Custom 1968 Harley-Davidson Ironhead Tribute Bike

We're so happy we got to meet Vietnam veteran Ken McGill at the Piston Powered Auto-Rama and hear the powerful story behind his 1968 Harley-Davidson Ironhead, a bike meant to honor his fallen brothers in arms. Check it out!

Oftentimes in our Ride of the Week series, we’ve noted that custom-built motorcycles (or any custom-built vehicle) usually have interesting stories hidden under the surface that give a deeper meaning to the build and the owner. It’s usually hard to understand what went into a particular build without the insight of the owner, but we found one such bike at the Piston Powered Auto-Rama that wears its story on its sleeve.

Ken McGill’s custom 1968 Harley-Davidson chopper caught our attention on the show floor not only because of its vintage ironhead engine, but also the patriotic United States Marine Core adornments scattered across the bike. The black and blue paint contrasted with shiny silver and gold make it look almost as a uniform, complete with medals and decorations pinned on the side.

On the rear fender of the bike, plain white text reads “Never Forgotten: Perry High School Graduates. All Gave Some. Some Gave All.”

“I graduated from Perry High School in 1966,” McGill said. “There’s a beautiful memorial in front of the school there to honor these brave 11 young men from my alma mater.”

McGill himself is a Vietnam veteran and took it upon himself to honor his friends and classmates that were killed in action during the war overseas. Six of those men were Marines, and McGill found it fitting to incorporate the branch into his build.

The most focal part of bike is the extremely unique shifter, a genuine marine core sword. Mounted to the right side of the bike with the handle in line with the gas tank, the sword is completely functional and adds and even greater authenticity to the build.

Aside from the names of the fallen military men, the rest of the bike is covered in deep blue designs that elicit the patriotism that McGill holds so dear. The gas tank features a fully realized soldiers holding a rifle backed by a Panther, which is Perry High School’s mascot. Two eagles in front of the American flag flank the sides of the tank. Another three soldiers are displayed near the foot pegs. Each of the designs light up, making them easier to see in darker environments and perfect for the show floor.

“A good friend of mine by the name of Pete Gonzalez and Andy Zinko out of Medina helped develop this LumiLor paint a few years back. I actually got to know them before the even had a patent on it.”

“Another good friend of mine, Kramer Sheet Metal down in Canton, Ohio, they made all of these front fork tubes. I wanted to them to cover all of the wiring and front brake lines and if you notice, you don’t see any of that here. They also developed the housing for the speedometer.”

McGill considers himself an “old-school rider,” so internally engine work like larger pistons or cams were out of the questions. The engine is almost completely stock, although the bike does feature a custom belt drive that you wouldn’t have found on an early Harley in that period.

All in all, McGill’s heartfelt motorcycle tribute took nearly five years and 20,000 hours to build. He told us that much of the reason for that time span was a result of the mentally hardships he fought along the way.

“This bike meant so much to me, and even when I was building it, I’d have times when I’d start to cry. I never want to let their names be forgotten as long as I’m alive.”

If you have a motorcycle, ATV, UTV, snowmobile or jet ski you’d like to feature in MPN’s Ride of the Week series, please email MPN Content Director Greg Jones at [email protected].

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