The conclusion of the Second World War saw a huge demand for lightweight, economical, two-wheelers, leading to an influx in the segment’s popularity. A decade or so later, and it became increasingly clear to the suits at Harley-Davidson that by neglecting this segment, money was being left on the table. The MoCo did offer a few small-displacement scoots based on the eighth-liter Hummer, but these models had grown a bit long in the tooth and weren’t very popular with the younger riders that comprised the majority of the segment’s customers. Instead of overhauling its existing wares or developing a new tiddler platform, the Milwaukee-based brand thought it would be cheaper to simply buy-out an existing company specializing in little runners.
Aermacchi first started as an aviation company, but following WW2 the Italian marque pivoted and began churning out pint-sized, two-wheeled, two-stroke singles. The company possessed a wealth of knowledge in the segment, and were well aware of what the European market wanted, making it a perfect fit for Harley when looking to buyout an existing outfit. The first model born out of the acquisition was Aermacchi’s quarter-liter Gold Wing, which was rebadged under the “Sprint” moniker for the US market.
With the immense success Japanese companies were experiencing in the 50cc market around this time, it didn’t take long for Harley to follow suit with the M50. The standard M50 was a “semi-step-through” model powered by a 50cc, two-stroke, single (outsourced to Minarelli) married to a three-speed transmission. The M50 was supposedly capable of speeds around 45-50mph, and could do so while offering 100mpg. Interestingly, shifting gears on the M50 required twisting the left-hand grip.
Produced at the Aermacchi plant in Italy, the M50 remained in production for only two-years, though supposedly more than 10,000 units were built in that time. The running gear on the M50 included drum brakes, telescopic forks, dual-rear shocks, 18-inch wheels. In total the little Harley (I believe the smallest Harley ever, even smaller than the “Shortster”) weighed in at less than 150lbs. In ’67 Harley released the larger, 4.5hp M65 (known as the “Leggero” in the Italian market). Abhi featured a ’67 M65 Sport a while back if anyone is interested in reading more on that.
Though the M50 wasn’t a very successful offering in its time, the model has become pretty valuable is recent years, and with Harley slated to re-enter the small-displacement segment, these bikes could spike in value. “Less-than-pristine” examples typically fetch a grand or two (such as this ’65 example from the 2016 Mecum Vegas Auction, or this one from their 2017 Vegas Auction), though clean specimens can yield significantly more. There’s one example at Barrett-Jackson that’s currently going for almost $9K, (the seller claims B-J sold an example for $22K in 2015), while another example featured on BringATrailer back in April fetched $15.5K — $200 more than the MSRP of a 2018 Ducati 959 Panigale!
This particular M50 is a first year (’65) example with just under 1,900 miles on the clock. It’s in decent shape cosmetically, though it has a few mechanical issues. The seller says it “struggles with low power in third gear on the road and after (it’s) driven a while appears to get “tired” and stalls. (suspect a carburetor issue).” Other areas needing attention include the horn, the front rim which isn’t true, and the brakes need servicing. There’s also a “minor oil leak from bottom of engine (did split engine case during top end overhaul).”
On a brighter note, this M50 also received a fair amount of engine work including the replacement of both crank seals and kickstarter seals with NOS units, the addition of NOS piston rings, NOS gaskets, and NOS points (installed/gapped). The muffler was also disassembled, cleaned, and overhauled. Other additions include new reproduction grips and new tires. This little Harley clearly needs some work, but could be a great project for the right person.
You can find this 1965 Harley-Davidson M50 (VIN: 65M9989) for sale here on Craigslist in Murrieta, California with a price of $2,800.