Harley-Davidson: The AMF Years
In the year of 1969, the Woodstock music festival took place in upstate New York, American astronauts landed on the moon, and the AMF corporation took over production of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Prior to the acquisition of Harley-Davidson, American Machine Foundry, or AMF was primarily known for its bowling equipment and other recreational items. AMF basically tossed the then-financially shaky Harley-Davidson a financial life preserver, and maintained ownership of the motorcycle company for a dozen years.
While there were, and still are plenty of fans of the AMF-era Harleys, there were also lots of Harley purists who weren't too thrilled with the whole idea of a sporting goods manufacturer producing the classic American motorcycle.
During the years that AMF owned Harley-Davidson, various Japanese, British, German, and Italian motorcycle manufacturers were also producing bikes that the motorcycling public was very receptive to. In addition to producing the smaller bikes that they had made for years, these companies began producing larger street and touring bikes.
The Honda 750 models in particular, were proving to be big sellers, and the bikes were starting to be customized as choppers.
There were rumblings of discontent concerning the workmanship and reliability of the AMF-era Harleys among some owners of the machines. It was commonly believed that the company sold out to corporate America, causing the overall quality and image of the machines and the brand to dip lower than ever before.
AMF did keep the Harley name going through those lean years, though. Even though the sales competition from the foreign manufacturers was intense, Harley-Davidson remained as the top-selling brand of heavyweight motorcycles.
Beginning in the early 1960s, Harley-Davidson produced a line of smaller bikes that were actually Italian-made Aermacchi motorcycles that were redesigned and branded as Harleys. AMF continued to produce these models until 1978, when the division was sold to Italian motorcyle company Cagiva.
The 65 cc M-65, the 100 cc Baja, and the 125 cc Rapido models were all produced by Harley-Davidson until 1972. The 250 cc Sprint model cycle that was produced throughout most of the 1960s was essentially reintroduced as the 350 cc SX-350 model in 1971.
AMF also continued to produce a pre-existing line of Harley-Davidson three-wheeled and four-wheeled golf carts during the years that it ran the company.
In 1971, the FX 1200 Super Glide made its first appearance. The first custom/cruiser machine produced by Harley-Davidson, this bike was a hybrid Sportster/big twin model. Although sales of this bike were somewhat sluggish at first, the Super Glide and its subsequent variations proved to be quite popular with motorcycle consumers.
Production of Harley-Davidson snowmobiles also began in 1971, and continued through 1975.
A big step forward for Harley-Davidson occurred in 1973 when the company opened a new assembly plant in York, Pennsylvania.
Designed to commemorate America's bicentennial, Harley-Davidson released a limited edition line of bikes called the Bicentennial Liberty Edition in 1976. With their special commemorative decals, these bikes were generally well-received by their owners and motorcycle reviewers alike.
One of the rarest and most controversial Harley-Davidson models was produced during the year following the bicentennial. In 1977, AMF-Harley produced a limited edition line of bikes known as the "Confederate Edition" series.
The "Confederate Edition" line consisted of silver-painted Sportsters, Electra Glides, and Super Glides that were factory-accessorized with decals of the rebel flag. Between the different models, a total number of approximately 650 of these bikes were produced.
After a civil rights complaint was lodged against Harley-Davidson for its use of a culturally insensitive symbol, the company decided to stop using the Confederate flag symbol on its products, including the "Confederate Edition" models.
Harley-Davidson also introduced a 1000 cc cafe racer model known as the XLCR in 1977. Although the model is popular with collectors these days, it was largely ignored back when it was released. Sales figures for the XLCR were low, and the model was discontinued in 1979.
The XR-750 racing bike debuted in 1970, then was reintroduced with an all-new alloy engine in 1972. The XR-750 was produced in several model years between 1972 and 1980. This AMF-era Harley model was the type of motorcycle that stunt rider Evel Knievel utilized for his motorcycle jumps in the 1970s. After 1980, only the engine from this dirt track racing bike model became available.
Among the other notable models that were produced by Harley-Davidson during the AMF years were the FXS Low Rider in 1977, the "Fat Bob" in 1979, and the 80 cubic-inch FXB Sturgis model in 1980.
The AMF association with Harley-Davidson motorcycles ended in 1981 when AMF sold the company to a group of investors including Willie G. Davidson, the grandson of company co-founder William A. Davidson.
The new owners of the company reinvigorated Harley-Davidson with a sense of rebirth and independence that hugely boosted company morale. Having had an opportunity to free itself from a larger corporate owner, Harley-Davidson was back, with a whole new philosophy and quest for excellence.
Many of the fuel tanks on Harley-Davidsons made during the AMF years featured vibrant three or four-color designs. A solid-color background on these tanks is usually accented by a rectangular Harley-Davidson name plate, and two or three different-colored horizontal lines.
Nowadays, those AMF-era fuel tanks are much-desired items by Harley owners and collectors of accessories related to the motorcycle company. To this day, a big market exists for all types of AMF-era Harley-Davidson motorcycles, parts, accessories, and advertising materials.
These days, the AMF company is focused on operating more than 240 bowling centers across America.
As with most things in life, there are pluses and minuses when it comes to the years that AMF owned Harley-Davidson. Sure, there are some people who will insist that the motorcycles that were made by Harley-Davidson during the AMF years were not as well-made as models from other eras.
There are lots of other people, however, who have owned, or still do own AMF-era Harleys, and are very happy with their machines. One thing is for sure, the years that Harley-Davidson was owned by AMF were interesting times.