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Harley-Davidson: The AMF Years

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.

An AMF 1973 Ironhead chopper built by Kevin Spence. Lowbrow Customs - Harley-Davidson: The AMF Years An AMF 1973 Ironhead Sportster chopper built by Kevin Spence.

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.

AMF was first highly known for their bowing equipment and the sporting goods. Lowbrow Customs - Harley Davidson: The AMF Years AMF was first highly known for their bowing equipment and the sporting goods.

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, the Yamaha 650, Triumph 650, and Kawasaki Mach III cycles were providing some real competition for the Harleys that were being produced under the watch of AMF. 

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.

Vintage ad for an Aermacchi 350 / Harley-Davidson. Lowbrow Customs - Harley-Davidson: The AMF Years Vintage ad for an Aermacchi 350 / Harley-Davidson

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. 

Ah, what every motorcycle enthusiast needs in their life, a Harley-Davidson golf cart. Lowbrow Customs - Harley-Davidson: The AMF Years Ah, what every motorcycle enthusiast needs in their life, a Harley-Davidson golf cart.

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.

Harley-Davidson's 1200cc Super Glide FX. Lowbrow Customs - Harley-Davidson: The AMF Years Harley-Davidson's 1200cc Super Glide FX.

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.

Yup, they made Harley-Davidson snowmobiles! Lowbrow Customs - Harley-Davidson: The AMF Years Yup, they made Harley-Davidson snowmobiles!

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. 

Only 650 Confederate Editions were ever produced between the different models Harley-Davidson had to offer at the time. Lowbrow Customs - Harley-Davidson: The AMF Years Only 650 Confederate Editions were ever produced between the different models Harley-Davidson had to offer at the time.

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.

The Harley-Davidson XLCR-1000 was released in 1977. Lowbrow Customs - Harley-Davidson: The AMF Years The Harley-Davidson XLCR-1000 was released in 1977.

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.

Evel Knievel going down hard and his Xr750 following right behind after a successful 90 mph jump over 13 buses at Wembley Stadium - 1975. Lowbrow Customs - Harley-Davidson: The AMF Years Evel Knievel going down hard and his Xr750 following right behind after a successful 90 mph jump over 13 buses at Wembley Stadium - 1975

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.

Harley-Davidson's FXB Sturgis model was released in 1980. Lowbrow Customs - Harley-Davidson: The AMF Years Harley-Davidson's FXB Sturgis model was released in 1980.

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 Harley-Davidson buy back from AMF meeting happened in 1981. Lowbrow Customs - Harley-Davidson: The AMF Years The Harley-Davidson buy back from AMF meeting happened in 1981.

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.

That signature AMF look to most gas tanks. Lowbrow Customs - Harley Davidson: The AMF Years That signature AMF look to most gas tanks.

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.

Start'em young. Lowbrow Customs - Harley-Davidson: The AMF Years Start'em young.

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.

"One thing is for sure, the years that Harley-Davidson was owned by AMF were interesting times." Lowbrow Customs - Harley-Davidson: The AMF Years "One thing is for sure, the years that Harley-Davidson was owned by AMF were interesting times."

5 thoughts on “Harley-Davidson: The AMF Years”

  • Thanks for the AMF information, always nice to read. I ride a 1979 FXE. It now has fatbob tanks and lots of chrome. I've also got a 1983 Honda CB1000 I'm working on that sat up for 20 years. Jeez. Also building a 1969 Triumph 650 rigid frame bobber. I'll definitely be buying parts from Lowbrow soon.

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  • Fantastic wright up on the AMF years
    Keep up the great work!!

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  • The good thing about the AMF years was the style of the bikes , in my opinion they were some of the best looking bikes built , the Sportsters and Super Glides just define the Harley style .

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  • Great write up on the AMF years of Harley Davidson. In 77' I had a chance to ride a 75' AMF Sportster. It was black with king/queen seat, sissy bar, extended front end, buck horn bars, and drag pipes. I took it down to River Road where we used to drag race our hot rods. Took off from a dead stop and ran it up over 100 MPH. It was the most thrilling ride I ever had (up till' then). From then on, I was hooked and I am never without a Sportster.......or three.

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  • What year did the engineering of the Evolution motor begin and who was/were the designers?

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