Harley-Davidson began in a shed, went to war,
became the symbol of American individualism
and ended up "king of the road".
A 10’ x 15’ shed located in the Davidson family’s Milwaukee backyard was the birthplace of Harley-Davidson. The Davidson Brothers William D., Walter and Arthur, and William S. Harley crafted their first motorcycle using the best available tools they had, mostly their hands and their ingenuity. In 1903, three motorcycles were built and the Harley-Davidson Motor Co. began its journey.
A Call to Action
In 1909, Harley-Davidson introduced a more powerful motorcycle, incorporating a new engine that is the company’s standard to this day: the V-Twin. Doubling the power of its predecessors, it carried riders at a then-unbelievable 60 miles per hour. By 1911, there were 150 other brands of motorcycles competing for space on America’s roads. Soon thereafter, a new use for motorcycles appeared on the battlefield. Already popular for police use, Harley-Davidson motorcycles supported the military in border skirmishes with Pancho Villa in the early 1900s. As motorcycles became more reliable, the United States called upon motorcycle manufacturers to sup-port the infantry in World War I. By the end of the war, 20,000 Harley-Davidson motorcycles had been called into action.
The years following World War I saw major advancements in motorcycle design and Harley-Davidson led the way. In 1921, a Harley-Davidson became the first vehicle to win a race with an average speed of over 100 miles per hour. The Teardrop gas tank was introduced in 1926, and another standard, the front brake came into use in 1928. Meanwhile, engine design improved continuously.
The Great Depression devastated the motorcycle industry. Only two manufacturers, Harley-Davidson and Indian, survived through the 1930s. Though sales dropped sharply, Harley-Davidson survived, thanks to a strong dealer network, police and military use, conservative business management and strong exports.
In 1941, Harley-Davidson again answered the call to war. Its entire motorcycle output supplied American and Allied forces during World War II. Harley-Davidson built and shipped more than 90,000 motorcycles during the war and earned the covet-ed Army-Navy "E" award for excellence in wartime production.
The King of the Road
Following World War II, Americans eagerly returned to motorcycling. To meet the exploding demand for its motorcycles, Harley-Davidson purchased additional manufacturing facilities in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa in 1947.
The 1940s and ‘50s brought changes for Harley-Davidson. The second generation of management rose through the corporate ranks as the original founders died, while the closing of Indian in 1953 made Harley-Davidson the sole survivor in the American motorcycle industry. Harley-Davidson now was the undisputed "king of the road". But the company did not rest on its laurels. It leaped forward in 1957 with the introduction of the Sportster motorcycle and ushered in a new era that of the heavy-weight motorcycles. The 1950s and ‘60s also saw the explosion of the American "motorcycle culture", with black leather jackets becoming not only a statement of fashion, but of a lifestyle.
1901 In Milwaukee, William Harley, 21, and Arthur Davidson, 20, began experiments on "taking the work out of bicycling." They were soon joined by Arthur's brothers, Walter and William.
1903 Many changes were made to the engine design before its builders were satisfied. After the new looped frame was finalized, they were ready to begin production. 1903 production: 3 motorcycles.
1906-07 Harley-Davidson erected its first building at the current Juneau Avenue site in 1906 and they incorporated in 1907. 1907 production: 150 motorcycles.
1909 The trademark 45 degree V-Twin engine, introduced in 1909, displaced 49.5 cu in and produced seven horsepower. Top speed: 60 mph. 1909 production: 1,149 motorcycles.
1913 The original 28' x 80' factory had grown to 297,110 square feet. Harley began to dominate racing events. 1913 production: 12,904 motorcycles.
1916-18 After Harley-Davidson motorcycles had proven their military value in border skirmishes with Pancho Villa, they were quickly called to duty when the U.S. entered WWI. Some 20,000 cycles would see duty before the war's end.
1920 Harley-Davidson became the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, boasting dealers in 67 countries. 1920 production: 28,189 motorcycles.
1921 In February 1921, on a Fresno, Calif., board track, a Harley-Davidson became the first motorcycle ever to win a race with an average speed over 100 mph.
1922-28 The Twenties were a decade of innovation for Harley-Davidson, including the 74 cu in. V-Twin (1922), the Teardrop gas tank (1925) and the front brake (1928).
1929-33 After the stock market crash of October 1929, Harley-Davidson sales suffered with everyone else's in the industry. By 1933, production in Milwaukee had dropped to 3,700 motorcycles.
1936 Harley-Davidson wasted no time building momentum out of the depression, introducing its EL model, featuring the 61 cu in. overhead valve engine, also known as the "Knucklehead." 1936 production: 9,812 motorcycles.
1941-45 Almost immediately after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Harley-Davidson's entire motorcycle output was produced for Allied use. By the end of World War II, 90,000 WLA army-version motorcycles had been built and shipped.
1948 After the war, motorcyclists were eager to get back to their sport. To feed their desire for more motorcycles, Harley-Davidson introduced a new 74 cu in. engine with hydraulic valve lifters and aluminum heads. The "Panhead" was born. 1948 production: 31,163 motorcycles.
1953 As Harley-Davidson celebrated its 50th nniversary, its oldest and closest competitor, Indian, went out of business, leaving Harley-Davidson as the sole survivor in a once overcrowded American motorcycle marketplace. 1953 production: 14,050 motorcycles.
1957-58 The Sportster, father of the superbikes, was introduced in 1957, followed in 1958 by the Duo Glide, featuring a hydraulic rear shock suspension to go with the hydraulically dampened front fork. Also in 1958, Carroll Resweber won the first of four consecutive AMA Grand National Championships.
1963 When it became apparent that fiberglass was becoming a versatile material for golf cars and motorcycles, Harley-Davidson purchased and converted a fiberglass boat company in Tomahawk, Wis.
1963 Willie G. Davidson joined Harley-Davidson as design director.
1965 George Roeder set a world land speed record of 177.225 mph for 250CC motorcycles on a modified Harley-Davidson Sprint. Bart Markel, aboard a Harley, won the second of his three AMA Grand National Championships.
1965 With the addition of an electric starter, the Duo Glide became the Electra Glide in 1965, which was also the last year of the "Panhead" engine. The "Shovelhead" engine took over the V-Twin mantle in 1966. 1966 production: 36,310 motorcycles.
1969 After going public for the first time in 1965, Harley-Davidson took a new turn in 1969 by merging with the American Machine and Foundry Company (AMF). Rodney Gott, AMF's chairman, had been a Harley fan since pre-World War II.
1971 Joe Smith, riding a drag bike powered by a single Harley-Davidson motor, was the first to break the nine-second barrier in motorcycle drag racing. 1971 also marked the introduction of the Super Glide, considered the first true factory custom.
1974-75 To help meet the demand of a booming motorcycle marketplace, chassis manufacturing and final assembly operations moved to a plant in York, Pa. Engine and transmission operations remained in Milwaukee, along with the corporate headquarters. 1975 production: 75,403 motorcycles.
1976-78 Continuing the Harley-Davidson tradition of racing dominance, Jay "Springer" Springsteen won the AMA Grand National Championship in 1976, 1977 and 1978.
1980 The 80 cu in FLT Tour Glide, with five-speed transmission, oil bath enclosed rear chain and a vibration isolated engine, inherited the title of "King of the Highway" and was the predecessor to today's Harley-Davidson touring motorcycles.
1981 On February 26, 1981, a group of thirteen senior Harley-Davidson executives, led by Vaughn Beals, signed a letter of intent to purchase the company from AMF. Settled by June 16, 1981, the executives celebrated with a ride from York to Milwaukee. 1981 production: 41,586 motorcycles.
1983 To get Harley owners more involved in the sport, the company formed the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.), now the largest factory-sponsored motorcycle club in the world. Also in 1983, tariffs were imposed on Japanese motorcycles 700CC or larger in response to unf air trade practices.
1984 After seven years of development, Harley-Davidson introduced the 1340CC V2 Evolution engine. Designed for high reliability with a minimum of scheduled maintenance, the engine produced more power at every speed.
1986 Harley-Davidson returned to public ownership by offering two million shares of common stock and a concurrent offering of $70 million principal amounts of subordinated notes due 1996.
1987 In March 1987, Harley-Davidson petitioned the International Trade Commission for early termination of the tariffs on Japanese motorcycles. In July, Harley-Davidson was approved for listing on the New York Stock Exchange.
1988 The 1988 product line featured the first 74 cu in Sportster, with 1200 CCs of power. Also, to mark the company's 85th anniversary, a cross-country ride was held, benefiting the Muscular Dystrophy Association. 1988 production: 47,325 motorcycles.
1990 The Fat Boy became a favorite the second it was introduced.
1991-92 Scott Parker became only the second rider in history to win four consecutive AMA Grand National Championships, 1988-91. The following year, he was dethroned by Chris Carr, who now races Superbikes with Harley-Davidson's VR1000, but he came back to win the title again in 1993, 1994 and 1995.
1993 On June 12, ten rides converged on Milwaukee for a festival to commemorate the company's 90th anniversary. More than 100,000 enthusiasts came for the event, highlighted by an eight-mile long parade featuring 60,000 Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
1994 After a short hiatus from superbike racing, Harley stormed back into road racing with the introduction of the VR1000, ridden in its inaugural season by Miguel Duhamel.
1995 was a record year for the company, with record sales from the production of 105,104 motorcycles.
1996-97 With the introduction of the Heritage Springer Softail, Harley-Davidson forged into the future by staking claim to its biggest asset -- the past.
The first letter of the model designator reveals the engine series:
G - Servicar three wheeler, 1932 to 1972
E - Overhead valve 61 cubic inch "big twin" (Engine/trans separated)
F - Overhead valve 74 or 80 cubic inch "big twin"
K - Side valve 45 and 55 cubic inch sports bike that replaced the WL in
1953 and was replaced by the sportster in 1957. It had many design
features that were carried over to the Sportster.
U - Side valve 74 or 80 cubic inch "big twin"
V - Side valve 74 cubic inch made prior to 1936
W - Side valve 45 cubic inch made 1934 to 1952
X - Sports and special construction. Applied to 1918-1922 opposed twin
Sport, 1944 military opposed twin, and 1957 to present Sportster.
There were others, such as the J series (a very nice looking bike that was about the hottest thing around in the 20's) but you're not likely to see them in daily use anymore.
L - high compression. Omitted on low compression early models, and not indicative of compression on current models.
Model descriptions, eg WG - Wide Glide. Some generalizations:
A - Military (Army) version (except GA, Servicar without tow bar)
B - Battery start (early models), Belt drive (some later models).
C - Classic, Competition, Custom, various others meanings.
D - Dyna, the newest frame and engine mount design.
E - Electric start
F - Foot shift (when the standard was hand-shift)
H - varied between High performance and Heavy duty. The early FLH for
example produced 5 more HP than the FL and was used primarily for
touring and sidecar applications.
LR- Low Rider (though many Low Riders don't include LR in the model ID)
P - Police version
R - Rubber mounted engine (some models) racing version (other models) e.g.
the FXR is a lowrider with rubber mounted engine, WLR is the flat
track racer that was very hard to beat in the 30's, 40's, and 50's.
ST- Soft Tail
S - (without following T) Sports version eg FLHS is an FLHT without the
T - Touring
WG - Wide Glide
Sportsters: Models beginning with X are Sportsters. These descend from the K series, 1952-56. The XL series started in 1957. They are "unit construction" (engine & transmission share a common case). X was in the normal series, following the U and V used for flathead Big Twins. L stood for high compression (7.5:1 in 1957). In 1958 came the XLH with H meaning Higher-power or High-compression (9:1) or Hot. Also in 1958 was the XLCH: The C in XLCH was intended to mean "Competition", but the late Hal Robinson used to claim the CH on his bike stood for "Charley Horse" because it was highly modified and had enough initial ignition advance to kick back rather severely.
The Sportster engines were originally actually 53.9ci. (883cc) but were designated as 55ci. This was upgraded (in 1970?) to 61ci (1000cc), redesigned in '73 but still 61" and stayed relatively unchanged untill the 74" evo version. The 883 and 61" were both produced the first year of the 883. Options for Sportsters abounded but these same letters have been used since 1958 in various combinations, plus the XLCR (a "cafe racer" style, with bikini fairing) and the XLT (Touring, with bigger tank, thicker seat, and hard bags straight off the FLHS), both produced 1977-1978 only.
Big Twins: Models beginning with F are Big Twins. These all descend from the 61E in 1936. Knuckleheads 1936-47, Panheads 1948-65, Shovelheads 1966-84/85, and Evolutions 1984/5-present. The Evolution (block head) was introduced in '84 on the Soft Tail and Tourglide Ultra, with the last Shovel built in mid '85. Until 1978, these were mostly 74's (~1200cc). In 1978, the 80ci (~1340cc) was introduced.
In 1971 was the first FX model, with an F engine and assorted Sportster (X) parts, notably forks - these were initially Super Glides. In 1974, FXE was Electric start. In calendar 1977 came the FXS Low Rider, with shortened shocks and scooped seating position. Also in 1978, the FX Super Glides got belt final drive. 1979 brought 80ci Shovelheads and the FXEF Super Glide Fat Bob (not Boy), for bobbed fenders and fat tank. In 1980, FXWG (Wide Glide) andthe FXB Sturgis with belt drive (primary and secondary).
1984 brought the Softtail FXST, with the look of an old hardtail but some suspension for comfort.
In 1991 came the FXD Dyna Glide series, starting with another Sturgis model. This brought many frame and engine mounting changes, a relocated oil tank and moved crossover pipe.
Touring: In 1980, the FLT designation was introduced for the Tour Glide. This model introduced the vibration-isolation mounted engine (rubberglide) and also a slightly different frame from other FLs and a fixed fairing. FXR (originally called Super Glide II) arrived in late 1981. The R had rubbermount engine and 5-speed tranny, as opposed to rigid-mount and 4-speed in other models. FXRS maybe meant Sport, with cast wheels and a small sissy bar. The Sport Glide FXRT (Touring) arrived in 1983, with the fixed fairing and air adjustable anti-dive forks.
The only really reliable letters now are at the beginning of the model: X=Sportster, F=Big Twin, FL=Big Twin with big forks, FX=Big Twin with Sportster-style (smaller) forks, FXST=Softtail, FXD=Dyna Glide. At times, different models have even shared the same letter-designation; witness the FLHTC Electra Glide Classic/Ultra Classic Electra Glide in 1993 models.
THE BASICS FROM THE PAST
E the basic version of the big twin
EL the E with more power
F basic, enlarget from 61 to 74 big twin
FL the F with more power
FLH still more power built as pan shovel and evo
K sidevalve middleweight circa '52
KK tuned version of K
KH the K stroked from 45 to 54
KHK tuned version of the KH
XL basic sportster
XLC stripped Calif. model
XLH higher performance XL '58
XLCH high performance XL (w/ kicker)
FX original Super Glide form F and X parts
FXE original Super Glide form F and X parts
with electric start
XLR hot stripped XL
XR-750 iron and alloy 750 racing only
XLCR road race style XLH
XR-1000 alloy XR top end and dual carbs on the XLH cases
XLT XLH with larger tank
XLX stripped XLH
XLS fancy XLH
XLH most current Sporty 883 and 1200
XL '96 1200C (Custom) and 1200S (sport) Sportsters
FXS the original Low Rider
FXEF the first Fat Bob F=Fat
FXWG FL forks w/o covers and 21" front wheel
aka Wide Glide
FXB original sturgis B=belt drive
FXR Super Glide II original rubber mount
FXRS FXR with cast wheels, extra trim aka Low Glide
FXSB Low Rider with belts
FXRDG FXRS with solid disk rear wheel
FXRT R=Rubber mount T=touring aka Sport Glide
FXRC Low Glide Custom w/ wire wheels
FXRT/P FXRT P=police equip.
FXRD FXRT w/ trunk aka Grand Touring
FXRS-SP Low Rider Sport edition
FXRS-CONV Low Rider w/ detachable windshield and bags
FXDB Dyna Glide, latest chassis ('91 Sturgis)
two-point engine mounting
FXDC FXDB with goodies C=Custom (NO 21" front wheel)
FXD Dyna Super Glide
FXDS-CONV Dyna Glide w/ detachable windshield and bags
FXDWG Dyna Wide Glide
FXDL Dyna Low Rider
FXST original Softail
FXSTC Softail Custom
FXSTS Springer Softail
FXSTSB Springer Softail Badboy
FLST Softail with 16" front wheel
FLSTC Heritage Softail
FLSTN Fatboy/Heritage with different goodies
(N for Nostalgia)
FLT Tour Glide, has frame-mounted fairing
FLTC FLT with extras (C for Classic)
FLTC U FLT with even more extras (U for Ultra)
FLTC U I FLTC U with fuel injection (I for Injection)
FLHT Electra Glide, has fork-mounted fairing
FLHS FLT with windshield and less goodies S = Sport
FLHTC FLHT with extras (C for Classic)
FLHTC U FLHT with even more extras (U for Ultra)
FLHTC U I FLTC U with fuel injection (I for Injection)
FLHR Road King, factory customized FLHT