Willie G. Davidson's Greatest Motorcycles

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Willie G. Davidson's 49-Year Career

Willie G. Davidson
Willie G. Davidson. Photo © Harley-Davidson Archives

Willie G. Davidson enjoyed a 49-year tenure at the company co-founded by his grandfather, William A. Davidson. 

When he joined the team in 1963, Willie G.'s design eye was initially met with skepticism from the company's conservative senior management, who viewed his tastes as too avant-garde for the manufacturer. Nonetheless, Willie G. played a key hand in creating numerous watershed bikes that helped establish Harley-Davidson's contemporary design language as we know it. He has been responsible for the look of all motorcycles to emerge from Harley-Davidson, and he's seen both good times and bad; Willie G. was one of the 13 executives to purchase Harley back from AMF in 1981, and he was also there during periods of unprecedented, and seemingly endless growth before the global financial crisis put the skids on Harley sales.

The announcement of his retirement after nearly half a century at the Motor Company is a great occasion to look back on some of his most memorable designs.


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1971: Harley-Davidson FX Super Glide

1971 Harley-Davidson FX Super Glide
The 1971 Harley-Davidson FX Super Glide. Photo © Harley-Davidson

Willie G. Davidson was appointed Vice President of styling in 1969. With aftermarket entities cashing in on the motorcycle customizing craze, Harley-Davidson's attempt to grab a slice of that pie led him to design the 1971 FX Super Glide -- essentially the company's first factory custom.

Combining a sporty XL series-like front end with the frame and powertrain from the FL series, Willie G.'s FX Super Glide set the visual pace for a long line of spinoffs, and is considered one of the most stylistically significant motorcycles to come out of Harley-Davidson's Milwaukee headquarters.

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1977: Harley-Davidson XLCR Cafe Racer

1977 Harley-Davidson XLCR Cafe Racer
The 1977 Harley-Davidson XLCR Cafe Racer. Photo © Harley-Davidson

The Harley-Davidson XL-series -- the Sportster lineup -- has been around since 1957, but it took 20 years for the XLCR Cafe Racer to appear.

Wearing a small bikini fairing, relatively low handlebars, and blacked-out paint with whitewall tires, the XLCR was only produced for two years.


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1990: Harley-Davidson Fat Boy

1990 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy
The 1990 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy. Photo © Harley-Davidson

The Fat Boy was introduced as a bold, big-boned cruiser with an imposing presence and a heavy-duty footprint. Part of the Softail family, the Fat Boy made the perfect match for Arnold Schwarzenegger in "The Terminator," and is currently sold alongside its hunkered down stablemate, the Fat Boy Lo.


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1991: Harley-Davidson FXDB Dyna Glide Sturgis

1991 Harley-Davidson FXDB Dyna Glide Sturgis
The 1991 FXDB Dyna Glide Sturgis. Photo © Harley-Davidson

The so-called "Dyna" series was launched in 1991 with the FXDB Dyna Glide Sturgis, named after the town that hosts the famous motorcycle rally.

Dynas are noted for their "dynamic" riding feedback and feature larger, rubber-mounted V-twin engines, visible coilover shocks, and exposed battery boxes; for the 2012 model year, no fewer than five Dyna models are available.


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2002: Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod

Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod
The 2002 Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-Rod. Photo © Harley-Davidson

Easily the most controversial production Harley-Davidson ever, the V-Rod was introduced in 2002 as an effort to woo younger buyers to the brand.

Inspired by the VR-1000 race bike, the V-Rod packed Harley's first ever liquid-cooled engine and was the first to combine it with fuel injection and overhead cams. This first model year bike produced 115 horsepower.


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2007: Harley-Davidson Sportster XL1200N Nightster

Harley-Davidson XL1200N Nightster
The 2007 Harley-Davidson XL1200N Nightster. Photo © Harley-Davidson

Harley's blacked-out Dark Custom theme typifies their latest factory custom trend, and the 2007 Sportster XL1200N Nightster represents the early days of that movement with its trimmed-down components, black rims, fork gaiters, and side-mounted license plate holder.