Harley-Davidson Styling Chief Steps Down

**WORDS: Aaron Frank **

PHOTOS: Harley-Davidson

[With his trademark bushy beard and black beret, his image has become as iconic as the motorcycles he created, and his influence has had an immeasurable impact on the history and success of Harley-Davidson. Now, after almost 49 years on the job, William Godfrey Davidson—better known to Motor Company Faithful as Willie G.—is retiring from his position as Senior Vice President and Chief Styling Officer.

The grandson of company founder William A. Davidson and son of the second president, William H. Davidson, Willie G. joined the f rm in 1963 after graduating from Pasadena, California’s Art Center College of Design. At f rst he clashed with conservative management who criticized his “outlandish” designs, but Willie G. was promoted to Vice President of Styling in ’69 and began to make his mark. One of his first concepts to see production was the 1971 FX Super Glide, the bike that began the factory custom craze.

Willie G. essentially kept Harley-Davidson alive during the cash-strapped AMF years. His remarkable ability to do more with less, endlessly recombining existing parts and platforms to create a steady stream of new and desirable models, kept the lineup fresh with minimal investment. This strategy still forms the core of Harley’s business model. On top of that. Willie G. is one of 13 executives who purchased H-D from AMF in ’81, saving and then rebuilding it into the global motorcycle powerhouse it is today.

Control of the styling department—housed in the 370,000 square-foot Willie G. Davidson Product Development Center—has been passed to Vice President and Director of Styling Ray Drea, a 19-year company veteran. The 78-year-old Willie G. will remain with the company as Brand Ambassador, and also be involved with special design projects as Chief Styling Off cer Emeritus. We haven’t seen the last of that famous beret yet.


1971 Supe****[r Glide
The first factory custom was created when Willie G. combined an FLH frame with a Sportster front end, and finished it with a boat-tail rear fender and _Captain America_- inspired paint.

1977 XLCR
Willie G. attempted to capitalize on the café-racer trend with this radical Sportster featuring XR750-styled bodywork and a bikini fairing. A commercial failure then, it's a coveted collector's item today.

1990 Fat Boy
With monochromatic paint and solid-disc wheels, the Fat Boy looked like a Softail sent back from the future—just like Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator character who rode it on the big screen.

2002 V-Rod
Willie G. looked to the future to envision Milwaukee's first liquid-cooled bike. The dragstrip stance, disc wheels and brushed-aluminum bodywork shouted speed and sophistication. T is was not his grandfather's Harley-Davidson!