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Harley-Davidson and AMF… A bittersweet symphony

ER Classics Desktop 2022

A turbulent history. Harley-Davidson was bad in 1969. But Harley-Davidson was saved by the American Machine and Foundry Co. (AMF). That company reorganized and invested. But to no avail. Things were in danger of turning back. 1981: Thirteen Harley-Davidson executives buy out the company from American Machine and Foundry Co. Under the inspiring leadership of the genius Willy G Davidson, the company took a life-saving leap forward into the past. Harley was one of the first brands to go retro. That's a 'long story short'.

Fall and rise

About the history and fortunes of Harley - notice the hyphen, they are pretty keen on that in Milwaukee - Davidson has written and talked a lot. It is a regular topic of conversation outside, but also within Harley circles how bad the Harleys were at the time when the brand was part of the A (merican) M (achine) F (oundry) Company. That company had made serious money producing things for bowling alleys and tennis rackets. Something that was crazy for Old School Hard Core Harley Bikers.


That may all be pretty true, but if AMF had not incorporated Harley-Davidson, it would not have made it to 1970.

A new boss, a new regime

So, in 1969, American Machine and Foundry (AMF) bought the collapsing company, restructured production, and reduced the workforce. This approach led to labor strikes and cost savings and additionally - partly due to the demotivation of the makers - in engines of lower quality. To put it nicely.

Many ready-made motorcycles failed the final inspection and were then used as donor bicycles for Harleys that were delivered but broken down. Harleys were overpriced and inferior in performance and quality, and they were no match for the now flourishing Japanese motorcycles. Sales and quality declined further and the company almost went bankrupt - once again. The name 'Harley-Davidson' was derided as 'Hardly Ableson', 'Hardly Driveable' and 'Hogly Ferguson', and it once nicknamed 'Hog' became scornful instead of tough. By cunning lobbying, Harley was able to ensure that there was an additional tax on Japanese motorcycles over 750 cc. And that is why all kinds of 700 cc Japanese Harley-es from that time are still offered for change.

In the AMF era, very nice Harleys were invented

But they never came into production. The plans and dream-making also made use of parts or ideas from European Harleys such as those of Aermacchi, a company that the Americans had bought to expand the strength of the brand. In 1969 AMF acquired a 50% interest in Harley-Davidson and in 1972 this was converted to 100%. Harley-Davidson held a majority stake in Aermacchi at the time. Profit was seen in it. This led to the range of light engines with an engine capacity of 125 to 350 cc in various models and versions. These engines had a two-stroke or a four-stroke engine.

The two-stroke motorcycles were built from the early 1970s to 1978. Some examples of these models are the sx-350, SS-350, SR-100, Z-90, X-90, TX-125. And they are the best example when you want to talk about serious depreciation on Harleys.

A little later and now

The management buy-out that brought back a real Harley at the helm was a success. The past proved to be the gateway to the future. Harley went retro. In the meantime, that era is over. Harley-Davidson's USPs (Unique Selling Points), the V-twin and the 'Made in America' have become commonplace. And that a Harley can be sold as The real American Steel? Today's Harley purchases its parts worldwide. Up to China.

As a result - and through standard insightless management - the brand has once again entered the danger zone. You can now only recognize a new Harley by its logo. And for a few generations now, that logo no longer stands for the Legend, but simply for 'a brand'.

More stories about classic engines Through this link

Also read:
- Right out of the box: Harley-Davidson XLHC Sportster
- Harley-Davidson boat tail. A bridge too far
- Harley-Davidson Nova Project
- Something about Harley-Davidson
- An Aermacchi Ala Verde 250

Two-stroke Harleys. It was not him. Just look: He is being laughed at

The dashed appearance was characteristic

A model that did not make it. Too bad right?

3 Comments

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  1. HD is and will remain the cult machine. Willy-G sensed that zeitgeist (biker culture, films, music, clothing) flawlessly, partly helped by his descent as a scion of the Davidsons, his designer and marketing talent came in very handy in this respect. And there was also something put on the market at the time !! HD was not 'just a brand but a way of living', the bicycles could not be dragged and people liked it. But as is so often the case, a top brand dies by its own success: people sometimes want something different, it is out of fashion, a generation is dying out, it becomes unaffordable for the 'common man, the youth does not like it, Willy G leaves, etc etc. And it remains very difficult to always come up with something 'new', which is why they are not going to make it with that 'Pan-Am'. BMW has been lord and master within this segment for years. Nobody is waiting for an HD 'cross bike'. The electric Live Wire has potential (traveling the Interstates on a large electric Harley) but the big turnaround has yet to come within the motorcycle world. Most of the motorcycles sold now have a combustion engine, and I think they have moved too quickly from the classic design at HD, it's all way too angular and high in the saddle. The nice face and the low and long frame are gone, and everything is 'black'. I can burst if it's not true. Well enough bullshit. I wish the company HD the best of luck Dear motorbike greetings from Eric M.

  2. “Insightless management”?… That deserves clarification ..

    HD has a buying audience even more conservative than BMW's.
    Where the BMW driver is no longer alone on a boxer, the average HD driver only wants to be seen on a shaking air-cooled V-twin.
    The management has been making fierce attempts to tap 'other' public sources for decades, with products such as single cylinders, boxers and in this time water-cooled (oh ... the horror ...) 60-degree V-twins ... but the public only eats the well-known pot; pounding air coolers.
    I hope their latest attempt at reviving the Revolution engine (the Pan American, a GS (A) / African Twin-esque all-roader) gets more chances ...

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