Harley-Davidson, founded in 1903, is known for its iconic motorcycles. However, this brand hasn’t always been self-run. There was a time in the late 1960s when the company hit a rough patch and risked having to close. Instead, they found a financial savior in American Machine and Foundry, a recreational sporting goods company, which kept Harley-Davidson alive.
American Machine and Foundry
Better known as AMF, this manufacturing company originally produced tennis rackets, bowling equipment, and other items for recreational sports.
In 1969, they took a different turn and purchased the struggling Harley-Davidson company. Without AMF, the famous motorcycle brand may not have survived its economic struggles.
Harley-Davidson purists often spurn the AMF-ownership era, unhappy with the motorcycles produced under the eye of a sporting goods company. However, most acknowledge that AMF was a much-needed lifeline to keep the motorcycle brand alive (even if the motorcycles they made weren’t favorites).
It wasn’t just that a sporting goods manufacturing company was running the acclaimed motorcycle brand. Many riders had concerns about the quality of the workmanship, and even the reliability, of the AMF-era bikes. Paired with the thinking of the time, many believed Harley-Davidson had sold out to the corporate world. With the lower perception of quality came a decrease in sales.
Some riders remember the 1970s as a decade of more repairs than rides, rivaling Ford’s moniker “Fix Or Repair Daily.” Issues with layoffs, strikes, and poor management are some of the reasons the AMF bikes are often remembered as being lower-quality, and the reason you don’t see many on the road today.
How AMF Kept Harley-Davidson Afloat
The company made a few smart moves during its twelve-year tenure.
Redesigning the Aermacchi
AMF was acutely aware of the increasing popularity of its foreign competition. To stay competitive with market trends, they continued the production (or rather, the redesign) of the Italian-made Aermacchi motorcycles. A few design tweaks and a Harley-Davidson branding kept this line alive until 1978, when Cagiva, an Italian motorcycle company, purchased it.
Golf Cart Production
Harley-Davidson made more than just motorcycles, and AMF thought it wise to keep producing their three- and four-wheeled golf carts. Golf was widely popular in the 1970s and AMF was happy to cater to that marketplace.
You read that right. From 1971 to 1975, Harley-Davidson produced a snowmobile (perhaps inspired by the success of their golf carts or wanting to expand into more recreational machines).
Motorcycles in the AMF Harley-Davidson Years
The FX 1200 Super Glide
Many enthusiasts argue this model is the most influential of the bikes produced in the AMF years. This model debuted in 1971 as a hybrid model. Part custom, part cruiser, this Sportster/big twin bike quickly gained popularity with customers despite its sluggish nature.
The Limited-Edition Bicentennial Liberty of 1976
The company wanted to design a special bike to celebrate America’s bicentennial, and these limited-edition designs were quite popular, both with riders and reviewers. The decals, which featured a special commemorative design, helped propel this line to success.
The Confederate Edition Series of 1977
This series, both controversial and rare, came onto the marketplace just one year after the bicentennial model. The bikes, which featured decals of the rebel (Confederate) flag caused a civil rights complaint to be lodged against AMF.
The XLCR of 1977
This 1000 cc café racer model saw dismal sales, enough so that AMF discontinued the line in 1979. However, the XLCR is popular among modern-day collectors.
This racing bike was one of the longest-lasting models produced under AMF, available from 1972 to 1980. Part of its popularity is thanks to Evel Knievel, who used this model for his jumps in the 1970s. Even though the bike was no longer available, Harley-Davidson continued to produce the engine.
Foreign Companies Battle for Dominance
The 1970s saw a marked increase in motorcycle manufacturers across the ocean. Countries like Italy, Britain, Germany, and Japan produced bikes that were very popular with the public. Some of these bikes, particularly the Japanese brands Kawasaki, Yamaha, and Honda, became real competitors for the classic Harley-Davidson.
AMF Sells Harley-Davidson
After a struggle in the 1970s, thanks to a recession and the increasing popularity of foreign brands, a group of senior executives at Harley-Davidson gathered their funds and were able to purchase the company back from AMF in 1981.
The company regained its independence and quickly regained respect and trust from the public. Their vision of excellence continues to this day, with Harley-Davidson as a world leader in motorcycles.