Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson

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Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson
Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson

Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson

Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson

Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson

12th pictures

Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson
Harley-Davidson

1/12
“They say that form follows function. but I believe that form and function serve the emotions – and that is exactly our strength “.

Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson
Harley-Davidson

2/12
With the shrill Cafe Racer, Willie G. showed in 1977 that Harley-Davidson can also do very different things.

Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson
Harley-Davidson

3/12
“We can build a motorcycle whose performance is beyond reproach. But if something is wrong with the magic of its proportions and style, the market WILL not accept it, ”said Willie G. on the subject “Performance isn’t everything”.

Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson
Harley-Davidson

4/12
Regardless of whether it’s a 100-year-old or a new Harley – Willie G. has a very clear design claim: “If you go to the garage with a beer in hand just to look at your motorcycle, then you have to it inspire you. We always want to keep this enthusiasm alive “.

Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson
Harley-Davidson

5/12
Family man: Willie G.’s son Bill (right) looks after the global community of Harley riders with the Harley Owners Group.

Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson
Harley-Davidson

6/12
Always on the cutting edge: Together with his wife Nancy, Willie G. likes to mingle with the motorcyclist people at meetings.

Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson
Harley-Davidson

7/12
Tradition and business success go hand in hand at Willie G..

Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson
Harley-Davidson

8/12
“The whole bike has to be a synthesis of look, sound and feel when it rolls onto the road. This conviction has made us what we are today. “

Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson
Harley-Davidson

9/12
It all began in 1963 with the careful reworking of the tank shapes, and Willie G. Davidson has remained the focal point of a motorcycle to this day. Retirement? Officially maybe…

Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson
Harley-Davidson

10/12
Design icon: With the legendary Super Glide, Willie G. created the archetype of the “factory custom bike” in 1971.

Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson
Harley-Davidson

11/12
The Sportster Seventy-Two is one of the last designs that the styling team, led by Willie G., brought onto the road.

Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson
Harley-Davidson

12/12
On May 1, 2012, the head of design retired and, appropriately, said goodbye to the Harley fan Pope Benedict XVI.

Sports & scene

Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson

Portrait of Willie G. Davidson
For the 80th birthday of the Harley-Davidson chief designer

Willie G. Davidson is retiring after 49 years as Harley-Davidson chief designer. Every Harley fan knows his life’s work, but only a few know his life. A tribute to the creative gentleman’s 80th birthday.

Heinrich Prince

05/23/2013

“Ride free, Willie G..” How many times has he written this saying – tireless, always friendly, always relaxed. On scraps of paper, jackets, walls, motorbikes or bare skin … “I really don‘t know!” Replies the old man, while his watchful eyes sparkle. It is his motto, his incentive, his life. 80 years ago he saw the light of day as William Godfrey Davidson in Milwaukee, USA. Father William Herbert, who is called “Bill” like his first-born, is just 28 years old, and grandpa William A. (63) is the oldest of the three Davidson brothers who Harley-Davidson owes part of its double name.

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Portrait of Willie G. Davidson
For the 80th birthday of the Harley-Davidson chief designer

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The clan is big and sticks together

Scottish blood runs in Bill Junior’s veins, and the Davidsons are proud of it. The clan is big and sticks together. With stoic perfectionism, an analytical sense of finance and an unwavering belief in their idea, they have achieved considerable wealth together with the Harleys. Motorcycles determine the life of the family. The wait for the thunder of the V2, which announces the father’s return from work at the Harley factory in the evening, the fascination for the racing drivers who grin at him from the posters in his room, and the longing to get into the saddle himself – Bill Junior shares all of this with his younger brother, John A..

If they’re good, their dad takes them to motorcycle races or the Juneau Avenue factory. The brothers are amazed at the in-house collection of historical Harleys in the “Archives”, which is inaccessible to unauthorized persons, admire the racing machines in the Race Department and listen to the stories of the test drivers. Their father teaches them how to use gas, brakes and clutches, John and Bill learn quickly. When Bill got on his first bike at the age of 15 under the watchful eyes of his dad, the DKW copy 125 S, only a few miles were enough before the motorcycle bacillus finally struck. Together with John, Bill did gymnastics on light machines in the field as a teenager, in the 1950s he won various regional off-road competitions on his Harley 165 and the K model.

But besides bikes and cars, the young Bill has another great love: Her name is Nancy and she is adorable. He goes out with her, rides her motorcycle – and marries her in 1957. The honeymoon takes him to Laconia, New Hampshire, where they cheer for Bill’s “hero”, Harley factory rider Joe Leonard, in the race. Nancy and Bill are to remain inseparable forever, two sons and a daughter will result from the marriage.

Cars, motorcycles and hot rods

Bill’s third great passion is painting and sketching, and what he loves most is – how could it be otherwise – cars, motorcycles and hot rods on paper. High school art courses already captivate him, but art studies at the University of Wisconsin leave little room for his fascination with design. An article in the magazine “Post” is supposed to change his life: He reads about Dream Cars, designed by students at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, which combine their interests in art and vehicles. Fire and flame from it, Bill persuades his parents to be allowed to study in LA. There the artist discovered the extremely colorful custom scene of the west coast with gasoline in his blood. One night in 1953 he met a biker at a gas station who had combined the jumper fork of his Harley Big Twin with a 21-inch front wheel – a novelty at the time. Bill is electrified, finally it becomes clear to him: “The form follows the function, but form and function serve the emotion.”


Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson


Harley-Davidson

“They say that form follows function. but I believe that form and function serve the emotions – and that is exactly our strength “.

With the design diploma in his pocket, he travels back to Milwaukee, back to Nancy – and straight to Clifford Brooks Stevens’ drawing table. The man who founded the Industrial Designers Society of America together with Raymond Loewy and eight other professional designers in 1944 is considered one of the hottest graphic and product designers of his era. Bill works for him on the styling of furniture and outboards, works for Studebaker and Willys and might have become a car designer if his name wasn’t Davidson. But as the grandson of one of the founders of the Motor Company, you are only too happy to take on certain duties – especially since Harley-Davidson had previously left product design to the intuition of artistically inclined engineers and managers as well as external creative companies. As early as 1957, Bill supplied the company with the first part-time drafts: the tank and logo of the very first Sportster models.

Since the 29-year-old is bursting with ideas, his father, William H. Davidson, who has been President of the Motor Company since 1942, brings him into the company. It was 1963 when Bill Junior founded the styling department. And because the Harley employee is also his father “Bill” call, his colleagues now unceremoniously baptize him “Willie G. The“ team ”of the newly appointed chief designer consists of himself and another employee who implements the designs in three dimensions as a model maker. Willie G. has completely free rein and carefully refines the look of the tanks and sheet metal parts of existing models. In addition to its name, he gave the Electra Glide 1965 the elegant lettering on the fender and designed the legendary “Bat Wing” cladding and the famous hard-shell touring suitcases.

His father clears the executive chair in frustration

But while Brigitte Bardot is setting a monument for Harley-Davidson with her anthem of the same name and “Easy Rider” is conquering the canvases, the Motor Company is blowing an icy wind in the face. In 1969 it fell into the hands of the large conglomerate American Machine and Foundry (AMF), whose products range from boats to bowling alleys. Willie G. is upset when he learns that an AMF logo must now be placed on the bike’s tank to the left of the Harley-Davidson lettering. In 1971 his father vacated the executive chair in frustration. Willie G. and John A. stay, while in the following years various AMF managers try to make Harley-Davidson a profitable mass manufacturer with considerable investments.


Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson


Harley-Davidson

Always on the cutting edge: together with his wife Nancy, Willie G. likes to mingle with the motorcyclist people at meetings.

Fortunately, the new company leaders still give the chief designer a lot of freedom. He developed the famous number one logo and the matching motorcycle: the Super Glide, a synthesis of Sportster and Big Twin, a “factory custom bike” that has a look ex works that otherwise only customizers create. It becomes the ancestor of an entire series, because in the middle of the decade Willie G. and his team, which has also included his friend Louis Netz since 1974, were given the green light to design even more radical models: Low Rider (1977), Cafe Racer ( 1977) and Wide Glide (1980) emerge and write motorcycle history. Willie G. doesn’t need marketing studies to guide him. He puts his design to the test by traveling with the prototype and testing other bikers’ reactions. Harley-Davidson is so proud of this that it is announced in the advertisement for the Cafe Racer and William Godfrey publicly names Willie G. for the first time, which is not hidden from fans of the brand …

Much was in upheaval by the end of the 1970s: Willie G. sworn off ties and now wears a full beard and a fluffy hairstyle, and AMF has finally lost the fun of his motorcycle division due to a lack of feeling for motorcycle construction in general and Harley-Davidson in particular. As Harley’s production figures rose, so did the once impeccable product quality. The large corporation hires Corporate Vice President Vaughn Beals to find a buyer for its motorcycle division. But Beals calls a meeting of the Harley top managers and announces his bold plan to jointly take over the company. 13 men want to get into the deal – including Willie G. “I’m taking a big risk right now,” he confesses to Nancy at home, “but this is my chance and I want to take it. There is no guarantee that it will work, but I believe in our brand. ”So it happened that on February 26, 1981, the top managers around Beals bought“ their ”company with the help of a bank consortium for 80 million US dollars.

Establishment of the Harley Owners Group

The news that the deal is perfect reaches Willie G. as he is about to set off from York to Daytona on an olive-green 81 Electra-Glide. He proudly sticks over the letters AMF on her tank and on his shirt. “The Eagle soars -alone” is the cheer on Juneau Avenue. Once again the company is struggling with economic difficulties as the motorcycle boom is already subsiding, but for the first time in the company’s history, new products and new ideas ensure survival. The new products include the Softail, a bike with the puristic look of a classic unsprung post-war chopper, but which is technically completely up to date with its hidden spring struts and the brand new Evolution engine. The new ideas include just-in-time production, drastic measures to improve quality and the founding of the Harley Owners Group under the aegis of Willie G.’s son Bill.


Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson


Harley-Davidson

“The whole bike has to be a synthesis of look, sound and feel when it rolls onto the road. This conviction has made us what we are today. “

Willie G. keeps an ear to the market: he tirelessly maintains contact with the grassroots at meetings and events. And while economic success was inevitable, his styling team designed other Softail models, including the Heritage Softail (1987), the Softail Springer (1988) and the legendary Fat Boy (1990). Stylish designers like Ray Drea and Frank Savage will support him in the following years and decades to create even the boldest “rolling sculptures” like the V-Rod – perfect syntheses of “look, sound and feel”, as Willie G. calls them.

In 2008 a long-cherished dream came true for Harley’s head of design: The 12,000 square meter factory museum in Milwaukee opened its doors. Willie G. is reminded of his childhood days when he and his brother were allowed to rummage around in the “Archives”. Due to the large number of visitors, the opening tickets are raffled – and an old man is visibly touched: “As a member of the Davidson family, nothing could make me happier.”

Four years later, on May 1st, 2012, this gentleman, who had been chief designer for Harley-Davidson for 49 years, will retire. The 19 remaining members of the styling team are now led by Ray Drea. And what will become of Willie G. himself? “I will always draw and paint – this is my life. I’ve been doing this since I could hold a pen! This job was my passion, my hobby, my way of life, and as a brand ambassador and Chief Styling Officer Emeritus, I will of course remain closely associated with the Motor Company, ”promises the old and wide-awake spirit. “I’ll be attending rallies and races in the US and around the world, and I have an office in the Harley Davidson Museum.” See you there, Willie G., and a happy 80th birthday!

One thought on “Harley-Davidson chief designer Willie G. Davidson

  1. Harley had a good run but I suspect it is over. They have styled and priced themselves out of business. My 2011 Fat Boy Lo is my last Harley. All I can figure is the parts are made of gold. And even gold shouldn’t cost that much. Adios Harley.

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