Willie G. Retires

March 20, 2012

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Willie G. Davidson, without whom you would probably be riding a different brand of motorcycle, will retire from the Harley-Davidson Motor Company on April 30.

Willie G.(in his youth above) is 78-years-old, suffers from Type 2 Diabetes, and has worn hearing aids in both ears for the last 25 years. He is the grandson of company founder William A. Davidson and he has been the most visible and best liked of the motor companies executives for three decades. He has been the face of the last remaining major American motorcycle company since 1981 when a group of 13 Harley executives led by Vaughn Beals Willie G. bought the failing company from AMF for $75 million.

In an interview in 2008 Willie G. diplomatically said, “Well, AMF was a very diversified company, and they had developed a huge product portfolio, including a lot of recreational equipment, and it turns out in the end that they didn’t really understand what this business is all about – how capital intensive it is, and most importantly, they didn’t understand the customer.”

The Motor Company Speaks

The Harley press release that announced Davidson’s retirement last Friday quoted Willie G. as saying “Throughout my life, I have been truly fortunate to have the opportunity to marry my passion for design with my love for this amazing brand that runs so deeply in my veins. What’s most rewarding has been to see the impact our motorcycles have on the lives of our customers. Everything we do in styling is based on the notion that form follows function, but both report to emotion.”

Davidson had previously told an interviewer “The R word (meaning retirement) has never been my great desire. A lot of people count the hours until they can pull the plug. To me, it would be a reverse situation – it would kind of be going from something really exciting to maybe too much free time.”


William “Willie” G. Davidson earned a degree in art from the University of Wisconsin before attending the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. While he lived in California he developed a life-long interest in custom motorcycles but went to work for the Ford Motor Company as a designer after college.

He joined the Harley-Davidson Design Department in 1963 and annoyed his bosses with they considered to be “impractical” designs. His first bike to make it into production was the FX Super Glide. The bike proved popular and Willie G. was promoted to Vice-President of styling in 1969. More recently he designed the V-Rod.

Current Harley CEO Keith Wandell was quoted in the company’s statement as saying, “Few individuals have the kind of impact on an organization, a brand and a lifestyle that Willie G. has had. Everyone with a love for motorcycles owes a great deal to his vision and talent, and all of us have been blessed by his presence. His legacy will continue to grow, thanks to the talent he has nurtured in the Harley-Davidson styling studio.”

Willie G., who at least a tenth of all Harley riders have probably met, said, “I look forward to spending time with riders at rallies and to my involvement in special design projects.”



4 Responses to “Willie G. Retires”

  1. Grumbler Says:

    The 1977 FXS Low Rider (dark silver) followed by the 1980 FXWG Wide Glide (black w/ flamed Fat Bobs) made quite an impression on me when they first debuted. My ’75 FLH, after I completed customizing it in ’78, looked like a sleazier FXWG albeit with 10 over tubes and 19-inch hoop. Painted it black with Plasti-Kote rattle cans, and rode the shit outta it.

  2. Junior Says:

    I ride a carb’d and lowered softail nightrain and think its the best damn bike harley ever made. If Willie G was responsible for the design and manufacture of the nighttrain, then I say THANK YOU WILLIE G!

  3. swampy Says:

    The 1971 FX with that “boat tail” fender was one ugly mutha’. jmo.

  4. Nihilist Says:

    In an interview with the New York Times in 1994, Willie G. told the reporter that “motorcycling doesn’t have a lot to do with transportation.” Step into any factory boutique these days and you’ll see exactly what he was aiming for. Of course, that asshat Arlen Ness took the idea even further. The plethora of nonsensical merchandising, all of it foreign made…not to mention the Douchebags of Anarchy. Where’s the anarchy? If the message comes from Hollywood, it’s conformity and sub-cultural commodification. Willie G. is a living example of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” As far as claiming ownership of the Super Glide design, I don’t buy it. He was the one who put it on the showroom floor. I won’t miss him.

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