The Eagle Soars Alone: The End of Harley’s AMF Era
Words & Photos: John Gunnell
A 1960s Harley-Davidson Topper motor scooter.
The Harley-Davidson Museum (www.harley-davidson.com) includes an interesting exhibit called “The AMF Years,” which encompasses the time period between 1969 and 1981 when the American Machine and Foundry company owned the Harley-Davidson.
AMF was founded in 1900 and first built machines used to make cigarettes, baked goods and stitches. After World War II it moved into the automated bowling machine niche. The company also made the Roadmaster bicycle and other sports equipment.
In 1968, American Machine and Foundry (technically not AMF until 1970) was looking for acquisitions and Harley-Davidson was ripe for a takeover since it was fighting a trend towards lightweight Asian bike. That November 2, at a special meeting of Harley-Davidson Stockholders, a proxy statement was issued saying, “The Directors of H-D believe at this time that it is in the best interest of H-D and its stockholders that H-D be merged into AMF. The merger will give Stockholders of H-D participation in a larger and more diversified enterprise with greater finanical resources available for further research and growth.”
American Machine and Foundry bought Harley-Davidson with the ideas of streamlining production and cutting employee counts. As the museum exhibit states, “The AMF era is sometimes looked upon as a dark chapter in Harley-Davidson’s history.” However, there was more to the story. At that time H-D was struggling and AMF had the resources it needed to stay afloat so that it could survive into the futrure. AMF was able to make improvements in how the company operated amd expand product lines, but in trying to change the Harley image by selling lighter bike and putting the Harley name on such things as golf carts and snowmobiles, AMF came up short of success.
AMF had a history of buying companies in different niches and focusing on that practice, rather than improving it core business units. As a result, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, it lost an average of $8 million per year. To keep things going, some parts of the company were sold and H-D was offered up in 1981. That’s when a group of 13 senior H-D executives including Vaughn Beals, John Hamilton, Jeffrey Bieustein, Kurt Woerpel, Chris Sartalis, Willie G. Davidson, James Paterson, Tim Hoelter, David Lickerman, Peter Profumo, David Caruso, Raplh Swenson and Charles Thompson engineered a H-D buyback for $81.5 million. On June 16, the deal was completed and celebrated with a ride from the York, Pa., factory back to H-D headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and a slogan that stated “The Eagle Soars Alone.”
Willie G. Davidson joined Harley as a designer in 1963 and his first design was the dash of the T145 Tomahawk boat made by H-D in Tomahawk, Wis.
1961 Aermacchi Sprint Chorizontal overhead single was marketed by Harley-Davidson for the lightweight during its AMF era.
This Harley-Davidson D-3 Golf Car was made when the company entered this market, which it dominated for around 20 years.
The 1974 Harley-Davidson Y-444 snowmobile used a parallel two-cycle twin for power.