Harley Davidson History (Explained simple) – Part 2

Harley Davidson Historic XA

Harley Davidson History (Explained simple) – Part 2

Have you read the first part of our article? Well, so you must be curious to know how the story goes on. That’s the second part of our Harley Davidson History post! Yes, technically it’s another post, but who cares?

Last week we left with the crisis Harley was experiencing. Due to the growing production of automobiles, which cost as much as a big bike, almost all of the motorbike company were wiped off the market. Only Harley Davidson and Indian, the biggest and most known companies, managed to survive.

Harley Davidson in the Second World War and the postwar period

With the participation of the US in World War II, Harley Davidson returned to produce motorcycles for the army. Due to this deal, the Milwaukee company produced 88.000 motorbikes, including the model XA, produced with a 2-cylinder boxer engine (You can see a photo of this iconic model in the image here above!). Only 1.000 XA were produced and this makes it currently the rarest model of Harley Davidson.

After the victory in the war, the retiring troops left abandoned in Europe many Harley motorbikes. Both these and the surplus produced made up the European market, powered by the American dream. In this period Harley becomes an icon, a symbol for the Europeans, and is used in the production in some of the most famous films of all time.

From the 50s English brands (Triumph, for example) entered the market and Harley suffered the competition and the trades fell. In these years, to keep up the sales, Harley introduced new technologies and models like the Sportser. One of the most iconic and the only still in production after more than 60 years. The Sportster was produced also in the “R” version for the races, that in the meantime Harley had rejoined. Unfortunately, not all the new creations had the big success of the Sportser, on the contrary, almost all of them were a failure.

The crisis of 60s and 70s

The main issues of these failures were related to the new policy of the company, that abandoned the old style of quality and reliability, to increase revenues. And so it started maybe the worst crisis in the Harley Davidson History. This policy led to a crisis empathized by the entrance of the Japanese brand like Honda in the market. In 1969 the owners of Harley, failing to manage the crisis and seriously succeeding in bankruptcy, sold the company at the AMF.

The AMF policy, however, didn’t change so much. They continued to reduce staff and investments at the expense of quality and all the hallmarks that made Harley what it was. As a result, the AMF ruinous management achieved some results only in the races field. In fact, in the 70s, in collaboration with the Italian Aermacchi, they managed to conquer various titles.

The rebirth and the modern period

Finally in 1981 AMF sold Harley to a new group of investors, in which was present Willie G. Davidson, heir of one of the founders. The new strategy adopted by the group followed the Japanese example of business and the choice proved successful. Harley finally focused once again on quality and developed new engines, the Harley Davidson evolution, and new models such as the Softail custom, released in 1984, and the Softail Fat Boy released in 1990. With these models, Harley became again the leader in the big twin sector.

In 1999 Harley produced the first Twin Cam 88 engine, which allowed to nullify the vibrations. It was so successful that it was then installed on the whole range, except for the Sportster. In the following years, all the models adopted the electronic injection of the EVO engines and in 2007 also the Sportster abandoned the carburetor. In 2001 Harley developed in collaboration with Porsche a new revolutionary engine for the new V-Rod, but it didn’t receive the hoped-for success due to the conservative and traditional image created over the years. Nevertheless, motorcyclists are starting to reevaluate and appreciate this model.

In the last years, Harley has developed some innovative projects and modernized almost all the range with the adoption of the new Milwaukee-Eight engines. In 2014 Harley announces the Livewire project, the first full-electric motorbike, and is then released in 2019. But this is another story that maybe one day we will tell you.

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