It’s the end of an era: after 49 years, Willie G. Davidson, Harley-Davidson’s styling chief, is retiring. The 78-year-old grandson of company co-founder William A Davidson will continue to represent the Motor Company as Brand Ambassador and “Chief Styling Officer Emeritus.” Whether you are a fan of the classic styling of HD products, or not, there is no denying the affable, beret-wearing Davidson had a huge impact on the USA’s biggest motorcycle company—and on the motorcycle industry worldwide.
Willie G. has seen Harley-Davidson evolve from a conservative, relatively small manufacturer (this source puts the company’s 1963 total production at just 10,407 units) through the dark years of AMF ownership, to the renaissance of the 1980s and ’90s. His sleek Superglide of 1971 “established the ‘factory custom’ category,” and the cafe-racer XLCR showed Harley-Davidson wasn’t just about cruising. The Fat Boy became a Hollywood superstar when it appeared in the 1991 blockbuster movie Terminator II.
The question we have is this: how much will Willie G’s departure change things at H-D? Not much, we’d wager. Ray Drea, director of styling, has established a new direction for the company already with the Dark Custom lineup and other models designed to bring in younger buyers.
Still, Willie G’s departure does take a bit of the family feel out of H-D’s cachet (although his son Bill still works for the company), making it seem more like the large corporation it is. How much impact will that have on the Harley-Davidson faithful and potential new customers? Time will tell.