Harley-Davidson Styling Chief Willie G. Davidson Retires After 49-Year Career

After nearly 50 years as head of styling, Willie G. Davidson is retiring from Harley-Davidson April 30, 2012. He will continue his involvement with the company as an ambassador at motorcycle rallies and events, and through special design projects as Chief Styling Officer Emeritus. Willie G., Senior Vice President and Chief Styling Officer, is widely recognized as a legend in the world of motorcycling and motorcycle design.”Throughout my life, I have 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,” Willie G. said. “What’s most rewarding has been to see the impact our motorcycles have on the lives of our customers. Everything we do in styling is based on the notion that form follows function, but both report to emotion.”

Grandson of one of the company’s founders, William A. Davidson, and son of William H. Davidson, its second president, Willie G. joined the company as its first head of styling in 1963. With responsibility for the look of all Harley-Davidson motorcycles, landmark motorcycles to emerge from Willie G’s styling studio team include the Super Glide, which established the factory custom category in 1971, Low Rider, Heritage Softail Classic, Fat Boy, V-Rod and Street Glide. He is one of 13 Harley-Davidson executives who purchased the company from AMF, Inc. in 1981.

Over the course of his career, Willie G., 78, built a design team at Harley-Davidson that established the company’s unrivaled leadership in custom, cruiser and touring motorcycles. Today, the styling department is led by 19-year company veteran Ray Drea, Vice President and Director of Styling, who has worked collaboratively with Willie G. in the development of numerous milestone vehicles. “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,” Willie G. said. “I look forward to spending time with riders at rallies and to my involvement in special design projects.”
“Few individuals have the kind of impact on an organization, a brand and a lifestyle that Willie G. has had,” said Keith Wandell, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Harley-Davidson, Inc. “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.”

39 Responses to “Harley-Davidson Styling Chief Willie G. Davidson Retires After 49-Year Career”

  1. 1 Matthew Olsen Mar 17th, 2012 at 7:41 am

    Thanks Willie

  2. 2 Mike Greenwald Mar 17th, 2012 at 7:49 am

    Willie G.,

    Thanks for remaining true to your convictions.
    Thanks for your kind words to my grandson, Mark, on the snowy afternoon at the museum.

    Mike Greenwald

  3. 3 Markie Mar 17th, 2012 at 7:54 am

    Long over due..

  4. 4 Larry Mar 17th, 2012 at 8:29 am

    Glad he will still be around during rallies

  5. 5 Michael Mar 17th, 2012 at 9:04 am

    From m.y new 1973 Sportster XLH (I still have ) toy 2008 FXSTC, I cannot thing of anything besides my love of guitar and beautifal women , that have been my life.

    I came up on Willie at a small restauramt once 20 years ago, he looked at me and smiled warmly and shook my hand, only me and him standing in the gravel parking. I could feel a connection.

    Good Job Sir, you have done extremely well.

    I still own all my Harleys (5) and hope Willie kicked a 110 Anniversay Softail one more time.

  6. 6 Luis Mar 17th, 2012 at 9:19 am

    A well earned retirement. Looks great for 78!

  7. 7 burnout Mar 17th, 2012 at 9:23 am

    I can truthfully say that without this man’s career of work I would not be making a living doing what I love. THANKS Willie G! peace

  8. 8 Toby Mar 17th, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Met him a few times. Nice fellow. 78 going on 58.

  9. 9 Bleeding Ears Mar 17th, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Who can forget the 1970 Boattail Sportster, the1983 Anal Glide (aka: Willie G. FXDG Limited Edition) or the 1993 Cow Glide?

    I like LOUD pipes!

  10. 10 Rob Mar 17th, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Enjoy your retirement…………………..i’m sure we’ll see something new soon……..i don’t see him going out quietly……………………

  11. 11 MDSPHOTO Mar 17th, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    Maybe with him gone HD can actually create some innovative styling!

  12. 12 Alan sharp Mar 17th, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    its a shame he did not have a new Willey g engine, ……..

  13. 13 Larry R Mar 17th, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    Thanks Willie. Enjoy your retirement. You deserve it.

  14. 14 Doc Robinson Mar 17th, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    A true enthusiast, a complete gentleman and a prodigious talent. God Speed Willie G.

  15. 15 Darin Maltsberger - Instructor @ MTI Mar 17th, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    I along with several of my students had the opprotunity to meet Willie at J&L Harley-Davidson in Sioux Falls, SD in 2010 as he and several other execs from the motor co. rode out to Sturgis and were stopping at dealerships along the way. I enjoyed the visit and came to realize that some visions are bigger than just one man. Thanks for sharing your vision with all of us Willie. Enjoy the ride.

  16. 16 Oldude Mar 18th, 2012 at 7:48 am

    Thanks Willie ! Enjoy retirement . Your touch has made H/D a world envied name!

  17. 17 W Don Freeman Mar 18th, 2012 at 7:53 am

    Thanks Willie G for sharing many years of your talent exclusively on H-D motorcycles.Enjoy your retirement a ride WELL deserved!

  18. 18 Cris Sommer Simmons Mar 18th, 2012 at 8:50 am

    There is no nicer, kinder man in this business. Thank you Willie! We love you!

  19. 19 knuckleheadmotor Mar 18th, 2012 at 8:51 am

    A true visionary……….. Your dedication throughout the years to your profession is unrivaled, many thanks for allowing me to build you that 91 Badboy and your assistance 30 some years ago with my Knuck. Stop on by when you find the time and you are out and about.


  20. 20 Steve Davis Mar 18th, 2012 at 8:58 am

    Thanks Willie G,your designs have made HD what it is today and will live on forever! Ride hard ,ride safe !

  21. 21 Bill Houck Mar 18th, 2012 at 9:31 am

    Thank you Willie G. for saving Harley Davidson from the AMF years you brought the legend back to the life and all Harley riders owe you a debt and their gratitude! Thank you again Wille G. and Ride Safe and Free!!!

  22. 22 Phil Draper Mar 18th, 2012 at 10:26 am

    A true Hero in my book, Thanks Willie G

  23. 23 Pat Simmons Mar 18th, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Willie G has been one of the most influential people in the motorcycle community in my lifetime. Always the optimistic, smiling face of Harley Davidson, he and his wonderful wife Nancy showed us what true bikers were like; committed, creative, visionary, friendly, inspired. He always had time to stop and talk to folks at the rallies. He listened to our viewpoints, incorporating our ideas and needs into incredible designs that went far beyond what we had envisioned. Only an artist with an eye to the future, and an understanding of the technology that could be employed to achieve those ends, could have led the company to develop the amazing bikes that we enjoy today. His love and attention to his family allowed him to pass on his passion to his children, who now continue the tradition that their for bearers began so long ago. We are a part of that family. As I looked at all the Harley riders in Daytona this week, I saw how large this family has grown, and I am so proud to be a part of it. Thanks and love from all of us Willie, enjoy your retirement. Of course be ready for that call from the company. No doubt they’ll soon be needing your advice and ideas…

  24. 24 Dale Mar 18th, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Thank you Willie G. You did so much for this industry.

  25. 25 PJ Hyland. Mar 18th, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    There are two-wheeled American icons and then there’s Willie G. His influence on the design of Harley-Davidsons and consequently the design of the many wanna-bees is only matched by his role as ambassador for the brand. If you’ve ever had the good fortune to see and hear Willie G. on stage at a rally, there’s no denying that he is a rock star. If you’ve ever had the chance to spend even a few minutes with him you’ll continually value the experience. Despite all the accolades he manages to remain unassuming. A neat trick in modern society. The above quote that ends in “… everything reports to emotion,” speaks volumes about the Mr. Davidson’s passion. Sorry to hear that the man responsible for designing my Deuce is stepping down. But if anyone deserves the opportunity to “simplify” …

    Willie I hope you’ve added the herb/spice, that we discussed at the B.A.D Ride last year, to your supliment regimine.

    Give Nancy a big hug for all her admirers here in SoCal.

  26. 26 Roger Mar 18th, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Godspeed Willie G.

  27. 27 Woody Mar 18th, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    You know you’re doing something you love when you don’t retire until age 78 (and not because of money). Enjoy your free time Mr Davidson! May you have some well-deserved years of more fun ahead.

  28. 28 bigalyts Mar 18th, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    Just to be him for 24 hours. More HD Relics and History and Motorcycles in his bathroom then all of us will ever have. When he was born his Family didny Circumsize him the HDeed Him.

  29. 29 ragsflh Mar 18th, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    thanks willie

  30. 30 Andy "FatBoy" Mar 19th, 2012 at 7:55 am

    Willie – THANK YOU! You are the iconic American! Ride on…Ride on.

  31. 31 Sluggo Mar 19th, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Thanks Willie, see you on the road.

  32. 32 Olena Mar 19th, 2012 at 10:11 am

    Thank you Willie for all these years!

  33. 33 Knucklehead Mar 19th, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Thank you Willie G. ! See you at a Rally. Most of all enjoy retirement!!

  34. 34 Bob Mar 19th, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Thanks for bringing the company back home, and me with it..

  35. 35 John Williams Mar 19th, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    At Bike Week I got to take a picture of my g/f standing next to Willie. I wasn’t quick enough to hand the camera to my g/f so she could take a picture of me standing next to him.

    Ride on

  36. 36 Dog Williams Mar 20th, 2012 at 5:09 am

    All the best for what comes next Willie G, you’re a legitimate living legend, long may you roam safely and happily on two wheels.
    Just a quicky on the AMF issue as mentioned above by Bill Houck.
    Without them, no matter how disastrous and unpalatable those dark years were, surely H.D would have become just another piece of American motorcycling history . . . . the ‘buy back’ was a glorious thing, a real testament to the worlds premier ‘free market economy’, passion, belief, persistence, people power, and ultimately, even justice.
    Nonetheless, AMF did, at least, and if nothing else, ensure that the Motor Company was still around and extant for it to be delivered back into the hands of it’s rightful owners, of which the wonderful Willie G was the most deserving and pre-eminent of all . . . . once every now and again, fairytales do happen.

  37. 37 TOMMY DIGBY Mar 22nd, 2012 at 1:10 pm


  38. 38 Ax Mar 23rd, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    One of the few areas where the Motor Company hasn’t declined is styling. Engines, transmissions, frames and more have been cheapened to speed production and make more money, even when it has impacted safety and quality. Willie G’s styling department, though, has kept turning out new, yet still traditionally styled motorcycles that clearly scream “Harley-Davidson” to even a casual onlooker.
    It’s hard to believe his retirement might not be a disaster for the company.

  39. 39 Red Mar 25th, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Thank you Willie G. Enjoy your retirement.

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