Glad That You Asked. What Years Did AMF Own Harley-Davidson?


AMF (American Machinery And Foundry) bought Harley-Davidson in 1969, and sold it in 1981 to a group of thirteen investors led by Vaughn Beals and Willie G. Davidson for $80 million.

During the AMF ownership bikes were of so poor quality (versus Japanese motorcycles) that Harleys were nicknamed “Hardly Ableson”, “Hardly Driveable,” and “Hogly Ferguson”

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31 Responses to “Glad That You Asked. What Years Did AMF Own Harley-Davidson?”


  1. 1 Seymour May 9th, 2010 at 9:14 am

    I have a 1980 FLHS. People would probably really like it if it didn’t have the AMF symbol on the tank badge. Anyway, I haven’t had any problems with it.

  2. 2 m switzer May 9th, 2010 at 10:22 am

    And if AMF hadn’t spent the money this blog AND Harley would not exiist they saved HD read the history HD was within hours of going under. Most american cars from that era had problems Big issues were the dropping of the octane. take ingout of the lead in the gas and the increases in the polution laws. Harley had problem, many say beacause of increased production. I ran a 1979 1/2 superglide until 1997 when I bought my Springer. The superglide was one of the first 80inch bikes with electonic ignition it needed work it was a normal production bike around 5200 units. My Spriner was linited 6000 units with a lot moire of the other models beinging made. My bike had a new engine put in at 230 miles-cracked crancase from the factory so prolems can occur. We all talk about the hreat cars fron the 50s and 60s but the new stuff wwill run rings around them with engines 1/3 to a 1/2 the size, new cars you don’t even open the hood untill you hit 100000 miles you aren’t going to get that millage out of a 1956 chev. I drive a 1970 has 130000 miles rebuilt engine,1985 with 111000 with work done to it , a 1996 with 200000 plus and a 1997 with 200000 plus and they are bulit proof.

  3. 3 Seven May 9th, 2010 at 11:48 am

    m switzer is right, it was a very bad period for US and foreign car makers too. AMF were just one many companies making generally quite dreadful quality products. Even many of the japanese bikes of that period were of barely tolerable quality, and please don’t mention some of the British offerings.

    It wasn’t called the Malaise Era for nothing.

  4. 4 Dave Blevins May 9th, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    With all the naysaying of the AMF years, the Shovelhead is still very popular for style and is the platform from which the Evolution was born. The AMF years had some poor casting issues for sure, but a rebuilt Shovelhead (when done properly) will provide much trouble-free riding and do the job of scooting around the block or the countryside.
    I do not find the AMF badge offensive at all, AMF saved HD from fading into history, but I am also glad it sold the HD brand back to investors who took a chance and gave Harley new life.
    I wish the same for the new Indian as well, I love the history of these fine old machines and would like to see the carried into future generations.
    Now if I could just get Harley to bite on that 100 HP Sportster Softail idea… wishful thinking perhaps.

  5. 5 Woody May 9th, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    I’m OK with all of it, even though my ’79 FL wasn’t a very reliable bike. AMF was the one that got screwed IMHO, as they invested tons of money and the “donated” the York plant to the cause, trying to get a real assy. line set up instead of a bunch of workbenches and “one at a time” builds. I remember when you couldn’t order a set of rings ahead of time because you didn’t have a clue what was in your bike until you took it apart & measured the pistons & bores. AMF saved Harley.

  6. 6 Lyle May 9th, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    My 73 Superglide with the original bottom end has been a reliable rider since I bought it used in 1990.
    My 83 Lowrider was bought as a wreck in 84, and I’ve put 120,000 miles on it. I’ve had the rebuild the engine, but that’s normal. My 93 Dyna on the other hand, now that bike’s been trouble…

  7. 7 ShaneM May 9th, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    My ’74 XLCH, no problems. Runs a treat here in Oz.

  8. 8 busfreak May 10th, 2010 at 6:31 am

    My 1980 FLH runs great, now with 2 new top ends. The only problem is that shitty factory carb.

  9. 9 trish May 10th, 2010 at 7:43 am

    you know… i’ve had my ’72 XLCH for a good handful of years now and had very few issues. considering that i bought it as a basket case, where it sat in a barn for 10 years, full of leaves and mud. pulled half a gallon of water out of it, hosed it out, filled the fluids and kicked it to life: no issues since, never even considered redoing the bottom end at all. last year i re-ringed the top end, and viola. its always been a good bike to me. i love that i dont rely on too much computer or electronic components: a good set of points, clean plugs and strong kicker components and that motor is diehard! where as i see my boyfriends shop constantly having to tune newer bikes and deal with ECM issues,etc…. so i feel that no matter what period, there are surely issues, just of different kinds!

    so while it may not have been the most popular years for HD – AMF played an important role in keeping it afloat. and i think saying that all things produced in those years were shotty is maybe too harsh. maybe i got really lucky… but i just think that all eras have their pros and cons!

    Trish

  10. 10 kenart May 10th, 2010 at 8:25 am

    The guys that know the truth, know that AMF saved the brand. The shitty bikes were being built BEFORE AMF bought the company. It was a long road back, but when it was almost time for the Evo motor to appear, they sold it back. The early Shovels had all kinds of problems. They should have stayed with the Panhead, or even better, the Knuck.

  11. 11 Bryan Rohrer May 10th, 2010 at 9:45 am

    My first big twin was a 1980 Wideglide. Once I corrected the poor repair work done over the years, she became old reliable.

    Harley-Davidson’s AMF years provided a small window for all of American manufacturing during the 1970’s and early 1980’s. America was running around without purpose or direction and our manufactured products suffered. Many people want to point a finger at AMF as some sort or evil empire choking Harley-Davidson into submission. HD grew to where they are today with a foundation of faithful followers, a group of management owners with blind commitment to the bar & shield and a whole lot of good fortune.

  12. 12 Fat Boy May 10th, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Makes me miss my 1978 Sporty! A love/hate relationship I would like to find again!

  13. 13 tattooeddmike May 10th, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    I’ve still got my first H-D, a 1971 FLH that I blew the bottom out of the case! Threw a rear rod, in 83, went with aftermarket cases, (the only ones that were being made at the time, and shall remain name-less because of the problems I had with them,….. after having been sent to the company that made them for repair twice, and the third time I said forget it! Give me my money or give me new cases and a few $$ for the rebuilder who does my bottom-end…. got half of what I asked for in $$, and they tried to pass off the old cases again!!! Finally I told them I’d keep the repaired cases untill I recieved the new cases and that’s what happened…. in 1989.) I bring this up because the after-market also had issues with it’s parts, and although I could just as easy blame the AMF-HD, I bought a used bike, and as I say now, buyer beware! I also rebuilt the trans. after snapping off the end of the mainshaft, and it’s given me more miles that that aftermarket built motor!….. but oh, well,… I’ve been long winded enoungh. This is the type of debate that can go on for a long time, pros & cons…. and both ways!…. Dealerships that I went to didn’t care for you if you were not there to buy a new bike, or get service for bike a that they sold you….
    Thanks again Cyril for this blog to vent a bit, and no matter how anyone feels about this subject, Harley is still here, and like it or not AMF was a part of that history.

  14. 14 American-V magazine May 10th, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Have had two AMF Shovels: both good solid bikes – only problem I had with my first FLH was a solenoid failure, and my 1996 Evo had exactly the same problem ten years later but cost twice as much to fix.

    You’ve got to bear in mind that at the dawn of the seventies, the rising sun in the east introduced technically evolved motorcycles that made the traditional American and British motorcycles look dated, and the world’s press demonstrated their love for a good story and vilified anything that wasn’t an OHC transverse four, or a short stroke twin or a two-stroke. Be grateful that Harley survived through AMF’s investment: it kicked the arse out of the British motorcycle industry that has taken decades to fix.

    If AMF had a problem, it was a PR issue in justifying dropping traditional American components for Japanese items, and the growing pains involved in turning Harley-Davidson into a modern company fit for the new challenges it would face – which included a number of technical challenges that were probably less of an issue than the early Twin Cam’s cam chain issues. Doesn’t take many first hand failures to create a full scale scare.

    Odd how dated a CB750 looks now, but more peculiar how few of them are left when you consider how many of them came over – and the same goes for just about everything since: different business model, different market, different times.

  15. 15 Grey Beard May 10th, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Yep…….. AMF was the strong link that kept HD afloat.
    If it wasn’t for AMF, today you could be riding a “Hawlee-daybitzoons”.

  16. 16 willie May 10th, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Ok enough BS I owned some 15 AMF bikes during the AMF years AND SINCE and not one lemon . Better then Gm and Ford lol any way RONALD REAGON RESCUED HARLEY DAVIDSON .LETS set the record straight sombody had to slow down the japs.and the evolution was the solution in 84 along with the great BELT drive AND GREAT MOTORS. then came the twin cams and all the computor crap, cam chains more noise then a wore out pan etc.Man I WOULD HAVE TO PUT THE EVO ON THE GREAT LIST LIKE THE ALTERNATOR SHOVEL AND THE GOOD OL PANS AND MR RONALD REAGON made in the USA.

  17. 17 Curt! May 10th, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    I’ve owned lots of bikes over the years, quite a few AMFs, some before and after. They were all great bikes and each one was special. I sure miss my 79 Shovel and the 72 CH, and the 77CR, and the 76 CH. There will still be Shovels going down the road when most twinkies are in the salvage yard.

  18. 18 Doug Kelly/ Vintage Bobbers May 11th, 2010 at 11:33 am

    I Own 5 Shovelheads,1 Panhead 1vl &1ul.When I did some Investigating I found out what What Really Works good on Shovels Even with The Carbs.Did Some Homework an It really Paid Off Found some Great Deals on AMF’s An Build Some Very Reliable Bikes…

  19. 19 Todd8080 May 16th, 2010 at 1:16 am

    Andy makes a good point about how few Honda 750s are still around. If the Japanese bikes were (are) so superior to American bikes, why is it very rare to see one more than a decade old?

    And we’d see even more old Harleys on the road if so many hadn’t been butchered (chopped) out of existence.

    I’ve owned, restored and worked on many AMF-era Shovelheads and while quite a few left the factory with glaring problems, the basic design was sound.

    Generally if you buy a used Shovel, any factory glitches will have been long ago fixed by previous owners.

    And so many improved aftermarket parts for Shovelheads have been introduced over the years that you can create a better-than-stock version of just about any year.

    But don’t let anyone tell you that all Harleys MUST “mark their spot”. Any Big Twin with an aluminum chaincase (like all Shovelheads) can be made absolutely oil tight.

    To put it another way, if a Shovelhead leaks it’s because a part, gasket or seal is worn and/or damaged, not because the bike was designed to leak.

  20. 20 gary Aug 1st, 2010 at 10:52 am

    i own a 1981 HARLEY-DAVIDSON FLH 80 WITH 409 ACTUAL MILES, I INHERITED FROM DEAD UNCLE, IT IS ORIGINAL CLEAR TO THE AIR CLEANER{HAM} STARTS EVERY TIME WITH THE EVINRUDE STARTER, I BEEN ASKED MANY BY PEOPLE , IF THE TRANSMISSION CLUNKS, HELL YES IT DOES, 409 ACT MILES, IT RUNS SUPERIOR TO ANY THING I’VE EVER OWNED, THIS BIKE WAS ORDERED BY MY UNCLE AND IT WAS ON THE ASSEMBLY LINE WHEN THE WILLIE G DEAL WAS BEING SIGNED FOR RE TAKING THE COMPANY, IT DOES NOT HAVE AMF ON IT ANYWHERE, BUT WHAT IS WEIRD, IS IT HAS A1982 ENGINE ON IT FROM THE FACTORY. IT IS DEFINITELY A PIECE OF HISTORY, I RAN THE NUMBERS DOWN AND WENT THROUGH THE TROUBLE OF CHECKING AND SURE AS HELL IT WAS ON THE ASSEMBLY LINE WHILE MY UNCLE WAITED FOR IT, TOOK 8 WEEKS TO GET THIS SHOVELHEAD, THE CARBURETOR IS A PIECE OF CRAP OTHER THAN THAT,A-OK-BY THE WAY I HAVE MY FIRST BIKE 1966M50 WITH718 MILES ON IT, SO……. I HAVE MY FIRST BIKE AND LAST BIKE HAPPY AM I , JUST THOUGHT I’D LET YOU GUYS KNOW THAT HARLEY IS KING OF MOTORCYCLES, AND I FEEL LIKE A KING OWNING WHAT I GOT PS GOT M50 WHEN I WAS 15 YEARS OLD THE SMELLS THAT WAS IN THAT LITTLE MOTORCYCLE DEALERSHIP ABSOLUTELY MADE MY CHILDHOOD– CLOSE MY EYES AND STILL REMEMBERING DAD BUYING THAT SCOOTER FOR ME BEST MEMORIES OF MY LIFE GOD BLESS YOU DAD

  21. 21 John Nov 25th, 2010 at 5:51 am

    There are thousands of old Japanese bikes in sheds and garages all over this country so just because they are out of site doesn’t mean they are not there. Plus these bikes were faster and better handling and many ended up being crashed by riders who would misuse the available horse power. Also there is the cost factor, they were cheaper and some folks would buy a newer model sooner then the average Harley rider. I never got rid of a bike because it was a mechanical nightmare. I have never owned a Harley. I like the looks of the soft tail and it will probably be my next bike but I will not give up my FJ1200. I have ridden in rain, hail, and even snow. I love motorcycles and motorcycling and I don’t care if it’s a crotch rocket, enduro or a dresser that passes me I wave because that individual also enjoys a love of mine. Have good day and safe riding, John.

  22. 22 Spot's Cycle Nov 25th, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    John,
    how meny of the old Jap bikes can you pull out of the weeds and get running? Very few, the case alum is of poor quality and detereates quickly, exhaust pipes rust into, rims rust down, some cams run the alum head it self(no bushings/bearings) they would stick together, carbs would just ruin, and gas tanks would rust out.

    getting replacement parts are slim to none. the best thing was to find one or more of them and make one out of the lot of them. they still don’t have a resale value worth the trouble and effort to get one going again. some sentalmental value is about the only reason to fool with them.

  23. 23 Eric Jon Kent Mar 12th, 2011 at 2:47 am

    I dont really think that the Japanese bikes were so much superior back in the 70 and 80s but they were much cheaper. The style that Harley has had over the years has proved to be timeless whereas the Japanese bike look old and junky. But as for today I would say that the Japanese bikes have much better reliability better pricing and good looks also.

  24. 24 Leon Grinnell May 5th, 2011 at 8:31 am

    I own a 76 XLCH only problem I have is the brake system.

  25. 25 TRexSG May 5th, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Eric, the Japanese bikes of the 70’s and 80’s while not great by todays standards were way ahead of AMF Harley.

    I had both back in 1978 and my 77 AMF Sportster was so unreliable that I carried keys for both it and my 78 Yamaha when I went out to the garage in the morning. If the Sporty didn’t start in 5 minutes I would hop on the Yamaha and away I went. Always started, never quit or left me high and dry. The Sportster was so bad that I didn’t buy another HD for years!

    That said, I have owned an ’01 SuperGlide, an ’06 Low Rider and an ’06 Street Glide and had no problems with any of them and the next bike will be an HD as well.

  26. 26 Joe Oct 10th, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    HD pulled the same tariff in 1952. Resulted in the failure of both BSA and Triumph, then HD jacked their prices. After you pay what you have to pay for a Harley you aren’t likely to part with it easily. Triumph and BSA were kicking HD’s butt on flat tracks and board tracks. A Triumph set the land speed record in the early sixties.

  27. 27 David (PJ) Perez Jan 3rd, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    During the AMF days Harkwys got a bad rap, probably justified. However, because of it used Harleys were cheap and it was a boom for us who were really into it. If you were a kid from a blue collar area (for us refinery town kids) who had grown up with friends who were body shop guys, auto shop guys, machine shop guys, refinery pipefitters, etc. We could take the basic components that were still there and make some great customs. It was a great time!

  28. 28 Lou Jan 7th, 2012 at 1:12 am

    I owned a 1977 Harley Davidson hard tail, let me tell you it leeked so much oil I had to put cardboard under it every were a parked it. The AMF bikes were and still are junk. Thats were the ryme came from. BUY A HARELY, BUY THE BEST, DRIVE A MILE, PUSH THE REST. I still was a dyehard biker and bought and sold harleys all my life. Till this day a own a 2004 Harley , what a differance. Its like night and day. After they started making them with american parts again you noticed the quality differance right away. Goodbuy to the Jap AMF rice burners of the 70s and good riddents.

  29. 29 Lou Jan 7th, 2012 at 1:23 am

    I owned a 1977 hard tail and let me tell you it leeked so much oil I had to put cardboard under it everywere I parked it. The AMF bikes were and still are junk. Thats were the ryme came from. BUY A HARLEY, BUY THE BEST, RIDE A MILE, PUSH THE REST. I was and still am a dyehard harley biker. I know own a 2004 harley, what a differance. When they started making harley with american parts again in the 80s , there was a noticeable differance in quailty. Goodbuy to the jap rice burners of the 70s. and good rittenes.

  30. 30 lue Jan 7th, 2012 at 1:29 am

    AMF are junk, japaneese parts.

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