Picture story: The ground-breaking V4 super cruiser in Harley-Davidson's attic

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Here's a bike that's hard to place – it's the Harley-Davidson Nova, of 1979/80. Intended as a counter to the growing threat of high-tech European and Japanese rivals, it was planned for launch in 1981 complete with a (comparatively) stunning array of un-Harley-like attributes.

It was a V4 for a start, liquid-cooled and, revving to nearly 10,000rpm, around twice as powerful as any Harley of the time. The firm sank $15m into the project, outsourcing the engine design to Porsche. Chief stylist Willie G Davidson insisted the required radiator must not be visible, which resulted in it being sited under the seat.

Twin scoops routed through a dummy tank fed it with air, while the fuel was displaced into that bulging midriff. Harley got so far down the line as to have built 30 engines, 12 complete bikes and the die-cast tooling for the production crankcases.

But a change in management and reduction of overall Harley budget eventually led to a stark choice: proceed with the 'Evolution' family of stock-in-trade V-twins OR the Nova programme, with its planned lineup of high performance, low-heritage 800, 1000cc and even larger V6 models. For a firm with such deep conservative roots as H-D, it was no choice at all.

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