HD’s Only Scooter – 1961 Harley-Davidson Topper

In America, Scooter by Tim HuberLeave a Comment

Harley-Davidson has only produced one scooter in its entire history; the Topper. The Milwaukee-based manufacturer did make some small-displacement mopeds during its partnership with Aermacchi, but the Topper is the only scooter Harley made with legitimate floorboards and an automatic transmission. Starting in 1959 or ’60, and ending production in ’65, Harley-Davidson offered the 165cc two-stroke Topper in hopes of nabbing a piece of the then increasingly lucrative scooter market that Cushman Scooters had been enjoying for nearly two decades prior to the Topper emerging.

Despite the Topper not having been produced in over half a century and it never being particularly iconic, the recent Yamaha C3 scooters genuinely resemble the Topper quite a bit with their boxy seat and rear-end. The Topper scooters were produced in Milwaukee and featured a 164cc (10.1ci) two-stroke single-cylinder engine that used a reed valve in its induction-system and was mounted horizontally between the scooter’s floorboards. The single required a premixed gasoline/oil mixture. The small-displacement Harley power plant made a reported 9 hp and could get up to a surprisingly high supposed 46mph.

Though the majority of scooters with enclosed engines possessed a cooling fan, the Topper’s didn’t, instead opting to utilize the low mounting of the engine which used cooled air passing underneath the scooter as its cooling system. Unsurprisingly this resulted in some overheating issues which did become a problem because Harley was marketing these scoots as cheap reliable transportation options, with a special focus on non-riders. Harley advertised the Topper’s mileage saying it got: “up to 100 miles per gallon”.

Also aimed at new riders was the Topper’s continuously variable (automatic) transmission that Harley called “Scootaway Drive”. This novice-friendly feature also included a safety system that didn’t allow the scooter to move from rest if the engine’s RPM was higher than 1,800. Also, like the Lambretta E model scoot, a pull-start recoil-system was used to fire up the Topper. Most people were familiar with this method from chainsaws and lawnmowers and whatnot and I guess Harley thought non-riders would find this more civilized than a traditional kick-start. Though it is admittedly hard to imagine a 1960’s woman in a dress or a guy in a suit holding onto the handlebars and jumping up and down trying to kickstart one of these on a cold day.

Another major area in which the Topper tried to appeal to a non-rider market was through the use of commercial and utilitarian-friendly optional add-ons. Despite its 10ci-engine, the Topper did come with an optional sidecar. Harley dealers also offered a side-mounted utility box that was fixed to the Topper in place of the actual sidecar-shell. Another Harley advertisement aimed at small-business owners proclaimed the Topper was good for hauling a hefty “200 pounds of payload”, though there was also storage space under the seat. Like pretty much all vehicles built in the ’60’s, the Topper’s body – well large parts of it – and floorboards were largely assembled from stamped steel, while its engine-cover and some parts of the body were made from fiberglass.

In the last couple decades these Harley scooters have made somewhat of a resurgence, with their value having gone up more and more examples have been dragged out of barns, sheds, and garages and restored. An extremely clean 1961 example sold at Bonhams for $5,500 in recent years and an example Abhi previously featured sold on eBay for $4,800, but like any bike it’s condition, originality, and a number of other factors come into play when determining a value. Albeit it’s only worth what someone is willing to pay, a fact often lost on some overly-ambitious/optimistic sellers. One source – who admittedly did know a lot about the history of the Topper – claimed a value of as much as $12,000, though the $5-6k region seems to be pretty standard.

This example (VIN-62AH2555) is from ’61 and only has original 332-miles on it. The owner says the scooter is in excellent condition, has always been garage kept, and has only had two owners in its more than half century since leaving the dealership. The seller describes it as being in “original condition”, but I don’t know enough about these to tell if any of the parts aren’t stock. The ad also clarifies the bike has a clean current title, and based on the pictures I believe this example is still wearing its factory paint, but I may be wrong. Either way it’s an awesome example.

You can find this 1961 Harley-Davidson Topper scooter for sale here on Craigslist in Allentown, Pennsylvania with a price of $6,500.