCH2001 14)
    • For the first 1963 XLCH - 63XLCH1001 15)
  • For matching serial numbers against number of bikes sold that year:
    • 68XLCH14001 would be bike production number 12000 16)

Examples of Good and Bad Serial Numbers ('62-'69)

1962-1969 Odd / Even Rule - Remove the model code and last 3 numbers of the Serial Number (which leaves the bold numbers in VINs below)
The remaining digits in the serial number(s) must be even for even years and odd for odd years 17)
4 Digit Serial5 Digit Serial
63XLH8133Vin becomes 63…8 Check numbers 63 vs 81 even & 1 odd number = failed the rule test
63XLH81336 Vin becomes 63…81Check numbers 63 vs 81Both odd numbers = passed the rule test
68XLCH6729Vin becomes 68…6 Check numbers 68 vs 6Both even numbers = passed the rule test
68XLCH67295 Vin becomes 68…67Check numbers 68 vs 671 even and 1 odd number = failed the rule test


  • Starting with the 1970 season, the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is stamped on the right side of the engine crankcase between the cylinders (except '70-E'71 - see below) and on the right down tube below the neck 18). In addition to these numbers, an identification label is located on the frame below the stamped VIN 19) giving the VIN and date of manufacture. This label was required by law for identification.20) However, the only legal VIN acknowledge by the law (1970 and up) is the one stamped on the frame.
  • However, 1970 is a one year engine with exception of some early 1971 models with cases carried over from the 1970 batch. The VIN pad is in a different position from every other year which is between the front two lifters. 1970 was the last “pre nose cone” engine (Flatside ?). 1970 frame is one year as well, but the later cam covers and rockers can be substituted so you can't be sure what you have just by a casual glance. 21)
  • Early 1971 models with the 1970 cases didn't have the star cast before and aft of the VIN but the frame did have them. 22)
  • Not all 70 or e71 had motor or frame stars, but all 71s did have the frame stamped though. Some 1970 frames were bare. 23)


  • Just as in '70-'78, the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is stamped on the right side of the engine crankcase and on the right down tube below the neck 24). In addition to these numbers, an identification label is located on the frame below the stamped VIN 25) giving the VIN and date of manufacture.
    • For a period of one month from January 9 to February 8, 1979, (1200, 1340 and 1000cc) motorcycles were produced with the crankcase number stamped on the engine number pad instead of the VIN (frame) number in this location. This change was introduced to allow replacing engines in motorcycles at the factory without the cumbersome - and within some states - illegal re-stamping of the original VIN on the replacement engine crankcase pad. 26)
      • Additionally, this change would have deterred organized theft rings because they would have no knowledge of the correct match-up of the frame VIN and the engine pad number. 27)
    • Following this change, it was pointed out that the engine to frame numbering would have better traceability if the numbers matched. Also pointed out was that any deviation in characters or numbering would create suspicion from officials that the numbers may not be valid, indicating a stolen and/or renumbered engine. 28)
      • Upon a considerable investigation and analysis, it was felt that the advantages of the old system out-weighed the advantages of the new system and it was decided to revert to the duplication of the engine and frame VIN numbers which had been in effect since 1970. 29)
    • Motorcycles produced in which the engine pad numbers do not match the frame VIN's are: 30)
      • Frame VIN 43000H9 to frame VIN 48199H9. 31)
    • The frame (VIN) numbers for all VIN model prefixes within the above range are in numerical sequence; however, the engine pad numbers are mixed. 32)
    • For the purpose of cross checking numbers, the correct VIN's and corres­ponding engine pad numbers were recorded on the retail sales and warranty registration information form F-314, mailed to the dealers when these motorcycles were shipped to them. 33)
    • Also, the vehicle identification number records were maintaineded by the Highland Insurance Service at Harley-Davidson Motor Co., Inc. Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201 and the National Automotive Theft Bureau divisional offices. 34)
    • Regardless of the engine case number, the title must always match the frame VIN. 35)


  • In 1981, the full VIN was expanded to include country of origin, maker, bike weight, engine displacement, introduction date, a check digit and which factory made it 36). The engine number was no longer stamped the same as the frame. An abbreviated version was stamped into the right side engine case which is the exact same as the frame numbers but certain designations were left out. including country of origin, maker, bike weight, intro date, check digit and plant of origin.
    • The new 17 digit Vehicle Identification Number(VIN) is used on all models including the Classic Sidecar. This new nationwide system is designed to provide improved theft protection and more specific vehicle information to Harley-Davidson Motor Co. Inc. and government agencies.
    • The full 17 digit VIN is stamped on the steering head and on a label located on the right front downtube. The abbreviated version consists of the model designation, engine displacement and model year codes followed by the serial number.
    • The number itself is different, but it's location didn't change from the previous year models.
  • In 1984, the right crankcase number (not to be confused as a VIN) moved to the lower face below the gear case (near and under #4 cam) on the outside of the engine. 37)

Engine # / VIN Pics

1962-1969 Engine Number Pics

Click on a pic to enlarge:

1964 XLCH Engine VIN 38)
1968 XLCH Engine VIN 39)
1968 XLCH Engine VIN 40)
1969 xlch vin 41)

1970-1978 Engine Number Pics

Click on a pic to enlarge:

Early 1971 Factory Engine Identification Numbers 42) 1976 Factory Engine Identification Numbers 43)
1976 Factory Frame VIN 44)

HD Service Bulletin #M-828 dated April 21, 1981
1953-1963 HD Parts Catalog backside of front cover
Shop Dope Service Bulletin #596 dated September 16, 1969
8) , 9)
1979 Harley Davidson XLH/XLCH/XLS-1000 Parts Catalog
1979-1985 HD Sportster Parts Catalog
HD Service School service bulletin #596 dated September 16, 1969
26) , 27) , 28) , 29) , 30) , 31) , 32) , 33) , 34)
HD Service Letter #ML-110 dated March 2, 1979
HD Service Bulletin #M-800
HD Service Bulletin #M-885 dated April 10, 1984
photo courtesy of eric123 of the XLFORUM
Photos courtesy of Whitewalls of the XLFORUM
Photo courtesy of 4th of July of the XLFORUM
Photos courtesy of 4th of July of the XLFORUM
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