As humans we have many, many tools we can use to support our opinions. We can cite statistics that were gathered by those who are of the same mind as us. We can quote sound bytes from selected experts. We can wave our favorite magazine in the faces of non-believers just to name a few of those tools, but one of the most powerful tools we can use is hindsight.
Using hindsight, it is undeniably true that the Shovelhead engine is not only associated with the lowest ebb in the history of the MoCo, but it is more than that. The Shovel is a direct product of an era when big, heavy, American made motorcycles no longer sat on show room floors; save one particular brand that was kept afloat because the struggling factory was purchased by said "bowling ball company." In that light, Rufus, you are right, and no truer words were ever spoken. But, projecting our hindsight nearly 35 years down the road from its inception, in the last decade, we will also be able to say that the Evo was a decent enough engine for its time. Another 33 or so years down the road from where we are now, some will most likely say that the Cam 88 was a decent enough engine for its time, but I either won't be around to hear those arguments, or I will be crapping my diapers in an old-folks home. There is truly no single, other tool so abrasive to the personal memories of those we choose to grind with it ... as hindsight. You see, like many of us, I was already riding on 2 wheels before the Shovel was introduced, and I well remember the distrust, the suspicion, and, yes, even the disdain, held by those whose Panhead motors had already thumped their selves into their hearts.
The Shovelhead engine jumped from a generator machine to an alternator; a building block, if you will, for every electrical system produced by the MoCo today. Hydraulic, disk brakes were perfected on machines with Shovelhead plants and brake cables and rods were thrown away. Solid state ignition systems came into being on the Shovel. While each of these technological advances can be individually targeted, and nit-picked to pieces using our bag of opinion supporting tools, all the major improvements to engine / bike had much merit or they would have been discarded, and not been designed onto the Evolution engine / bikes. (And, before anybody points out how few actual parts were carried over from Shovel to Evo, they should read how few actual parts were carried over from Evo to Cam 88. When the MoCo builds a new engine, they build a new engine. That point, m' friend, is moot.)
Am I saying that the Shovel is perfect? Let this be your answer ... I am the only living human who can start my Shovelhead without much cursing, and sweating, and sheer effort . While, on the other hand, I have yet to see a stock Evo that a green, high school kid can't figure out how to crank. In the time that the Shovelhead was invented, a person had to be smart enough to learn how to shift gears or they couldn't drive the school bus. At the end of the Shovel's production run, automatic transmissions had eliminated the need for a sense of timing and general coordination, and anybody tall enough to see over the dash can wheel the bus out of the yard. I digressed in this paragraph only to illustrate all the places where hindsight can take us. Don't get me wrong, though, hindsight is very, very useful. Once we have placed our hand in the fire, we don't, purposefully, do it again. That is the kind of hindsight you can build on.
If you have been burned by a Shovelhead, ride an Evo. So simple that I don't know why it took me so long to say it. If the look, the feel, and the sound of a Shovelhead ... begat by Panhead ... begat by Knucklehead ... is what you want, then that is what you will ride, promote, and praise. "Shovelheads Rule" is only shouted by those who have found what they want, and, since it is an old engine, enjoy the feel of the parts in their hands ... the heft of the rods ... the primary cover that only fits a Shovel ... the 60 wt. that works great no matter which filler hole you pour it into ... the rocker boxes that look like they were designed independently of the cylinders ... So, is it the Shovelhead engine itself that is so abrasive, or is it the loyalty of the Shovelhead lover who steadfastly refuses to jump to the next newest thing, and the next ... and the next. The answer to that, I would hazard to guess, is much like a personal opinion, and can only be answered by those who feel so wronged, or so belittled, by the phrase "Shovelheads Rule!"
Even if you discount the technological advances that were machined into the engine's basic design during it's production run, the Shovelhead engine is a definite, important part of Harley history, from it's looks alone. Its oil dripping, nut-shattering, solid mounted visage distinguishes it as the last of a breed that now has earned it's lovers Brotherhood status. Shovelheads rule in this house, bubba. When you trade for a Cam 88, let me know how it handles, because I'll still be riding my Shovel.