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If You Love Harleys You Have Wille G Davidson to Thank

Willie G. Davidson, Chief Styling Officer for Harley Davidson, says it’s time to move on from the position he’s held in the family firm for the last 49 years.

Davidson is now 78 and is the grandson of Harley-Davidson co-founder William A. Davidson. Davidson became a member of the design department at Harley-Davidson in 1963, and it was his unique vision and understanding of the “family brand” that led to the creation of the 1971 FX Super Glide.

“Throughout my life, I’ve 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,” Davidson said. “Everything we do in styling is based on the notion that form follows function, but both report to emotion.”

Davidson grew up around Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and after graduation from the University of Wisconsin and further studies at the Art Center College of Design California, got hooked on the nascent motorcycle customization scene. He went on to work as part of the design department of Ford Motor Company.

Known the world over by Harley aficionados as  “Willie G.,” Davidson went on to build a design team at H-D which went on to establish the company’s domination in the custom, cruiser and touring motorcycle segment. Now that Davidson has chosen to step away, his duties will be filled by Ray Drea, Vice President and Director of Styling and a 19-year veteran at the company. Drea has collaborated with Davidson on the some of the company’s most recognizable motorcycles.

“It has been my privilege to work alongside many incredibly talented people at this company and I have great confidence the future of Harley-Davidson’s design leadership will continue to grow in its pre-eminence,” Davidson said. “I look forward to spending time with riders at rallies and to my involvement in special design projects.”

Is his family firm in good hands? It seems so. Keith Wandell, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Harley-Davidson, Inc., and the first outsider to hold those positions, has stewarded H-D into the modern era.

“Few individuals have the kind of impact on an organization, a brand and a lifestyle that Willie G. has had,” said Wandell. “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.”

A fixture at Harley-Davidson at rallies around the world, Davidson has been passionate about meeting riders, speaking with customers, providing autographs for fans, and he says he’ll continue to be a visible presence at H-D rallies and events going forward.

Among the iconic Harley designs to come out of the “Willie G.” era as the Super Glide back in 1971, Low Rider, Heritage Softail Classic, Fat Boy, V-Rod and Street Glide.

Davidson was also one of thirteen Harley-Davidson executives who purchased the company back from AMF, Inc. in 1981 and that group ultimately resurrected the reputation of the then-troubled company.

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